Friday, 12th April 2019
Those who follow my blog here or my Instagram will know that I absolutely love a good day out with family and friends. Planning a fun and safe day out with a powered wheelchair can be slightly different though from an excursion with an able-bodied group – so I thought I’d share a few of my top tips for you to get the most out of your day.
My absolute top tip for an accessible day out would be to plan. Unfortunately, many attractions and restaurants don’t go into detail about the wheelchair access of their venue on their websites. Often, it is better to directly phone the place you intend to visit and explain your specific requirements.
When I ring a new venue, I have a specific set of questions that I need answers to. Firstly, I would usually require a Blue Badge parking space near to the venue. I use a WHILL Model C which is perfect for my needs as it dismantles into three parts that can easily fit into a non-adapted vehicle on the back seat or in the boot. The lithium battery lasts longer than a conventional mobility scooter one would and is ideal during assembly of the chair since it isn’t heavy or bulky. Having this Blue Badge space near the venue helps Richard slot my chair together and give me plenty of space to transfer out of our car.
I can’t walk, so I would always require ramped access to any building. If a venue mentions that they have a separate disabled entrance, then it’s always worth noting where this entrance is so you don’t end up circling a building beforehand. Think about the weather conditions on the day you’ll be visiting as steep ramps can get dangerously slippery when trying to climb then in icy or snowy conditions.
I would also need the place I am visiting to have an accessible toilet, but I have no preference as to whether it requires a RADAR key to access it or is open to the public. I have experienced some horror stories where disabled toilets are concerned so I would highly recommend asking some detailed questions about this. Is the doorway large enough for a wheelchair user to access? Is there an aisle or direct route to this toilet from where I will be seated? Are there plenty of hand rails within the toilet to allow easy transfers? My WHILL Model C has omni wheels so I can easily turn 360 degrees in a very tight space. However, I would recommend asking whether the accessible toilet has enough room inside for an easy turning circle space.
Pack the essentials
I have a ready-packed bag with all my essentials. I always carry surplus medication so I will always be able to have this throughout the day. A bottle of water is always handy for this.
If you have an illness or a condition you should wear an alert medical bracelet or necklace that would explain your needs if you should require medical help and be unable to explain this yourself. There are handy apps that you can download which list your medications and conditions on your lock screen. That way, even if a medical professional cannot unlock your phone, they can have an awareness of past medical history and any relevant allergies you might have.
Another essential that I always carry in my bag is my power bank charger. That way, I can carry my WHILL Model C charging lead and plug it in to the power bank if I am running low on power. One thing I love about my WHILL is that it has a numerical power charge display so clearly tells you that you have 57% power remaining, for example. This is so much clearer than a power display that represents battery life in chunks as these displays only alert when you lose another quarter of your battery. I have found that my WHILL will allow me to have a full day out without charging usually but this will depend on the terrain and how far you wish to travel.
Travel with someone
If you are visiting a place you haven’t been before then it is often handy to travel with someone. You’ll often see my wonderful partner, Richard, pictured alongside me when we go on our adventures.
Although my chair gives me so much more independence than an assistant pushing my manual chair, I always have someone with me for safety. My medical conditions would make it unsafe to venture out alone but I could easily tell you about thirty separate occasions where I’ve needed assistance to travel around somewhere. This may be due to a steep incline or even due to stepped access into a place that told us in advance that they were accessible.
Know your chair
Different wheelchairs have wholly different capabilities and knowing what the chair you’re using can do is very important.
My WHILL Model C has a compact frame so I know it is perfect for weaving in and out of aisles in a supermarket or clothing store. However, I used to use another powered wheelchair which had a much larger frame that meant I struggled to access tighter spaces; particularly tight disabled toilets.
The omni wheels on the front of my WHILL are great as they allow me to make sweeping turns left and right without having to drive forwards and backwards to manoeuvre around a space. They reduce my need to drive forwards and backwards to awkwardly position myself against a dining table or into a disabled theatre seat. I love this feature as I feel far less limited by my surroundings.
Having a thorough understanding of your own wheelchair will allow you to understand the places that will be easy or tough for you to navigate.
Make it fun!
For all of my cautionary tales about planning and understanding your chair, it’s still so important to have fun when you’re out and about. There are so many challenges when it comes to a day out so the place you’re visiting has to be worth the battle!
Personally, I focus a lot on the company that I am with. Even if I encounter challenges getting to a new place, the memories that I create in that moment with my loved ones are more than worth the struggle! Depending on your personality, the location might be more of a focus so you might want to make sure that the food at the restaurant you visit will be delicious or the museum you go to would be interesting to you.
The day is all about you and your companions having a wonderful time so that should be one of your key focuses, so have a wonderful and safe day out!
A version of this blog post appears on Disabled Travel with Georgina. You can also follow Georgina on Instagram.
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