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  • Vent quad traveling to London in, oh, two weeks

    I am a ventilator dependent quadriplegic with an opportunity to go to London on the cheap for a week. The trip would have to take place in the middle of February and I have to make the decision as to whether or not I could go by tonight (January 28). I'm just nuts enough to say to hell with it, order the tickets, and hope it all works itself out, but of course I need to know a few things in advance:

    What are the odds British Airways will trash my motorized wheelchair? What recourse will I have if they do? Will they pay for repairs?

    I read of one ventilator user simply borrowing a comparable ventilator from a local hospital to avoid electricity problems. Is that necessary or would transformers be good enough? (Who would I need to contact to arrange such a thing anyway?)

    What transportation is available to someone with a 48 inch (115.2 cm) long motorized wheelchair?

    I read that the buses will accommodate wheelchairs up to 120cm, they all have lifts, and they are taken out of service if the lift doesn't work. Frankly this sounds like a fairy tale to me. If I try to take the bus, am I likely to end up stranded?

    Can a motorized chair user fit in one of those black cabs? How would said cabs be summoned? (Here in New York City I can just call 311 and ask for a wheelchair taxi...)

    Right now our must-see list includes Buckingham Palace, Shakespeare Globe Theater, a grocery store and pub (to get the local flavor). Any recommendations as to where to stay would be appreciated.

    I hope this works out, I'm eager to see London... even in February!
    NYC Disability Forum (@DisabledNYC on Twitter)

  • #2
    I have no advice, but dude you got guts!!!
    Anything worth doing, is worth doing to excess

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    • #3
      It's dudette, actually, but thank you. Yeah, I live on the edge.
      NYC Disability Forum (@DisabledNYC on Twitter)

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      • #4
        All of the cabs in London have a built in wheelchair ramp. So you can stop any on the street and they will take you or you can have the hotel call one. We like to stay with Holiday Inn. You can Google Holiday Inn when you decide what part of London you want to stay in. We like staying in an American type chain because the standards are usually a little better. We have stayed in English hotels without a problem. We usually fly with Virgin and have not had a problem with the manual chair. Just keep your cushion with you and any parts that can come off. Grocery stores are not a problem and usually have a flat entrance and they are fun. We usually bring home unusual treats. Harrods also has a wonderful food area along with being the best department store I have ever seen - it is really is a must see. Some pubs have a flat entrance also. Have a great time.

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        • #5
          The trip went really well (until the end...). London is a magical fairyland of wheelchair accessible taxis where I only got passed over/heard the old "it's broken"/"I don't have a key" excuses a few times; that's a success in my book. The hotel had American-style electricity, so that solved my power issues; I'm going to seek out other hotels that offer that in case I get another opportunity to visit.
          Last edited by Soliloquy; 02-25-2009, 03:41 PM.
          NYC Disability Forum (@DisabledNYC on Twitter)

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          • #6
            That's so awesome! What did you see/do while there ... can you pass on any really accessible places (and don't say Picadilly Circus - is that where all the pigeons poop on people's heads??? lol)

            Did you see the Eye - able to go on it? The Thames? Big Ben? etc?
            Roses are red. Tacos are enjoyable. Don't blame immigrants, because you're unemployable.

            T-11 Flaccid Paraplegic due to TM July 1985 @ age 12

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Soliloquy View Post
              The trip went really well (until the end...). London is a magical fairyland of wheelchair accessible taxis where I only got passed over/heard the old "it's broken"/"I don't have a key" excuses a few times; that's a success in my book. The hotel had American-style electricity, so that solved my power issues; I'm going to seek out other hotels that offer that in case I get another opportunity to visit.
              Congrats on a good trip...glad you had a good time!
              "The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off." -Gloria Steinem

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              • #8
                I visited London in 1984, two years before I was injured. Of course at that time I paid no attention to see if things were accessible or not. I have wondered about going back someday and if it would be possible in a chair. Sounds like you did fine, so maybe I will return someday. Glad you had a good trip.
                "If everything is under control, you are going too slow." - Mario Andretti

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                • #9
                  Thanks for the update.

                  How did you find the flight on BA?

                  Were you able to use the buses in London?

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                  • #10
                    I'm sorry I neglected this thread for so long; I've been preoccupied with many things since my trip nearly a year ago. (Wow, has it been that long? It seems like it was practically yesterday.)
                    First, to answer the questions here:

                    Originally posted by lynnifer View Post
                    That's so awesome! What did you see/do while there ... can you pass on any really accessible places (and don't say Picadilly Circus - is that where all the pigeons poop on people's heads??? lol)

                    Did you see the Eye - able to go on it? The Thames? Big Ben? etc?
                    We didn't go on The Eye because no one in my party particularly enjoys heights, but I hear it is indeed wheelchair accessible. We passed the Thames/Big Ben a few times, but did not go in/on them.

                    I was pleasantly surprised by the wheelchair accessibility at Hampton Court Palace. There were some areas I couldn't go, but I was allowed to cut through certain areas not open to the general public. The elevator had been cleverly installed in an area that had once been essentially a "secret passage" behind the king's sitting room. Pretty good accessibility for a 500 year old palace!
                    Originally posted by NW-Will View Post
                    Thanks for the update.

                    How did you find the flight on BA?

                    Were you able to use the buses in London?
                    The flights were a mixed bag. Every time I travel by airplane, the same thing happens; I'll tell them about the wheelchair, the ventilator and external battery at the time of booking, plus call any disability services numbers I find. I confirm again 24 hours in advance, again making sure I scare them with the words "wheelchair! Ventilator! Battery!" (I mentioned the wheelchair no less than 13 times... yes, I counted.)

