My readers know me as a world traveler and an electric scooter (or power wheelchair) user. If you’ve read my About page, you know I’m an entrepreneur and dabble in the world of counterdrug analysis. But I’m also a single mom to two amazing boys, and I relish any opportunity I have to travel with them in my capacity as a wheelchair user. I want to use this post to share some of the great experiences I’ve had as a traveling wheelchair mom, and also share some of the major challenges that exist for families who want to travel with a disabled parent.
It’s bittersweet to say that the older my boys get, the easier parenting becomes for me. Parents normally don’t want their children to grow up too fast, and you don’t want to speed past those precious moments and milestones. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about all the things we’ll be able to do together and the places we’ll be able to go when they’re even older. They are currently 9 and 7 years old, and incredibly independent and helpful. They can do most things for themselves, and are strong and capable enough to help me overcome many physical challenges. I can take them many places now by myself, like restaurants, the movies, and the zoo without any help. However, if we go to a busy museum, I bring our nanny or someone else to help keep up with them – especially if they split up and go in two different directions in a large crowd of people.
I live in the Orlando area, so when the boys are with me during the summer or weekends, theme park visits are a must. I always have to have help at theme parks, and while we can all sit together during shows, I usually can’t go on most rides with them since I can’t walk any steps to transfer onto a ride (most require this). Since I have multiple sclerosis, I’m very sensitive to heat. As such, I have to time visits to any outdoor places for early in the morning with plenty of shade. This is why I love water parks and splash pads! Fortunately here in Orlando, pretty much every tourist attraction is very wheelchair friendly.
I haven’t flown with my boys by myself yet. I think they’d be able to handle it just fine since they love air travel and behave extremely well when they fly with their dad. However, I think I would get stressed out between the combination of getting my own special needs taken care of and making sure they’re okay. Since they’re still young, I also don’t know that they would find my destinations and preferred points of interest – museums, history, architecture, etc. – all that interesting. They would go crazy over an accessible beach destination (off-limits for me without help and in hot weather) or a Disney cruise, but the ports of call for the latter might keep them from really enjoying it because of limits to where I can go.
Even if I were to stick to road trips in the US, challenges still come up. They can go hiking and camping with their dad, but I’m actually surprising them with a trip to Great Wolf Lodge in North Carolina next week. That resort is ideal for us since they have accessible rooms with bunk beds for the kids. Sadly, typical ADA rooms with the roll-in shower that I need often have only one bed. On the rare occasion they have two beds, they’re usually double beds, and you can imagine how hard sleep is to come by when two adolescent boys try to share a double bed. An all-suite hotel like a Residence Inn or Springhill Suites is ideal, but not available everywhere. In essence, families who have a member with a physical disability are limited in where they can travel based on the availability of accommodations that can keep them all together, either in a suite, large room, or connecting rooms.
Honestly, the hardest part about traveling with my kids as a wheelchair mom is overcoming the guilt. Mommy guilt is a “thing” anyway, but it’s multiplied times ten when you feel your children are being deprived of something great because of something that is no fault of their own. When you’re slow. When you draw unwanted attention. When you can’t go with them somewhere. I’m often able to bring someone with me to prevent some of those things, but then I’m missing out on precious travel experiences with my children. I dream of the day when they’re a few years older and I can introduce them to the magic of accessible Vienna or take the Metro with them around the sights in Washington, DC. But in the meantime, I’ll do the best I can as a wheelchair mom to stoke in them an interest in travel and in the world around them that we can access together.