Traveling with a Wheelchair

HOBBIES ARE GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH

Do you have a hobby? Hobbies can give meaning and purpose to your life in retirement. As Robert Putnam points out in his book, Bowling Alone, it’s easy to discount the importance of hobbies and social engagements. Putnam details the widespread decline in civic engagement, from PTA memberships to neighborhood potlucks and bowling leagues. Over a couple of generations, Americans have misplaced the concept of free time.

SPECIAL PLANS FOR YOUR SPECIAL PEOPLE

Lily is a beautiful, active and full of personality toddler who happens to have Down syndrome. Lily’s parents and I have been friends for years and I have the continuing pleasure of watching Lily and her siblings grow up. While Lily is becoming a physical therapy rock star and hitting all her milestones in a timely fashion, her parents have started planning for the future.

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WHY WE ENJOY OUR HOBBIES

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a hobby as “a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation, engaged in especially for relaxation.” Hobbies include anything from playing a musical instrument to gardening, bird watching or sewing. A hobby is a way of focusing on something you enjoy just for the sake of that enjoyment. It may also be a way to clear your mental palette. You could be stressed out by a situation at work or the challenges of raising children and need an escape.

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If your disability enables you to transfer from a wheelchair into an automobile, storing a folding wheelchair in the trunk or back seat of your car, it simplifies the trip considerably. It is always advisable to travel with someone who is familiar with how to help you transfer and other routines of your day as a disabled person, including getting up and dressed in the morning and preparing for bed at night.

If anybody knows how to travel by wheelchair, it’s Ralph Yoder. For more than 20 years, Yoder’s lower body has been paralyzed and he has only limited use of his hands.


It all began Aug. 15, 1994, the day Yoder fell off a roof. He landed on a concrete driveway 20 feet below, completely shattering two vertebrae in his neck. Fracture is the most serious injury the spine can suffer because if the fractured vertebrae move, the spinal cord may be compromised, causing paralysis of all muscles below the point of injury.


That is what happened to Yoder. He was 37 years old. He had a wife and two young daughters. He would never walk again. His hands no longer responded correctly to his efforts to move them.


With hard work and determination, Yoder learned to feed himself and write again. But he remains immobile and must be lifted from his wheelchair to a chair, bed, or vehicle. He received a custom-fitted motorized wheelchair. He now moves along at a good clip all over his Central Kentucky town, day or night, in the heat or cold.


When the Yoders wanted to try flying with the wheelchair, they did a lot of research. Airlines generally let immobile passengers fly, but the secret to a successful flight is to start planning early. One week or at least 48 hours may be required for the airline to meet some requests.

TRAVELING WITH A WHEELCHAIR

If you call an airline’s main reservation number or go to its Web site, you can usually access a Disability Service Request form or find a special assistance section that will give information about whether your needed medical device or particular type of wheelchair is approved for travel. Although it depends on the aircraft, in most cases an immobile passenger will be transferred to an aisle seat and the wheelchair stowed elsewhere on the same plane.


According to information on the Delta Airlines Web site  (www.delta.com), before an immobile passenger can book a flight, the airline must know his or her weight. This enables the airline to have adequate personnel available at the airport to lift the passenger from the wheelchair into a regular seat on the aircraft. If the chair is motorized, the airline needs to know what is needed to recharge its battery. Most airlines require a disabled person to always fly with a companion, never alone.


After a frightening experience in which an airline sent his chair to the wrong airport, the Yoders purchased a Ford E-150 van. The van makes possible road trips from Kentucky to visit their family in Pennsylvania. A special lift raises Yoder, chair and all, into the passenger’s side of the front seat of the van. A bolt in the floor of the van secures the chair, and Yoder, still in his chair, straps in with a seat into an belt made to work with the wheelchair. And he’s ready to go.

MARTHA EVANS SPARKS

Martha Evans Sparks is a Staff Writer for Living Well 60+ Magazine

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