Talking About Accessible Travel

I’ve recently had major foot surgery and find myself less than agile with walking, especially for long distances. My surgeon says everything is healing fine but it will take time. Unfortunately that time had not yet arrived when it was my time to travel to Washington DC for the Consortium of MS Centers annual meeting. This is a great meeting and full of wonderful opportunities to learn more about MS practice, share my enthusiasm for iConquerMS, and network with people across all fields of MS care. In other words, if there was any way to make it happen, I wanted to be there. I did a few things to make sure my trip would be ok, despite being present at a huge conference center and facing miles of walking each day.

Of course I made sure the airline knew I would need assistance with wheelchair transportation – I do that normally because my home airport, while limited in the number of flights available, is still spread across quite a bit of territory. That lift saves me a half-mile of walking just to get to the gate. If you are unsure of how to book accessible travel online, then by all means call the airlines assistance number and talk with a live person.

A friend at the conference was telling me she has upcoming travel booked on an airline but even after making her reservations she has had several telephone conversations to be sure all would be fine. She had the presence of mind to recognize the flight she had been booked on was a regional carrier- meaning she would be flying on a small jet plane with limited cargo space. She was concerned that her electric wheelchair would not fit in the space, and it took her three phone calls to connect with the right person who understood her question and confirmed she was right. Consequently, her flights had to be changed so her wheelchair would fit. Her trip would not have even been able to take off if she were not able to take her chair. It took perseverance on her part to make sure her questions were answered appropriately.

I have been to big conventions before and even though they weren’t all MS conferences they still have something in common – they required lots of walking on hard floors. I called the convention center hotel and asked if they had a vendor who they would recommend to rent a scooter for my time here. They were able to provide me the name and number for ScootAround, a national scooter rental company, and I was able to rent wheels for getting around at what I think is a reasonable cost. After booking online, their agent called me to confirm my needs and make adjustments to the equipment I had requested.

After I confirmed the scooter rental, I also talked to the hotel front desk – not via email but a real telephone conversation – to be sure the room I was assigned would accommodate the scooter. It would have been difficult if I had to leave the scooter parked in the hallway because it wouldn’t fit in my room. They switched my accommodations to an accessible room and there is plenty of space to roll in, park the scooter, and plug it in for a recharge.

I spent several stress-free days at the conference, without any problems with transportation or accommodations, and that is largely because of the recurrent theme – I didn’t just assume all would go well. I didn’t trust that the messages I sent via the internet websites and text options had received attention. I picked up the phone and talked to people, explained my needs, and verified they could take care of those needs and meet my expectations. Yes, it often requires listening to which options to push on the keypad and being subjected to recordings of bad music while waiting to connect with a live person to speak with, but if you talk about your travel needs in advance of your trip, you will almost always reduce the difficulties.

Wishing you well,

Laura

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