Have wheels, will travel

Sentenced to life in a wheelchair! Not a pleasant thought, but Dennis Dolloff has been living such a life since 1979 when, while fixing a flat tire at the side of the road, he was struck by a drunk driver.“My spine was broken, and I was told I’d never walk again,” recalls Dolloff, a Toronto Anglican priest. But his injury hasn’t stopped him from travelling, and his experiences may be useful to others confined to a wheelchair or facing other disabilities.

“Travelling in a wheelchair — whether across the street or around the world — is not impossible, especially with patience, proper planning and a good travel agent,” he says.

Wheelchair travel — A CARP Travel specialty
CARP members are fortunate in that the group’s designated travel provider, CARP Travel, has several specialists in this area of travel. “Our best advice to wheelchair travellers is don’t feel limited as to where you can go,” advises CARP Travel’s Gillian Thompson. “We look for vacation properties which are wheelchair accessible, where you can easily get around. And we can order special services at airports, hotels and cruise ships for our clients.”&t;p>

Dolloff, the first wheelchair-bound priest to be ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada, hasn’t allowed his lack of mobility to slow him down — to date, he’s travelled to eight provinces, 30 U.S. states, as well as England, Ireland and Scotland. “I’m even considering going to Israel in 2001.”

However, Dolloff says air travel can be a problem, particularly with the charter companies. “But British Airways, American Airlines and Air Canada are great,” he adds. “Several airlines have even put me in first class because of the wider seats and aisles. That’s a great way to travel! If you do fly charter, the smaller seats and aisles can be a problem. Always ask for bulkhead seats, they’re easier to be lifted into.”

Bathrooms a bother
Several cruise lines, such as Disney and Carnival, go out of their way to be wheelchair friendly. “The new cruise ships are especially good for those in wheelchairs. There’s no problem accessing the dining rooms, bars or casinos,” says Dolloff. Older cruise ships, he cautions, usually are not as accessible, with raised barriers at the doorways and small bathrooms.

“Bathrooms in hotels can be a major headache,” he says. “I have visited several hotels claiming to have wheelchair accessible bathrooms, and it wasn’t true. Make sure you know the width of your wheelchair, and insist the hotel give you exact measurements for the bathroom doors. At one hotel, they had to take the door off the bathroom so I could get in.”

Dolloff’s most unusual trip? “I tried mountain trekking up Mount Hood in Oregon. It was an 11,000-foot climb and I got to within a thousand feet of the summit. It was hard work, but what a wonderful experience. People I met on the mountain trail were pretty startled when they saw me in a wheelchair!”

His favourite travel destinations? “My top choice is Florida’s Disney World,” enthuses Dolloff. “Disney is very wheelchair friendly. There’s no place in that park I wasn’t able to visit. In fact, wheelchairs are sent to the front of the line and always get the best views at displays and events!”