I was born and raised in Florida, I was stationed here twice while I was on active duty in the Air Force, and five years ago I again became a resident. But despite having lived more than half my life here, I still can’t get over the summer heat! The situation is even worse for me because I have multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease that makes me very sensitive to heat.
Sitting in a black wheelchair under the sun is definitely no picnic either, especially when any part of your chair is make of vinyl or leather. And let’s not even talk about the sweating and fabric cushions! Fortunately, there are several ways I can offer wheelchair users – and ANY visitors to a warm climate – to cool down a bit and beat the heat when it’s really cranked up.
1. Carry a portable mister. These are my saving grace when I know I have to be in the sun for at least a little while (like at an amazing accessible Florida beach), or when I’d like to spend some time with my kids by the pool. They look like a regular water bottle, but inside is a pump that pressurizes the air in the bottle (with the ice water you put in it). There’s a small hose that extends from the bottom of the bottle with a nozzle and valve at the end. Just give the bottle a few pumps, twist the valve, and several seconds of cold mist emerge. Spray your face, neck, and arms for instant cooling.
This mister also works as a portable shower and water bottle. Lunatec Aquabot sport water bottle
2. Use evaporative inserts. You can buy these in many different shapes and sizes, to be placed anywhere from your hat to the inside of your bra. These inserts contain a gel material that you soak in water. When the water evaporates, the gel cools for usually up to two hours. You can find the same material in medical packs used to keep injectables cool when refrigeration isn’t available. They don’t last super long, but they’re great for a short outing and when ice isn’t available.
This cooling bandana can be worn under a hat or under clothes for up to four hours. Ergodyne Chill-Its 6700CT Evaporative Cooling Bandana
3. Use frozen gel-pack inserts.
Depending on the size, these can last for a bit longer than the gel inserts. They’re hard gel packs that freeze solid, then you insert them into fabric wraps most commonly used on your wrists. This applies the cold of the pack to the veins just under the skin to help cool your circulating blood faster. These are great if you’re doing something closer to home, or have a small refrigerator with a freezer in your accessible hotel room.
These gel packs can also be heated for therapeutic pain relief. Inerzen Wrist Support Hot and Cold Gel Therapy Wrap
4. Wrap up in an evaporative towel.
These work in a similar fashion to the gel inserts, except it’s the fabric of the towel that does the quick evaporation and cooling. The towels are not very large – usually the size of a hand towel – but can be wrapped around your neck or over your head for quick refreshment. They last up to four hours, and to reactivate the cooling process, just get the towel wet again.
This cooling towel is inexpensive and comes in several colors. Chill-Its 6602 Evaporative Cooling Towel
5. Wear a cooling vest.
These are designed for people like me who need hard-core cooling for extended outings in the heat. Cooling vests come in three designs: evaporative cooling (they last about four hours), those that use frozen cold-pack inserts (they last about three hours) and those that are electrically powered (they last about ten hours). The non-evap vests are at the top end of the price scale for cooling products and technology, and some are pretty high tech – similar to the ones designed for fire fighters. However, the cooling effect will be the strongest.
This vest is a workhorse for keeping you cool in triple-digit temps. FlexiFreeze Personal Cooling Kit
6. Plan your activities as early and late as possible. Of course the sun is out for longer periods in the summer, but most tourist attractions in Florida are also open later. Try to get out and about as early as possible to avoid the hottest parts of the day. In many places you’ll read that it’s between 10am – 2pm, but the humidity in Florida mixes things up a bit. Daily afternoon storms during Florida summers help cool things off temporarily, but when the sun comes back out, the worst heat of the day kicks in around 3pm. Stay indoors if you can until dusk; then you’re only battling the mosquitoes. Hey, welcome to Florida!
7. Plan activities based on access to air conditioning. At places like theme parks, you can’t avoid being outside for at least part of your day. Fortunately, there’s always a ride or store or restaurant nearby where you can duck in for a few minutes to cool off. When exploring a city or town, check maps before you leave your hotel to make sure you’ll be close to a shop or restaurant with indoor seating, or at least misters over their (hopefully shaded) outdoor patio.
8. Stay hydrated with cold water or electrolyte drinks only. Contrary to what some people think, just because a beverage is cold and liquid and is made with water doesn’t mean it will hydrate you. Anything with caffeine or alcohol will do the opposite, and anything with sugar can make you even more thirsty. Still to cold water whenever possible, and use electrolyte drinks like Gatorade or Powerade to keep your electrolytes, salts, and potassium in balance.
9. Wear white or light-colored cotton clothing. The color black absorbs heat, while the color white reflects it. White or light-colored clothing will help keep your body cool, and cotton will absorb sweat to help it evaporate – thus cooling you in the process. Cotton or linen clothing also won’t stick to you and will help your skin breathe to prevent chafing. Feel free to indulge in higher-end athletic wear designed to wick moisture away even faster, but the price tag for those items may be too extravagant for some.
10. As a last resort, soak your shirt in ice water. Hey, I know it’s not convenient or attractive to wear a wet t-shirt in public (unless you intentionally entered a contest), but as a last resort (or emergency), wearing an ice-cold wet shirt will cool you off in a hurry. Ladies, only do this with dark shirts or you’ll be sorry about the exposure later. This method also works extremely well (and in a more subtle fashion) with baseball caps or fabric hats.
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