The Pros and Cons of Traveling in a Wheelchair

Alyssa Silva avatar

by Alyssa Silva |

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I don’t know about you, but this time of the year always has me daydreaming of some sort of tropical getaway complete with life-changing excursions and the ability to immerse oneself in new cultures and traditions.

At heart, I’m consumed by wanderlust. I love seeking new adventures and exploring all the beauty this world has to offer. (Portugal ranks No. 1 on my list!) There’s something to say about the feeling you get after returning home from a trip, you know? It’s a feeling that you want to chase, a feeling that you wish you could bottle up and tuck under your arm to carry it wherever you go. It’s a feeling of refreshment and renewal after having just experienced something new and unfamiliar.

But, all feelings and sentiments aside, traveling is kind of terrifying when you’re in a wheelchair. Airlines can be reckless with your equipment, and accessibility when you’ve reached your destination isn’t always what you expected. To anyone who travels in a wheelchair or with someone who does, I know you totally feel me on this.

My biggest concern when traveling is how careless an airline can sometimes be when handling wheelchairs and any sort of medical equipment. Just the thought makes me cringe. I understand that handling a 300-pound chunk of metal isn’t the easiest task, but when it’s a person’s livelihood, someone might want to reconsider putting a wheelchair on its side and trying to shove it into a plane. Pro tip for those who may have to witness this: Banging on the airplane window and flailing your arms while trying to grab the attention of those handling the wheelchair is extremely ineffective and discouraging. My mother can attest to this.

Once you have jumped over that turbulent hurdle, accessibility factors are now your main concern for the city in which you are traveling. Will handicapped accessible taxis be available? Will shops and restaurants have steps? What are the beaches like in terms of wheelchair friendliness? And, the most burning question of all, will there be cobblestone? My solution to this is research, research, research, then research some more. Speak with someone from the area. Email local officials. Scope out accessibility on Google in terms of shops and restaurants. Be sure to plan out your travels ahead of time to avoid the kinks.

I have to admit, though, dealing with unexpected accessibility issues has always been a little exciting for me. Perhaps in the moment you’re a little frazzled, but when all’s said and done, it makes for a great adventure. For example, getting stranded at Navy Pier in Chicago at 2 a.m. because there weren’t any wheelchair taxis available is always my go-to vacation story. It probably wasn’t the safest situation to be in, but it certainly brought home a great story to tell.

For people with SMA or any kind of physical disability, wheelchairs essentially are “legs.” They help you get from one place to another, but if they’re broken, you’re not going to be able to get too far on your vacation. To me, though, every problem or headache that may arise when vacationing in a new place is entirely worth it. The wobbly gears on my wheelchair or the cobblestone streets in an old city aren’t enough to hold me back from experiencing the world. My heart is forever filled with wanderlust.


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 Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


Pamela K. Muhammad avatar

Pamela K. Muhammad

Hi Alyssa! I too love to travel I often say my wheels have wings(smile)I am always nervous/ excited when it comes to traveling because I never know what to expect for example:Who will lift me from the plane,car,will the room be handicap accessible, will I be able to take my motorized wheelchair,and so much more things run through my head. But regardless of all the concerns/ uncertainties. I still love the adventure of traveling! To my fellow travelers do as much research as possible to make the most of travels, then go for it! Smile


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