Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mission 2011: When Your Special Event Involves Travel

WheelchairImage by Kuranes via Flickr
So far, we've talked about what a special event is and I described my first successful special event to a concert at Dodger Stadium. Now it's time to look at the fibro-friendly things you can do when attending a special event means traveling to a destination away from home.

I Am Disabled

More than any other strategy, I think the key to fibro-friendly travel is learning to feel comfortable saying, "I am a person with disabilities and I require reasonable accommodations." This might seem like a big task for those of us who have invisible chronic illnesses.

Think the label "disabled" doesn't apply to you? According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, the definition of a disabled person is:

The term ‘disability’ means, with respect to an individual –

(a) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual;
(b) a record of such impairment; or
(c) being regarded as having such an impairment.
(P.L. 101-336, Sec. )
I hope I've convinced you that you're truly entitled to say you are disabled. If you follow my advice, I guarantee that you'll find that mastering this skill will result in big energy-saving payoffs. Asking for and taking advantage of available help can quite literally can make the difference between having fun or suffering miserably while out-of-town.

I Require Reasonable Accommodations

Not sure what to ask for? Let me provide these suggestions:

  • When you call your airline to confirm your flight plans, you'll want to tell the agent, "I am a person with disabilities and I will require wheelchair assistance in the airport."
  • When you call your hotel to confirm your reservation, you'll want to say, "I am a person with a disability and I will require a shower bench/grab bars/a raised toilet seat/etc. in my hotel room."
  • Upon reviewing your travel plans by car, you are going to want to let your traveling companions know, "Since I am a person with disabilities, I'll need to stop and stretch my legs every few hours so I don't get stiff and cramped up."
  • Once at your destination, you'll want everyone to know, "Since I am a person with disabilities, I'm going to need to stop and rest every few hours. That means I might not be able to participate in all the activities you have planned for the day."
  • At the concierge desk at the hotel, let them know, "I am a person with a disability and I need to rent a mobility scooter to help me get around while I am here." and "I am a person with disabilities and I need disabled seating for this show/concert/event I want to attend while I am staying here."
Lessons Learned in San Francisco

How did I get so fibro-friendly about travel? I learned to ask for these things after a completely disastrous trip to San Francisco in 2005.

I had only been living with fibromyalgia and chronic illness for about 11 months and was still pushing myself way too hard. So when I got to San Francisco, I simply did too much. I didn't ask for help at the airport or hotel and scheduled way too many activities and not enough rest. The whole weekend I was tired but wired, which resulted in poor sleep. By the time we got to the airport to fly back home, I almost collapsed from sheer exhaustion. It was only then did I ask for a wheelchair.

Don't Take "No" For an Answer

It might be hard the first time you ask for help. You might even be hesitant because you are afraid someone will say "no." Don't let fear and embarrassment stand in your way. Take the time to do a little bit of extra preparation to make sure your requests won't be ignored or denied:

  • If you have a disabled parking placard, bring it with you on your travels and display it if you are met with resistance.
  • Consider asking your doctor in advance for a letter that states you are a person with health problems and require assistance. You might even consider asking them to list your medical conditions ... at least the ones you are comfortable disclosing and are relevant to your requests for accommodations.
Don't Let Travel Stop You

Most of all, I hope this post inspires you to reconsider your plan for travel. I believe that if you follow the suggestions above, the prospect of travel will no longer prevent you from considering special events that occur away from home. You might not be able to attend as many events as you would like, but you still can go from time to time and arrive back home feeling in control of the management of your chronic illness symptoms.

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1 comment

Felicia Fibro said...

The word disabled is a hard bullet to bite when describing yourself, if you're not used to it. Many times I start off with saying that I have a chronic pain condition first. That usually works.

As you know, I had a doozy of an experience in Switzerland and now I will always travel internationally with a letter from my doctor explaining my conditions and their impacts.

As you said, I will never let fibromyalgia keep me from traveling. Although it can be tough at times, it creates life long memories.