I expected to learn a little about Scottish history and culture while traveling in Scotland. I didn’t expect to have a crash course in what accessibility means to a person with a disability.
When Dale was making reservations for lodging in Scotland, he made sure he informed all concerned that one of our party is in a wheelchair. Although we didn’t require a wheelchair-accessible bathroom, we needed rooms that were both accessible and large enough to maneuver – especially as we had a portable hoist and lots of medical necessities to bring with us.
I quickly discovered that there are many degrees of accessibility.
We were able to get into every room reserved for us, with varying degrees of difficulty. Some of the obstacles we faced were:
- Doors – newer buildings have larger doorways in order to meet current building codes, but older structures often have very narrow doorways. Often a door won’t stay open without someone holding it, and that someone is just another obstacle to the person in the wheelchair. (Sara Jean is a very good driver, and I have ten working toes as proof.) The size of the opening can be further complicated by
- Décor – potted plants, umbrella stands, decorative tables often grace doorways and foyers but can be difficult obstacles for someone in a wheelchair.
- Bed bases – these nifty creations keep you from losing items under the bed. Unfortunately, they also keep the legs of a portable hoist from going under the bed. We developed our own technique for using the portable hoist in these situations. We would move Sara Jean to the corner of the bed, with the legs of the hoist on either side of the bed frame. Sara Jean would lower herself with the remote while we pushed her as far to the center as we could. This would leave her legs dangling and her body at an angle. We would then have to lift her legs and pull her fully onto the bed. To get out of bed, we would reverse the process, with me sitting behind her to provide support as we attached the sling to the lift. Sara Jean has nerves of steel, so she managed the process with no complaint. I can’t say the same for Dale or me.
- Furniture – dining tables and desks are often too low for a wheelchair to fit under comfortably or have legs that are spaced in such a way that the wheelchair can’t fit between them. Sidesaddle is an uncomfortable way for a woman to ride, and it is an uncomfortable and inconvenient way for a woman to eat her dinner.
- Steps and thresholds – Concerned about accessibility at some of the sites, Dale had the foresight to ship Sara Jean’s steel curb ramp to Scotland. (Heartfelt thanks to Grant Orton and Barry Stevenson of Allied Mobility in Glasgow, who accepted delivery of our ramp and made sure we had it for the trip. Grant even loaned us his GPS, which we named Karalee after our much-missed friend and which told Dale where to go all through Scotland.) So when we arrived in Glasgow, we were surprised to find that Trevor Pollitt of Wheelchair Travel generously included an aluminum curb ramp in the rental van. (Trevor thoughtfully included several things with our rental van, including a cell phone and emergency kit. Thank you, Trevor!) We thought one of the ramps was redundant, but we found that neither went unused, because there were a few places where we needed both ramps to get in and out of the doors. Even a relatively low step or threshold can be a hindrance to a heavy electric wheelchair.
We stayed many places during our journey through Scotland, and all were accessible to some degree, but the best place of all for accessibility was the Ard Mhor Guest House, Salen, Isle of Mull. Owner David Clowes designed his B&B with accessibility in mind. There are three ramps up to the building, although two are strictly for emergency use. The foyer was not cluttered with things that created obstacles to turning. The lights in the hallways were motion-sensitive, so that if you came in at night, there was no fumbling necessary. The beds had access for the portable hoist. (I believe David said that he even had his own portable hoist on the premises.) The bathroom facilities were spacious and appeared very accessible. Even the dining tables in the breakfast room were built at a height to accommodate a wheelchair. Although I loved all of Scotland, Mull was my favorite place, and Ard Mhor Guest House is a terrific place for anyone to spend time on Mull. If you visit, have some scrambled eggs Escoffier for me.