Everyday Gear Games/Recreation High Tech Public Accessibility Travel Wheelchairs

Segway Scooter as an Assistive Device

A group called DRAFT (Disabililty Rights Advocates for Technology) distributes Segway scooters through its Segs4Vets program, matching Segways with veterans with a wide variety of disabilities. Segway scooters have a very small ‘footprint’, with a turning radius that is much smaller than that of a power chair. For most users they represent a less-fatiguing, more versatile means of ‘walking’ — as well as one that accommodates a wide variety of terrain.

Best of all, say users, a Segway, unlike a wheelchair, allows face-to-face interaction.

Sounds like a great, feel-good post doesn’t it? Maybe — but it turns out that the obstacles these vets face aren’t the ones you’d expect. Because Segways go much faster than a power chair and appear to represent a greater threat to pedestrians, many cities (liberal, people-loving San Francisco, among them) have banned them. So have other venues: Disney World and at least one Barnes and Noble store in Arizona, among them.

Disney’s argument seems to be that the scooters haven’t been certified as ADA assistive devices; it’s unclear how retailer objections will play out. A Segway disability-use permit — like the parking placards issued by every state — would seem to be a simple, logical solution to the question of identifying scooter drivers with a disability, but hey, I’m only thinking logically here. While the world sorts this out, riders might want to pack a doctor’s note and see if some courteous information exchange can get them to that latte.

Segways aren’s for everyone with a disability. Though they can be modified in various ways, their use depends on considerable motor skills, along with a dose of good judgment. (Speed is increased or decreased by leaning forward or back; forgetting this can have serious consequences.) Those who use them particularly cite the advantages of being able to travel upright for longer periods of time, and the ease of getting where power chairs just don’t like to go. There’s a certain cool factor, too. Unlike a power chair, they’re likely to inspire some admiring glances; this assistive device is coveted by people without disabilities, as well.

Segway image from Flickr

Everyday Gear Travel

Strain-Relieving Handle for Rollling Suitcases and Bags

If you’re attempting to fly with American Airlines this week, there’s probably nothing in the world that can make the experience better. In the future, though, if you find yourself traversing airports with bags in tow, this device might be your best companion, particularly if you have wrist or hand pain that is aggravated by the handles on rolling bags.

There are quite a few similar handles available, but this is the one I use. Here’s why: the grabber rotates 360 degrees. That means that I can always keep my hand where it’s most comfortable; it makes pulling my bags easy and pain-free.

Someone was really thinking when the attachment was designed, too: the hook and loop fasteners are on both sides of the bar that attaches to your bag handle. That keeps the TravelTow handle firmly in place, but allow you to rotate where you want it.

I use mine nearly everyday; one is attached to my rolling shopping basket. It works perfectly on my rolling computer case, too, as well as on suitcases.

TravelTow Handle Adapter by Lewis N. Clark; available at travel gear stores and various places online.

Travel Wheelchairs

Securing Wheelchairs in Vehicles

tie-down.gifIf you travel in a wheelchair, or care for someone who does, you might want to take a look at this website, run by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. You’ll find recommendations for best practices, other suggestions, and detailed information about how to use tie-down straps and locking devices.

There’s also an “Other Factors” page with specifics covering basic information that otherwise might get learned the hard way. (Securing loose items, how to deal with trays, head and neck support, etc..)

Especially useful for those who are new to wheelchair transport, this website is also an excellent refresher course for the old pro. (Or for anyone relying on the incomprehensible leaflets that come with new straps.) A glossary page demystifies some of the jargon, and there’s a useful resources page, too.

At Home DIY Everyday Gear Travel

DIY – Small, Sleek Cart for Portable Oxygen

Modern portable units have revolutionized the lives of many oxygen users. Unlike the bulky and heavy tanks of former times, contemporary units are quite compact and often can even be worn like shoulder bags. The corresponding increase in mobility has quite literally changed lives, but for many, even the smallest units can be difficult to carry over the course of a few hours.

oxy-cart.jpgMetal carts are easily found and quite common. They’re ugly, though, look flimsy, and aren’t particularly user-friendly. One inventive son came up with this attractive and practical alternative for his mother. The base is a rectangular wooden box with sides just high enough to hold the tank in place. Two sturdy dowels lead from the back of the box to a thicker, horizontal dowel which forms the handle. The wheels are on a simple axle.

The sides of the box drop below the platform so that the cart is stable when upright; it rolls easily whether pushed or pulled. Mom pointed out that the handle was the perfect height for a little support when resting, saying that it felt a lot like having a cane along.


A Website for Travelers with Disabilities

Image of Gimp on the Go LogoGimp on the Go, billed as “The Internet’s Premier Disabilities Travel Publication”, is a work of love created by a fellow named Adam Lloyd, who became quadriplegic as the result of an accident 24 years ago. He’s more than qualified to run a website for travelers with disabilities; his bio notes that “[S]ome of his favorite destinations are Costa Rica, Germany, Las Vegas, New York, and the Caribbean”.

Just about anyone with a disability will find something of value on this website. It’s not the easiest site to use, and the lack of a search box means that you’re pretty much out of luck if you’re looking for something specific. Don’t let that stop you from delving through the material, though — what’s written here is worth reading.

The website is divided into six sections. Click on Travel Reviews for continent-specific information and several reviews of cruises; the articles are lengthy and packed with useful details.

Travel Tips covers general travel information: Check out Wheelchair Beach Access for a novel — and surprisingly simple — solution to the problem of water access. Other articles cover tips for visually-impaired travelers; travelling with service animals and or oxygen; van rentals, taking wheelchairs on planes and more.

