Saturday, December 13, 2014

Traveling in Mexico with a Disability.

Author enjoying beach time at Ixtapa Island
I never expected to travel as a disabled person, at least not yet.  There was no need to pay attention to travel writers who specialize in places catering to those needing assistance. I knew the Americans With Disabilities Act applied to travel as I had seen the ubiquitous wheelchair signs for close in parking at the Grand Canyon, especially equipped bathrooms in museums and even ramps to the elephant house at the Oklahoma City Zoo.  Cruises were put on hold until I could no longer travel on my own.  But a broken tibia changed all that.  Suddenly, ramps were important.

Parking Author's walker at dinner
Our trip to Mexico over Thanksgiving had been planned long before the accident.  I intended to still go - it was just going to be different.  Quick research confirmed another statue, The Air Carrier Access Act, prohibits airlines from discriminating based on disability.  Consequently, a call to Aeromexico permitted a free change in seat assignments to the front bulkhead row, allowing more space for my partly bent leg as well as my husband’s long legs.  Also ordered was a wheelchair for all airports, especially the vast Mexico City terminal. 

By departure time, I could bear some weight with a walker and opted to advance (slowly) on my own to our flight’s gate at DFW.  At security, I had to pass the walker around a metal detector, take the hand of a security agent and hop to the other side where another agent passed her wand around me.  The walker also got the once over to be sure  no explosives were hidden inside. 

At Mexico City’s Benito Juarez Airport, Ernesto greeted me with a wheelchair and off we went, moving quickly down hallways, up elevators, and through a special line at customs.   It was quite wonderful not have to interpret signs or arrows. I noted several disabled employees in wheelchairs available to assist passengers with questions.  Since 2012, an employer in Mexico with more than 50 workers has to make accommodations for a disabled worker, a law that benefited those we saw.

Ernesto came in handy as he encouraged us to “be calm” when the flight to Ixtapa wouldn’t show on the flight board.   He did ask if I could climb stairs which was a negative.   Since Mexico City’s Airport does not have sufficient gates for all flights passing through, some planes board on the tarmac.  This requires bus transportation to the plane and entry by stairs.  Before boarding the bus, I was strapped into a straight chair, without arms but with seat belts that crossed my chest.  Two men lifted me on and off the bus.  All other passengers had to wait on the tarmac as they pulled my throne up step by step into the plane.   To my slight embarrassment, I faced outward to the crowd below curiously watching my regal advance.

Author's walker waits at poolside
We had been assured the resort was disabled friendly and all rooms were equipped for that use.  Technically, this was a true statement.  Ramps were available for walkers and wheelchairs, even if the paths were far from direct.  Each shower/bathtub had a seating area at the end and metal bar for balance – not exactly the walk-in experience I was expecting. 

But it all worked.  I could do my prescribed water walking in the resort pool as well as I could have at Paris Aquatics.  I also used the walker to enter the ocean and a family member retrieved it when I began floating.  Exiting the water was harder as waves were in a bigger hurry to get to shore than I was.

Author's walker serves as clothes line at Ixtapa resort
I wasn’t alone at the resort.  Others using a wheelchair or cane would nod in mutual sympathy as we passed.  My brothers accused me of getting special treatment from the waiters and I would agree.  At the beach, one provided a small table by my chair for lunch and added an umbrella for my personal use.  And many offered to carry my plate at the buffet. 


In healthy times, we would have taken advantage of kayaking, hiking, and biking.  Instead, more time was spent with grandchildren in the pool and drinks served poolside - not a bad trade-off at all.  Thanks to the laws protecting the disabled, the Mexico trip was doable.  Different but doable.

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