Travel Matters

By | 2017-01-13T20:43:35+00:00 March 1st, 2011|
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Q. I am a heavyset woman with MS and usually do not have the ability to transfer by myself. I love to travel, but so often the equipment I need is not available in far-flung places. Can you recommend a few portable products that help with transferring, bathing and other activities of daily living?

A. There are several portable transfer devices available, but first a caveat about transfer methods: Current  standards no longer support the use of the “quad pivot” transfer in hospitals or other medical settings, according to Kathy Dunn, MS, RN, CRRN, CNS-BC. This type of transfer, she explains, is inherently unsafe for caregivers and does not meet guidelines set by regulatory agencies such as Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Although there are lightweight and inexpensive pivot devices sold as travel aids, Dunn says users should consider safety first, noting that the Hoyer Advance, the LikoLight and the Molift Smart are portable options that provide safe transfers in line with the principles of “safe patient handling and movement.”
Many people do choose pivot lifts, however, and they continue to receive anecdotal support among some users. One that advertises in New Mobility is the  ErgoTrans, which connects a strap that fits under your thighs with a traditional transfer belt, using a side-release buckle. Some say that extra leverage really makes a difference for attendants and family members. “Traditional gait belts ride up,” says Linda Charlton, a central England resident whose husband Frank has MS. “Having the thigh strap stops it riding up and it means I don’t have to grab Frank’s waistband.” Instead, there are plenty of handholds in that area. Before ErgoTrans, Frank spent the first days of vacations recovering from dislocated shoulders from being lifted improperly, but now he and Linda travel all over the world and use regular public transportation in every city they visit.A drawback to the ErgoTrans is that users cannot transfer without assistance, and the solo lifting technique, demonstrated on the product’s website, doesn’t always work with larger users. However, the technique can be adapted: “I can’t put my husband’s head under my arm because he’s too tall and he would just flop over,” says Vicki Furrh, a Texas resident whose husband Kenneth has Parkinson’s disease. “I put his head on my shoulder and reach behind him instead of from the front.” The ErgoTrans is available from the website in multiple sizes for between $197 and $257.

If a step or two is the problem,the EZ Access Suitcase Ramp (Advantage Series) is a portable ramp that will work in some situations. It comes in a variety of sizes from two to six feet and folds in half into a suitcase with a built-in carrying handle, making it easy to check as an additional piece of luggage. It unfolds into a platform that’s 29 inches wide and bears 600 to 800 pounds. Though it is lightweight for carrying around, it still is not small enough to pack in a suitcase or carry on the back of a wheelchair or scooter. However, it is the most portable ramp we were able to find, perfect to store in a van or car. Still, if you’re going to carry it wherever you go, you will need assistance.

Another portable necessity is a shower chair. Consider the Nuprodx multiCHAIR, designed by Bruce Hammer, an entrepreneur and C6-7 quad profiled in NM’s “Manufacturing an Idea” in 2005. Hammer spent 15 years developing prototypes before he incorporated in 1998, and his products have a solid reputation in the industry.And finally, NM recently profiled three items that can make a big difference when hotel rooms aren’t quite as accessible as you need them to be. The first is the Telestik Reacher, which telescopes from eight to 34 inches and can be purchased in the following modes: a Telestik with a magnetic hook for $14.95, a Telestik with an adhesive pad for $15.95 and a Telestik that is a two-in-one combination of both for $29.95. Next, is the Rifton Hand Anchor, a palm-sized suction-cup grab-bar that provides an extra handhold for transferring (though not intended for full weight-bearing). Last, is the Go-Anywhere Commode Chair, another lightweight, portable shower/commode chair. You can get full details on all three of these items by reading NM’s August 2010 Innovations.

When booking travel packages through websites such as Priceline, Travelocity and Expedia, how do I make sure what I’m getting really is accessible?
A. There are two issues that make sussing out accessibility difficult when booking online travel packages: the short time limit imposed before the booking slot expires, and the fact that all you have to go on is the accessible symbol next to the hotel photo. On most sites taking more than 24 hours to cancel means you’ll still be paying at least a quarter of the cost of the trip, but one exception to that rule is Priceline. “I don’t see a time frame there,” says spokesperson Brian Ek. Priceline offers both retail and name-your-own-price options, with some hotels listing accessible rooms up front, but Ek’s advice is the same in both cases. “Book the room, then call the hotel and ask for an accessible room. If they don’t have one, or it won’t work for you, call us and we will call the hotel and if the hotel cannot accommodate you, we will offer to cancel the room.”Expedia has just launched a series of search filters that can help find a hotel that fits your accessibility needs. After clicking the “Hotels” tab, click on “Hotel Preferences” and check off all the accessibility filters that apply, including accessible path of travel, accessible bathroom, roll-in shower, braille or raised signage, accessible parking, in-room accessibility and accessibility equipment for the deaf.

Travelers can also request one or more specific accessibility features on Expedia’s online Reservation Page. The customer service team will review the request and contact the booked hotel to ensure that the specific traveler requests are met, and will contact the traveler directly to confirm the reservation or to offer to locate a similar room at an equivalent rate at another hotel. “We are thrilled to offer this new functionality to our travelers,” says John Morrey, vice president, “It was a much-needed part of the online travel booking process and we are proud to be able to meet the needs of disabled travelers who require accessible accommodations.” 

While this is potentially a very valuable service, it’s probably not prudent to rely solely on the assessments of others; you should always call hotels and airlines yourself regarding your specific accessibility needs.