2016 Ms. Wheelchair Washington

2016 Ms. Wheelchair Washington
Nicole Martini

Traveling Challenges

My recent trip to California was not only for the Abilities Expo and Ms. Wheelchair California pageant but to visit my family and take some long needed time away with my boyfriend, Torrance. I had previously made arrangements for our flight, hotel and transportation for our 10 days of fun. We had many things planned all around Southern California. My brother generously offered to pick up our adapted rental van with hand controls and a ramp. I don’t drive, but my boyfriend is able to drive with hand controls. My brother picked up the van. Then my sister-on-law picked us up with the van from LAX. Turns out, the van that they had reserved for us did not have hand-controls or the removable seat we had previously requested. Before we went to the hotel, we called the dealership to see if there was anything we could work out in order for us to have our transportation as planned. They denied us a refund and said there was nothing they could do because all sales were final. We didn’t know what to do but we just wanted to get some rest after our flight. So we headed for the hotel.

As luck would have it, we looked at our room and it was not the accessible room that we had requested and reserved. We could not even fit into the door of the bathroom! We kept talking and realized the only accessible room they had was already taken. It would not be available for another four days. They tried to work with us the best that they could and offered us a bigger room for the same price. With the new room, we could at least get into the bathroom and use the toilet and sink, but the layout and size of the bathroom made it impossible for my boyfriend or myself to use the shower. At that point, there was nothing else left that we could do to better our situations. So we just accepted it and went to bed.

For four days we had to brainstorm ways to shower. Instead of having a van to enjoy our vacation time together, we had to find ways to get where we needed to go. I had responsibility to attend the Abilities Expo and Ms. Wheelchair California pageant. My boyfriend and I rolled through West L.A. for 45 minutes each way to get to and from the Expo. My brother drove on his days off from Whittier to Los Angeles to take us to the Expo. Then he traveled back to Santa Ana to take the van back that we could not use.

After Torrance and I met with Tammy (Ms. Wheelchair Washington Program Coordinator) and Meg (Ms. Wheelchair Washington 2008), we all got together to confront the company that wouldn’t give us a refund. After some explanation, we were completely reimbursed for the van within a couple of days. Even though we got our money back, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the complication from the van took away from our planned time away from home. We did end up getting into the only accessible room the hotel had eventually. We were rolling around to Mac Aurther Park, the Convention Center and the local stores. We took the bus to Disneyland and the Subway to Hollywood! So it was still a great time together!

A lot of the time, people don’t think about how “little” things like wider doorways and hand controls can change things. We got through it, but when it comes down to it, we really should not have had to go through it. There is no reason as to why a hotel cannot have more than one accessible room. Or for an accessible car dealership to have more than just one van with hand controls. The only reason why is because the law only requires that they have one van with hand controls and one accessible room. Why cant the country raise their standards? Why can’t businesses start thinking more about pleasing those with disabilities, rather than meeting the very least regulations required by the government in order for them to continue making their money?

It’s situations like the one that I recently experienced that make me so passionate about being an advocate for people with disabilities. Things will never change unless we get more people who are willing to stand up and say something about the challenges we face. What may be difficult for you, does not have to be the same way for the next person. So why not, not only stand up for your rights as an American, but help your fellow “high roller” to not have to face the same struggles that you have faced?