The Travel Resources section features extensive links and “Gimp” reviews, and the Photo Gallery offers a lot of visual proof that there are plenty of good reasons to leave home.

Travel Industry News is a little thin and, as on the rest of the site, the entries are undated; adding dates would be a good improvement and a fine way to let people know when a little more research might be advisable.

You won’t miss a lot if you skip the Bulletin Boards; the contributions are unmoderated, and therefore — predicatbly — full of spam and porn.

On his home page, Lloyd warns that “Gimp” is “updated as time and material allow”; he’s working on a PhD in English and is a little busy at the moment. If you have travel experiences to share, though, send them along — contributing writers are welcome to submit articles. No pay, but contributors “will get credit, prestige, a free luggage tag, and the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping the community of disabled travelers” — not too shabby.

At Home Nursing Home Travel Wheelchairs

Simple Two-Person Transfer Sling

Image of a Gimpgear Personal Transfer SlingPreviously, I’ve written about the hydraulic lift I used to transfer my dad from his wheelchair onto the seat of a car. It’s a great device, but cumbersome and requires installation in whatever vehicle is being used.

The sling in the picture above (left) is quite similar to the one my dad’s automatic lift. The difference is that the Comfort Carrier doesn’t require a mechanical arm. If you’re in situations where there are usually two people available to help with a transfer, this is a far simpler — and much less expensive — solution.

Travel Wheelchairs

Accessible Hotel Rooms

Image of a Man in a Wheelchair Using an Accessible Sink in a Microtel InnSummer is travel time, and that also means it’s gambling time for people who use wheelchairs or who have other disabilities that make using a typical hotel room something of a pain. Travelers with ‘special needs’ might want to take a look at Microtel Inns. Last year, a representative of the company told me that Microtel intends to make all of its rooms ADA-compliant.

It looks as if they’ve gone a bit further than that. Their website implies that they’ve not only done the ADA thing but invoked intelligent design. Not the creationist kind — the kind of design that is intelligent. Clicking on Specialty Travel>Travelers With Disabilities>Room Types not only gets you to a list of accomodations, but floor plans and virtual tours of an accessible bathroom and a double room.

According to the website,

Microtel Inns & Suites ADA-Accessible hotel rooms incorporate features such as:

  • Two (2) peepholes on each door, one located 48″ above the floor, for our travelers who may use a wheelchair.
  • Door locks on guestroom doors that are no higher than 48″ above the floor.
  • Electronic door locks and door handles that can be operated with a closed fist.
  • Guestroom and guest bathroom doors that are a minimum of 36″ wide.
  • Closets with lowered clothes bar located at 48″ above the floor plus removable hangers.
  • Switches that are located 42″ above the finished floor.
  • Heavy-duty 8″ metal bed frames with heights not greater than 23″ from the floor.
  • Desks with a minimum of 27″ clearance space.
  • Remote equipped televisions with closed captioning for the hearing impaired.
  • Drapery wands with a ring attachment measuring 4″ in diameter mounted on the lower end of the baton.

The list of bathroom amenities is impressive, too, as are the photos. The accessible sink enjoyed by the gent above is only the beginning; the shower shown in the still photos would do any private home proud.

Both Microtel and their extended-stay partner Hawthorn also offer a “Short Stature Accessibility Kit” designed for use by Little People, including “a custom stepstool, ergonomic reach grabber, door security latch adapter, extension or ‘push-pull’ tool, and specially designed closet rod adapter”.

“Compliance alone” is not enough, according to Microtel’s website:

We are currently the only hotel chain to offer Opening Doors® training for disability etiquette to ALL staff at EVERY one of our hotels. The Opening Doors program teaches hospitality employees how to be friendly and helpful to travelers with disabilities and also teaches practical service skills covering customer relations, operational procedures, emergency and safety considerations, and an awareness of “people first” terminology.

I’m not thrilled that I can’t get any idea about rates on the website without providing my name and contact information, but Microtel is theoretically an economy/budget choice. That’s a small quibble, though, considering what’s on offer — but I would like to know what it all costs. There’s a 10% discount for travelers over 50.

And, oh, yes, the entire website’s available in Spanish — click on the link in the upper right hand corner.

Games/Recreation Travel Wheelchairs

SF-Area Trails for People Who Use Wheelchairs

GearAbility is back, and the laptop is feeling much better now, thank you. In honor of the summer weather — which is currently rotten on the east coast, but probably lots better in California — today’s post celebrates the great outdoors.

Image of Ann Sieck and Friend on a Wooded TrailBerkeley, California resident Ann Sieck has a website called San Francisco Bay Area Wheelchair Accessible Trails, with a rather comprehensive listing of trails she’s either used herself with various wheelchairs, or which have been rated by other “reliable sources”.


Taking the Train to the Abilities Expo

Image of Abilities Expo LogoI spent a long weekend in New York City last week, and attended the New York Metro Abilities Expo in Edison, New Jersey, on the way up to the city. It was a great experience; I met some old acquaintances from other expos, tried out some new gear, and generally had a good time exploring and poking around the booths and displays.


Handle Adapter to Make Pulling Luggage Simpler

Image of a Rotating Luggage Handle AdapterWheeled luggage is great for surviving long lines when traveling, but dragging it by the handle can be hard on wrists, arms and shoulders. Reaching behind to grab a bar that seems to always be at the wrong angle gets old fast.