This summer, our vacation was a bit more difficult to plan because there were three different segments to our trip. First, we had the opportunity to attend the National Spina Bifida Conference in Indianapolis, Ind. It’s an annual event, and we’ve been blessed to have attended three times. Many disabilities have their own national organization and conduct these conferences. At this particular one, adults attend different break-out sessions on a choice of topics. Most sessions are about an hour-and-a-half in length and cover everything from medical issues and legal issues to education and housing. Not only do you gather a wealth of information, but you get to meet other parents and family members who struggle with the same things you do. You find you’re not the only one who can’t get your child to take their meds on time or who has difficulty finding a good wheelchair vendor.
The kid’s camp at the conference is a wonderful thing. Our son participates in the teen program now, and it’s amazing to see what fun the kids have. They go on field trips, have a dance one night and discuss topics relevant to spina bifida. Best of all, they are accepted. They all have the same struggles. It’s a sight to see a hundred or so wheelchairs rolling around with the kids giggling or lined up at the elevator. If you ever get a chance to attend a disability specific conference, it’s money well spent. We didn’t have to worry about doing the planning at all during these three days. Things were well-planned by the organizers.
After three days of conference, we left and headed to Fond du Lac, Wis., to visit my mother and father-in-law. (Yes, I married a Yankee!) We spent the night with them, and then we all headed up to Iron River, Mich., in the upper peninsula. I had done my homework and knew the average temperature is 75 degrees in July in the upper peninsula. I remember commenting to several people before leaving LaFayette that “we always go somewhere cooler for vacation.” I had planned for weeks, and we had discussed several places we’d like to go before deciding on Michigan. I searched the internet to find just the right cottage to rent. I found one on what looked like level ground and all one floor. It was right on a several acre lake, and we took fishing poles, etc. How I looked forward to sitting out by the lake in the cool Michigan evenings. I was proud to have found the perfect spot.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature intervened. By the time we arrived, the weather forecast had changed significantly. They were now having record-breaking heat. It was 93 degrees, and not 75, when we arrived. That doesn’t sound too bad for most folks around here, but one thing I had failed to ask about was air conditioning. You know that thing that most of us hunker under from May to October here in north Georgia. Well, there was none. Our solution was to get in the car and drive around for about two hours each afternoon. We did discover a McDonald’s one day and sat and slow-sipped our drinks for about an hour.
Another thing that was poor planning for the “Queen of Planners” was I failed to ask the size of the bathroom. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a smaller one. For any of you who have flown and tried to use the airplane restroom, well, think one size smaller. I kid you not. An adult could hardly get in and turn around much less a wheelchair. That’s when my motto in life comes in handy: “We’ll make it work.” My son knows that about me. We did make it work by bringing a plastic lawn chair into the shower (no bathtub) and having his dad lift him. Not ideal, but it worked.
After a few days, we headed down to Mackinac Island. The boat to the island is accessible, but the ramp is steep. The crew was very helpful in making sure any wheelchair users were safe and had assistance. The island is flat and easy to get around. No need to worry about getting run over by a car because no cars or motorized vehicles are allowed on the island. The modes of transportation are foot, bicycle or horse and carriage. It is a beautiful place.
After a stop in beautiful Petoskey, Mich., we headed to Detroit to see a Tigers game, (the stadium was easily-accessible), then headed home. For anyone traveling I-75 south from Detroit back down to Georgia, we found all the rest areas where we stopped had family restrooms. These provide more space and privacy for a wheelchair user.
All in all, it was a great vacation with few obstacles. However, next time I will ask about air conditioning and whether the bathroom is a real bathroom or a closet. Happy travels!
Pam Rasmussen is a resident of LaFayette. She is a mother of a child with Spina Bifida and an advocate of special needs children and adults. She can be contacted at email@example.com.