Travel and Transportation
Getting around is an important factor when caring for a person using custom seating. Here we provide essential information for all your transportation and travel needs - whether you’re planning your next trip or just getting your accessible vehicle equipped for daily life.
There are dozens of varieties to choose from when it comes to accessible vehicles and several things you need to know in relation to setting up the seating equipment and vehicle.
As an individual using custom seating, your loved one will most likely need to travel in their seating system. It is preferable for them as their seating system is tailored to their postural needs , which makes managing transportation easier for you as you will have fewer components to have to fold, lift and rebuild when you arrive at your destination.
When transporting the seating system in the vehicle you will need to ensure you use tie-downs for the wheelchair and proper seat belting for the individual. Think of it as similar to your own vehicle and how it operates by “holding” you in place; the car seat is welded to the car base keeping it secure and then you use a seat belt to hold you. The wheelchair base must be equipped with tie-down points on its frame and then you use straps or clamps to secure this on tracks fitted in the vehicle. For tie-downs you will need to read through the required legislative safety guidelines on how to fix the tie-downs in place in the vehicle, although your occupational therapist or ATP should also be able to guide you on this. Additionally, the individual must be supported with a lap belt or diagonal belt, and it is preferable to have a head support which must be securely attached to the seating system/ wheelchair during transportation. There are several varieties of these. Some individuals will also use a harness to provide further support when traveling distances in the vehicle. Trays and other accessories must be removed during transportation in order to prevent these from becoming projectiles in the event of a road traffic collision.
Most accessible vehicles will be fitted with a ramp, either at the side or to the rear and offer the necessary head clearance to make loading/unloading the vehicle convenient for you. You will also need to fit a track on the inside of the vehicle, this will need to be in place for tying down the chair, but also takes up a great deal of space - an important inquiry to make with the dealer. You should explore the type of ramp suitable for your vehicle. Some ramps you fold up and set inside the vehicle, and others automatically fold down, or are of the tailgate type. It is also important to check that if you are using a side entry ramp that the overall weight of the seating system with your loved one in it is compatible for use on that type of vehicle.
To find out more about selecting the right vehicle, please speak with your medical equipment dealer and, for the proper safety restraints, consult with your occupational therapist.
The majority of city buses and coach operators are equipped to manage accessibility needs. Most buses are equipped with a high-low rise device, which takes the front of the bus to the sidewalk level where you and your loved one enter/exit the bus. When on the bus, you will see there are designated areas for positioning your loved one, which is usually rear or side facing through a tie-down system.
When traveling by air, you will need to prepare by asking several questions that will involve consulting well ahead of the trip with the airline carrier.
Before your journey begins, you must first consult with your doctor to determine if your loved one is able to travel.
Further to that, here are some key questions you can ask the airline carrier:
- What are their regulations when it comes to accessibility?
- How much earlier do you need to arrive at the airport and departure gate?
- Is there a limit on the number of disabled people they can accommodate on a flight? Some airlines have restrictions on this.
- Where do we go for assistance in getting on and off the plane?
- What is the access like to restrooms inflight?
- Will there be anyone to help us manage our luggage?
Note: Air crew is not permitted to assist with moving and handling passengers.
Finally, it’s key to determine how and if the seating system will fit onto the airplane seat. In most cases the seat can be fitted on top of a plane seat. However, it’s best with your clinician to determine the best course of action, as they will need to take into account things like pressure distribution for the individual as well as help to make you aware of how to attach the seat in place.
Most trains have an accessibility car that will accommodate for a mobility device, as well as seating for you and/or your family. It is important to confirm this though, before you embark on your trip. You may also want to determine where the elevators and ramps are in relation to parking, all of this can be done when you call the train service provider. Much like air travel, you will want to have answers to these questions ahead of time:
- Are there particular times you have to be at the platform to board the train? Obtain this information, as well, from the station you are departing from.
- What are the requirements for setting up the seating system (i.e. tie-downs)? Or will the wheelchair brakes suffice?
- Are there a set number of spaces for mobility devices? If yes, how many and how soon in advance should you book your trip?
- What are the accessible facilities like?
- Is there an emergency system in place should an incident occur? Have them explain the protocol.
- Do all or only some of the trains on the desired route offer mobility access? This is important when determining the time of your travel.
It is best to develop good habits early on to protect both your back and your loved one. Lifting may seem like a quick solution but it will eventually lead to backaches and strain. Generally, moving and handling equipment such as a hoist or a transfer board is helpful in the process.
If you do not have supporting equipment, you can encourage your loved one to assist as much as possible. You can do this by asking them to push up from the seat surface and put their feet on the ground. Always remember to apply the brakes before attempting to transfer.
If foot rests flip up or swing away, then do so, to ensure that you can get in close to your loved one. If they can weight bear then have them place their feet on the ground. In addition, if side transferring, check whether the armrests or laterals swing away, as they will have to be accounted for in the process.
Remember: never let your loved one put their arms around your neck as this causes strain on your spine.
Further, do not place your arms under their axilla/arms as this places strain on their shoulder joint.
Your clinician can show you how to safely transfer your loved one and give you pictures of the correct technique to remind you or others. They can show you how to transfer safely in/out of the seating system, on/off toilet, in/out bed, in/out of the car, so you will be better equipped to manage transfers efficiently throughout the day.
Tip: Always remember to put chair brakes on!