Trip lessons

As I have mentioned earlier, Ed and I drove to Tennessee to pick up my 88-year-old mother and her dog, Jenny, and drove them and their belongings to Maine to live with us.  It was quite an adventure!  Our requirement of motels with handicap accessibility as well as willingness to let Jenny spend the night with us severely limited our options, but thanks to kindness of strangers and my sister's frantic Internet searches from Memphis, we had excellent accommodations for all three nights on the road.

This was my first experience, however, traveling with a handicapped person and seeing the world from their point of view.  Mom's handicap is due to the cumulative effects of her age, her macular degeneration and eyelid spasms inhibiting vision and making her extremely sensitive to light, her arthritis, the effects of her broken ankle and hip injuries and repairs from her car accident a few years ago, her dependence on a walker to stand and ambulate, and her recent apparent allergic reactions to two antibiotics.  In other words, it was slow going.

I've never had a broken bone or other injury which forced me to use crutches or to have inability to move around normally, and I rarely gave a thought to those who did.  Apparently, neither did a lot of businesses and states when they planned their facilities.  There was a gorgeous rest stop in Tennessee, for instance, full of trees and picnic tables and a nice cabin-like structure.  Oh yes, it had handicap access.  However, there was a long walk required from the handicap parking spaces to reach the building, all uphill, with cracks which tended to catch walker parts, and let me tell you, in near 100-degree weather under a blazing sun, it was unbearable.  I tried to maneuver Mom and her walker and at the same time, held an umbrella over her to protect her from the sun's intolerable heat, but then when we arrived at the door, which required manual opening, I had to leave her standing there, manually open the door, throw the umbrella down inside the building, keep the door open, and guide her through the door.   Fortunately, one of the state workers was kind enough to pick up the open umbrella, close it up, snap it shut, and hand it back to me.

The handicap stall, of course, was the one which required Mom to walk the farthest.  It was not big enough for 2 people, so I had to stand with the door open in order to help her.  Then, after having a little trouble getting her and the walker close enough to the soap dispenser and sink to wash up, we started the long walk back to the car in the sun.

There were variations of this along the trip.  At one McDonald's, the closest door meant Mom walking directly into a drive-thru lane.  The attached gift shop had a handicap ramp that was much too steep and seemed to be built as an afterthought, which required Mom to walk the length of the porch to enter the McDonald's.

On the other hand, there were wonderfully planned motel rooms with rails and shower seats - however, two rooms had beds too high for her to even sit on, much less climb in.  She spent one night in a recliner.

I'll bet if it were required for planners and architects and CEOs to maneuver around just one day in a wheelchair or walker, things would be different.  I tried to do that in our house here, before Mother's arrival.  I took a stool and pretended it was a walker, and "walked" around our house, sitting here, turning there, reaching here, passing there, trying to figure out what we could do to improve things.  Would this rug need to be moved?  Could she reach this shelf?  Would she be able to get out of that chair?  It was an eye-opening experience.  The trip certainly made me reconsider everything I've ever thought about building and access planning.  It's hard enough to be dependent on a walker or wheelchair and feel embarrassed about your shuffling gait or your halting movement; it just makes it worse to have facilities poorly prepared to handle your disability.

And yes, there were also restrictions traveling with a dog, of course.  Jenny, a border collie mix, was the perfect traveler, never whined, never barked, never made a mistake.  But you can't take a dog in a restaurant.  And you can't leave a dog in 98-degree heat parked in the sun.  And many motels will not accept dogs at all.  We had to continually make alternative plans.  Once, Mom and I went in a fast food place and sat in the air condition and ate, while Ed, after having taken Jenny for a short walk, stayed in the car with her and ate his hamburger after we returned to the car.  Another time, we all ate sitting in the car.  At one point, unable to find a motel to accept dogs, Ed was willing to spend the night in the car with her if it was the only way.

I just don't understand it.  More and more people are traveling with pets.  Sometimes it's because the pet is a family member and they don't want to leave it at home.  Other times it is pure necessity, such as, in our case, a move across several states in the summer.  I can understand why restaurants do not allow pets (except service dogs), but why can't there be an area of shade and maybe a water source for dogs somewhere outside the restaurant?  How much would it cost to build some roofs for parking in the shade for cars containing animals?  How about a few shade trees?  What are travelers supposed to do in the heat of summer when it's time to eat and no accommodation for their pet?

It was nice to see rest stops and motels with pet walk areas.  It was good to see handicap parking and ramps and handicap stalls in the bathrooms (even though some were not big enough).  But I can attest that what has been done by government and private industry is not enough to accommodate the disabled traveler and/or their pets.  Any reasonable person, if he/she put himself/herself in the place of someone using a wheelchair or walker or cane, or in the place of someone blind or deaf or missing a limb, or in the place of someone with crippling arthritis who can't turn knobs or switches, could identify areas of improvement.

Listen up, you people who are in charge of these things.  Don't assume that you yourselves will always have the capability to move at the speed to which you are accustomed.  Don't assume you will always be in good health, have good heart and lungs, and two capable legs and two capable arms and fingers and joints that still work.  Don't assume you will always be able to handle the noonday sun,  read a menu,  open a heavy door, or even be able to travel with a bladder that functions appropriately.  As for right now, the Baby Boomers are retiring, we are traveling, many with pets, and we are, yes, getting OLD.   Plan accordingly.  Next time, it may not be your parent or grandparent.  It may be you.

PS - It goes without saying, if you are not handicapped, please do not park in a handicap space...Thank you.