I’m hopeful that travel will get easier for people with disabilities

Kevin Schaefer avatar

by Kevin Schaefer |

Share this article:

Share article via email

In “The Lord of the Rings,” Sam and Frodo travel through rocky terrains and the murkiest of marshes on the road to Mordor. By the time they finally reach their destination, the hobbits are drenched in blood, bruises, and tears from the hardships of their journey. Contrary to the open fields of their home in the Shire, Mordor is a terribly inaccessible land for the halflings.

Venturing across the United States as a wheelchair user may not be the same as a quest within Middle Earth, but the obstacles are nonetheless palpable.

My parents and I just returned from an epic road trip to Austin, Texas, from our home in North Carolina, for the annual Cure SMA conference. After our flying fiasco in 2019 resulted in airline staff wrecking my wheelchair, we decided not to fly again until airline accessibility improved. We did this song and dance in 2022 when we drove to California, but each trip we take tests our resilience.

Recommended Reading

Noninvasive spinal cord stimulation may help SMA motor function

The obstacles

The first hurdle came when we arrived in New Orleans for a two-night stay. Though it’s a city bursting with culture and delicious seafood, it has as much accessibility today as it did in the 19th century. Every sidewalk we encountered had cracks, potholes, and curves that made driving my wheelchair a feat. I had to maneuver with the utmost precision to avoid sliding or getting stuck. I still struggled and had to take breaks every few minutes to preserve my arm strength.

A 30-year-old man smiles for a photo on a stone sidewalk. He's seated in his power wheelchair and appears to be holding a cup in front of him. Behind him is a street and a building with a white and green striped awning. It's a sunny day, and several people are out walking in the background.

The food in New Orleans is excellent. (Courtesy of Kevin Schaefer)

This is the fear that every disabled person has when entering an unfamiliar place. It can be a city, a hotel, or even a restaurant. We face the potential of inaccessibility wherever we go.

With long road trips, there’s also the matter of loading and unloading my plethora of medical equipment for each hotel stay. This includes my bathroom seat, electric lift, BiPAP machine, and wheelchair battery charger. Thankfully my parents have unwavering fortitude and perseverance. Our combined strength and resourcefulness make these adventures possible.

We arrived in Austin safely the night before the conference began. I relished the joy of being surrounded by my community, but in the back of my mind, I wondered if I had it in me to manage another travel excursion like this in the future. With the conference back in California next year, could my mind and body endure the challenges of another cross-country road trip?

Then something happened.

A game changer

During the conference, Delta Air Lines presented a prototype seat that would allow wheelchair users to remain in our chairs and scooters during flights. Check out this post from travel blogger Cory Lee to see what the seat looks like.

While there’s no confirmed timeline for when this product will be available to the public, the fact that something is in development is a game changer for the disability community. Seeing this device in person gave me hope. Maybe future trips to conferences won’t come with the same obstacles that I’m so accustomed to. Maybe I can travel internationally one day and visit friends across the globe. A simple modification opens up a world of possibilities for people like me.

Just as the celestial eagles rescue Frodo and Sam from the fiery ruins of Mount Doom, this development is equally climactic. As soon as airlines become more accessible, this crip is ready to fly.

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

The post I’m hopeful that travel will get easier for people with disabilities appeared first on SMA News Today.