Alysia Kezerian, founder of Wheelies Around the World, which “celebrates wheelchair travellers far and wide”, tells BBT about the experience of travelling with a disability
My airport routine is simple. I check in at the front (I always carry my bags on) where they help me upgrade my seat. You can call 24 hours ahead of time, but I’ve found it easier to show up to the airport three hours early to get the upgrade. I make my way to my gate and let them know I’ll need an aisle chair (wheelchairs are too wide for plane aisles) and ask for a gate tag for my chair. I ALWAYS tell whoever is about to put my chair under the plane for the flight, “PLEASE take extra care of that because those are my legs and if something happens to that, I have no way of getting around.” So far, nothing bad has happened to my chair, but I’ve heard some horror stories.
Airlines usually set aside a few spots in the economy plus section for travellers with disabilities. Sometimes I’ll get nerve pain spasms in my legs and more leg room means I’m less likely to annoy the person in front of me. Once on the plane, I ask to make sure there is an aisle chair in case I need to use the restroom during the flight.
I try to pack as light as I possibly can. But travelling with a disability, I need to make sure I have tools, including an Allen wrench in case there are issues with my chair, extra tubes in case a tyre pops, extra meds and other medical supplies. But I never pack more than what I can fit into a larger carry-on bag that I can hold on my lap. During my last trip, I packed three pairs of shoes, plus my leg braces and crutches, and four outfits into my
bag, which was a miracle.
It can be frustrating trying to find a place I can be 100 per cent confident is accessible. It’s easier now I am able to walk short distances but back when I didn’t have any leg function it was nerve wracking committing to any non-hotel options because the accessibility was never guaranteed.
As someone with a disability, I always have to be prepared. I’ve shown up to Airbnbs before where the elevator wasn’t wide enough for my chair, to a museum that didn’t have an accessible entrance or a restaurant without an accessible restroom – so many things go wrong like that on every trip. But I make sure I don’t get too frustrated, and keep a clear mind so I can think resourcefully. I’m never afraid to get creative. When the Airbnb’s elevator didn’t fit the chair, I would transfer out of my chair, sit on the floor of the elevator and take my chair apart so I could fit the pieces all in. Then at the top I would put my chair back together!
The only things that really changed between travelling as an able-bodied person versus travelling with a disability were my lodging plans – I’m just a bit more limited in my options. But flying changed for the better because I get upgrades now and board first!