California Dreamin' - Featured in SIA Forward MagazineFebruary 6, 2013
Travelling with an SCI is far from impossible, but it does require extra research, plenty of patience, verbal independence, and a little surplus cash. I quickly discovered that 2* hotels were less likely to have suitable access compared to the 5* ones, which was perfect when parents were funding the holidays, but less so when I became an adult and realized the true cost of these hotels, and moreover, how much I had unwittingly relied on my parents and younger brothers to ensure all my care needs were gratuitously met and that I was able to access all the places we visited.
When friends were deciding whether to take a gap year, I never entertained the thought, mostly because I didn’t know which of my 18-year-old friends would be able to cope with travelling with a wheelchair for nine months on end, in far flung places. To rectify this, I began to acquire a collection of 6-foot-tall men, who were at a minimum able to carry me up at least one flight of stairs. This project served me well, but along the way I acquired a 5’8”, size 8 female friend, named Steph, who was equal insistent that she could carry me up a flight of stairs. We collapsed in a heap and never completed the experiment, but I liked the fact that her determination equalled mine.
Fast forward to October 2012: I’ve qualified as a clinical negligence solicitor (alas, not an air stewardess), and Steph and I are embarking on our two-week trip to California.
Whilst we had a great time, there were definitely moments when both of our patiences were tested. We flew with Virgin Atlantic, and this being my second transatlantic flight, I had learned a few lessons. Accessing the ‘adapted’ bathroom is not possible independently. I would struggle to transfer and would need someone to steady the aisle chair. I’m glad I trusted my instincts, wore an indwelling catheter and did not rely on what I had been told by customer services.
Upon landing, we discovered that our car hire arrangements were not as promised. This was perhaps the most frustrating part of our trip. We had planned to share the driving, but despite confirmation of requests for right-hand controls with a spinner, we were provided with left-hand
controls, no spinner and a car with a foot brake rather than a hand brake. Despite attempts to find a car that suited, Alamo were unable to fulfil the contract, so Steph and I were left with no option but for her to do all the driving in a car we later christened, Randy.
Undeterred, we headed to Yosemite and clambered up 8,000 feet (courtesy of Randy) to see some simply breathtaking views. The best element was off-roading through Mariposa Grove. It was great to be outdoors, and despite all the tree roots we had a great day out. With our lungs stocked full of fresh pine air, we commenced our trip down ‘Rout’ 1 (as Americans would say), and onto Santa Barbara and Santa Monica.
The thing that struck me about California was that their equivalent of the DDA has teeth. There was no lipservice, no anxiety over whether there would be a disabled toilet and there were no excuses for why access was impossible. The ‘Can Do’ attitude was omnipresent, consequently Steph and I had very few issues with access. All the hotels we stayed in had suitable bathrooms. If the mattresses on the bed were piled too high, the bed was dismantled and a lower bed provided.
So whilst I scour possible holiday homes in Santa Barbara, I’ll leave you with my Facebook status update summing up our holiday:
“Leaving California with some great memories of the hardcore hills in SF, Japanese films whilst eating dinner, political satire at beach blanket Babylon, hiking in Yosemite, route 1 coastal views, rooftop pool in Santa Barbara, shopping in Santa Monica, beach walking, American men,
interesting taxi drive to Ivy, hundreds of Starbucks and watching the real
housewives of Miami in bed. All of this would not have been possible had it not been for Steph who, for those in the know, is now top dog in the Top 5 List .”
Raquel Siganporia T6/7
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