                    And every time I arrive at the airport, no one knows anything about this. They panic about the ventilator, make a hundred phone calls asking each other what to do, try to confiscate the battery, and eventually the pilot comes out and approves it. By then the delays mean the plane is already boarding. Same thing with departing on this trip via British Airways; everyone else had boarded by the time they got their act together and I got to be hauled onto the plane on the human dolly while everyone else stowed their bags. (No time for last minute bathroom visit either.) I'm glad I could provide the pre-flight entertainment again...

                    I count as a success any flight that does not include having my delicate wheelchair dropped from the conveyor belt, lost, or missing pieces, so in that sense it went really well.

                    The flight back was worse; not only did I get held up at the baggage counter for one hour and 20 minutes while they had their freakout (this time there were three agents making phone calls and panicking), but right after I got past them I was paged twice over the public address system to report to the gate because my flight was closing. The gate ended up being on the other side of Heathrow on another floor, then I was put on a slow-moving lift truck (where the operators had their own freakout). I'm lifted up to the side of the plane in the cold wind, to see the other passengers already boarding... and the co-pilot comes out, bars my way into the plane, and closes the door behind him.

                    "How on earth did you ever board one of our flights without medical approval?" he asked.

                    Here's where I started having a little freakout of my own. I started yelling that I wasn't sick, but if they wanted a damn doctor's note, the time to ask for it was when I booked. I'm not sure if I even made myself heard above the wind, but maybe the sight of a ventilator user getting steamed was enough to make him fear I'd have a coronary. He suddenly became much more conciliatory, started asking me questions to determine if I would keel over and die during the flight (and asked if it was ok if he took away the battery and stored it in the the closet! "No, that would kill me." I replied.) He finally decided to let me on the plane, explaining that since I had come over on British Airways without incident, he had decided I could return with them too. He also bumped us up a class to apologize for the mix-ups. So I did have trouble with British Airways, but everyone was very civilized about it.

                    Then I arrived back at Newark Airport to discover my wheelchair partially disassembled, my wheelchair van wouldn't start, and Newark Airport had absolutely no wheelchair taxis whatsoever.

                    (more tomorrow)
                    Last edited by Soliloquy; 01-18-2010, 04:14 AM.
                    NYC Disability Forum (@DisabledNYC on Twitter)

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                    • #11
                      The very first place we visited was Buckingham Palace, to see the changing of the guard. The crowds tend to make it hard for a wheeler to see, so I managed to worm my way to a fence and stayed put. (Some German kids climbed on the fence, blocking my view and whispering to each other while staring at me. I got to bust out a line I'd been saving for just such an occasion: "Entschuldigung, koennin Sie langsamer sprechen, bitte? Ich bin Auslander." They jumped down.)

                      Next we visited Westminster Abbey. Not all of it is accessible, but there is so much to see anyway; we were there for hours taking in all the elaborate tombs and carvings. If you go to Westminster Abbey, be sure you look UP to admire the vaulted ceiling... and be sure you look DOWN too, because you'll be rolling right over the graves of many famous British people. Yes, that's right, it's so crowded that the stones of the floor double as gravestones.

                      On day two we visited Kensington Palace. The palace houses a collection of Princess Diana's gowns and an exhibit about debutantes, and though it was not built with accessibility in mind you could get to most of the first floor with the aid of a liveried staff member who ran around putting up portable ramps. It was like having my own footman. At one point I came to a narrow French door with one side bolted shut, and could not fit through the open side; I thought I'd have to wait for the staff to open it (since it was a 17th century palace, for pete's sake... we don't have any in America!). A bunch of English people saw my dilemma though, and began banging on and kicking at the door until it budged. "That's what they mean by partially accessible, dearie." one elderly lady said. "It means you can only get one arm and maybe a leg in!"

                      My favorite part of Kensington Palace was having tea at The Orangery, a cafe in the former greenhouse on the grounds of the palace. Sure it was overpriced, but you get to truthfully say you had scones and tea at a palace.

                      Wheelchair accessibility is not good at all at The Tower of London. The entire place is cobblestoned and uneven, even inside the buildings. Especially inside the buildings. The floor inside the building that houses the Crown Jewels was so uneven that I nearly pitched forward a couple of times, and since the paths are cordoned to keep everyone in line you don't get much leeway as to where to go. I finally had my aide unhook some of the ropes so I could skip certain rooms that looked especially difficult to traverse.

                      You have to get on a moving sidewalk to catch a glimpse of the various crowns, so I didn't get a very good look at them. However, gawking at the gigantic gold cistern was worth the price of admission. It was intended as a punch bowl, but I could have bathed in it.

                      (more later...)
                      NYC Disability Forum (@DisabledNYC on Twitter)

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                      • #12
                        great story about your trip.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by jody View Post
                          great story about your trip.
                          I second that!
                          Donnie: Dr. Xiao, What are your thoughts on a cure/combination therapy for SCI's??
                          CG Xiao: Donnie, I don't want to disappoint you, but I think it is impossible to restore the continuity of the cord or "bridge the gap" in the near future, let's say: 50 years. Dr Wise Young has been my most respected scientist in SCI. He has dedicated and contributed to SCI no other can match.

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                          • #14
                            WOW! I thought I had problems when I got kicked off of the plane in Denver after everyone had boarded.

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