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Guest blog post: Travel Tips: A Seriocomic Guide for Wheelchair Users…

Travel Tips: A Seriocomic Guide for Wheelchair Users…

By Avery Olmstead

Recently, I went on a trip to Washington D.C.  DC itself was great and I would definitely go back in a heartbeat.  However, I was reminded of the special challenges of traveling when you use a wheelchair.  Taking into account this trip and other trips that I’ve been on, I’ve come up with some reminders to make your journey a little bit easier…

Note to Self:  When traveling with a disability, if you think something is going to take you an hour, schedule two hours.  Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

Note to Self:  If you use an electric wheelchair, know the weight and the type of battery that it takes.  If you hit turbulence during the flight, you won’t have to ponder if you guessed wrong and obsessively wonder if the weight of your chair is going to bring down the plane.  As a bonus, resist the urge to wake up your friend sitting next to you who hasn’t slept for 24 hours, to ask him what the hell is happening during said turbulence.

Note to Self:  Watch the flight attendants.  If they are not panicking, you don’t need to either.

Note to Self:  If you are lucky, you’ll get to sit in First Class or the front of the plane because it’s easier than having to drag your butt back to Coach.  The snacks aren’t any better but you may get a hot towel and the seats are choice.

Note to Self:  If you happen to be in the last row by the bathroom, resist the urge to charge admission.

Note to Self:  If you are in said last row and it is a very small and narrow plane, watch your feet so that the very nice but clearly out of their depth airline workers do not accidentally twist your ankle.

Note to Self:  Bring a book or something else to amuse you because as you’ll probably be the last person off the plane, you might be there awhile.

Note to Self:  Go to the bathroom before you get on the plane.  You might have an understanding flight crew who will get you a blanket and some privacy after everyone is off the plane.  However, you might get someone who flatly denies your request to go to the bathroom. Also, wear DEPENDS just in case. I wish I had.

Note to Self:  Feel free to enjoy the uncomfortable looks the flight crew gives you after the previous incident, when you have to share a shuttle with them to the airport.

Note to Self:  Remember that book that I said you should bring?  Keep it handy in case the shuttle bus that you are on, runs out of gas.

Note to Self:  When on the shuttle bus, make sure they strap you in.  If someone offers to hold the chair, say no.  The driver just might have to stop quickly and you might just go flying to the front of the bus.

Note to Self:  If you don’t see your bags, don’t panic.  It’s probably in the lost and found because it took so long to get you off the plane.

Note to Self:  If you are told by the conference organizer that there is a shuttle bus that will take you directly to your hotel, double check.  It saves you the time and agony of having to ask a stranger going to the same conference for a ride after being stuck at the airport for several hours, not being able to get a hold of anyone.  As a bonus, thank the stranger profusely, and fate, for not falling on your butt getting into her car.

Note to Self:  Get your wheelchair into the shop before your trip for a tune-up.  It may avoid looking like you’re sitting in a recliner.

Note to Self:    When you are from a small town and not used to public transportation, make sure to get on the subway as fast as you can, in order to avoid the door closing on your foot.  As an aside, forget being polite and letting the person in back of you go first, who got on the subway.

Note to Self: If staff look at you with a look of panic in their eyes when you show up at the gate, just smile and have a lot of patience, you might be here awhile.

Note to Self:  If your plane comes in at midnight and the transportation you were promised was going to be there to take you to the hotel, isn’t, wear warm clothes because you might be walking in a caravan to your destination.

Note to Self:  Give props to the airlines who get it right.  I love you SouthWest.

Note to Self:  Don’t stop traveling.  For all the misadventures I’ve had, I’ve had the opportunity to go on some great trips and see a lot of places that I would never see, otherwise.  Try to have a sense of humor about it (not always easy to do).  Look at it this way, didn’t you get a good laugh out of (most of) this article?


Avery Olmstead lives in Old Town, Maine with his 13 year old Maine Coon cat (and owner), Max. Avery has 44 years of personal & professional experience in the disability field.   He uses a wheelchair, due to Cerebral Palsy. He has a BS in Rehabilitation Services from the University of Maine at Farmington a post-graduate certificate as a Mental Health Rehabilitation Technician from the University of Southern Maine and an MLIS in Library & Information Science from the University of South Carolina at Columbia.

In 2014, Avery completed a 2.5 year stint working as an Academic Librarian for the Department of Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he researched, the research that has been created on the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Currently, Avery is a Legislative Associate for Speaking Up for Us of Maine ( In addition, he is a Volunteer Consultant on a healthcare access & advocacy project for the Maine Developmental Disabilities Council.

If you would like to contact Avery, feel free to do so at:

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