When I was crowned Ms. Wheelchair California 2012, I knew I had to put this fear to rest because one of my duties would be to travel throughout the state of California representing the disabled community. Ms. Wheelchair California 2012

I always get very nervous when I’m about to embark on a plane. I start worrying about all the things that could go wrong. As the date approaches to take my trip, I start to get this urge to cancel my trip.  Then I realized I can’t live life like this, life is way too short. We have to make the best out of everything we have and every situation we find ourselves in.

Being a polio survivor and a wheelchair user, traveling has never been something that comes easy to me.  Maybe it was all the traveling that I did with my parents when I was young that traumatized me because of all the obstacles I had to face. I would always feel like a burden because everything was so un-accessible, then again this was before the ADA came into effect. Or maybe it was the first time a few out-of-state and my wheelchair broke down to the point that there was no way to repair it. It was scary being in an unknown and in unfamiliar place with no money and no wheelchair. Yes, that might explain my fear of traveling. Then I realized that traveling is one of the best and most rewarding things that a person can do in this lifetime.

When I was crowned Ms. Wheelchair California 2012, I knew I had to put this fear to rest because one of my duties would be to travel throughout the state of California representing the disabled community.   The changing point in my life was when I got introduced to Wheelchair Traveling (www.wheelchairtraveling.com).  All of a sudden I was reenergized, this amazing sense of security came over me, as I heard the founder Ashley Olson speak about traveling.  Her love for traveling and her passion for exploring the world from a wheelchair gave me the hope and inspiration that I needed to put my travel fears behind me and move forward.  Wheelchair Traveling taught me how to travel cautiously while enjoying the adventure and most importantly to always stay positive.

With an open mind and a positive attitude, I headed to LA and catch my flight to Guadalajara, Mexico. Traveling to a country such as Mexico always made me nervous but not this time I was determined to stay positive. As I was being escorted to a special area so that I could be patted down, the agent asked me about my transfer board,  I kindly explain that it was a sliding board to assist me with my transfers.  It took me by surprise that she was puzzled by it. So I took the time to explain to her what it was for exactly and how I used it.  When I saw a sign of relief on her face, I was pleased that I had taken the time to educate someone on what a sliding board is and how it helps in transferring in and out of the wheelchair. As I  was checking in to my flight, I got a little nervous but still determined to stay positive. I was telling them what special needs I had in regards to the care of my powered wheelchair.  I also informed them that I might need someone to lift me into the seat if the armrests on the plane did not go up. 

The lady frantically told me that there was no one available to help me if I was not able to do so. I kindly told her that now would be a good time to call for help since we still had time before we board the plane. She said that there was no one to call. I looked at her with doubt in my mind and prayed that she would slowly try to understand my need. She defensively told me “this is why it is hard for persons in a wheelchair to travel.” Staying positive, I replied, “This is why it should be in the airline’s best interest to try to make it as pleasant as possible for a person that uses a wheelchair to travel.” The thought of not being able to board the plane got me really frantic but then the gentleman checking in my wheelchair was extremely helpful and calm me down and told me that the arm rests on the plane most likely did go up, which put me at ease. I was able to board the plane without any problems.

I knew that this flight would only be a couple of hours, so I used the restroom right before I got on the plane because I knew that I would not be able to use the restroom on the plane. This is a huge inconvenience for persons who use wheelchairs, hopefully, one day this will change. Once I landed in Guadalajara I headed over to the rental car section.  I was confident that this would be a good experience because I had rented a van from them before. Sometimes you just have to make certain adjustments. For example, in order to fit my powered wheelchair in the van, in the past, the rental car company allowed us to take out the middle seat so that my wheelchair would fit. This time was even better, the rental van had the capability of folding the middle seat or the back seat into the floor of the van, which was perfect.

Now the adventures begin,  how was I going to get in the van? The seat of the van was too high but lucky us we found a curb that was high enough and we parked the van really close to that high curb, and then we were off on our two-hour drive to El Cerrito Colorado, Michoacán to visit my father on the one year Anniversary of his passing. It was an emotional trip but a happy one too.  My mother had flown a few weeks before us so that the house was ready for when we got there. I was super excited when we finally arrived.  I had to use the restroom so bad, but before that, I had to get in the house. The good is that there was an alternative to taking the long staircase that lead to our house.  My father had built a ramp for me so that I could have access to the house from my wheelchair.  The ramp looked more like a rock-climbing wall rather than a ramp, but it sure worked for me.  The bathroom was all the way in the back and I had to make certain arrangements to make it more comfortable and easier for me. Even though I knew that they were obstacles that I would have to face, I would do so with a positive attitude to make the best out of things.

The next day we went to this small town’s church where the services were going to be dedicated to my father as we remembered him on his one-year anniversary.  I was so pleased that I saw curb cuts around the church and a man-made little ramp to enter the church.  I remembered that the church had a small step that I could not go over so I knew I would have to stay in the back and not be with my family in the front.  I was pleasantly surprised that they had actually removed that step and that I could go all the way to the front of the church.  Dealing with our own grief, we come to find out that my mother’s only living sibling is on his death bed.  It was such a shocker because he went to go welcome us the night before at our home. 

My uncle managed to pass away on the same day as my father did, exactly a year apart. Our whole family was devastated.  Even though this I had to find it in myself to stay positive.  I decided to spend a lot of time with my mother and do things with her that she wanted to do.  So we took her out to try to get her mind off of things.  We went places where there were no accessible bathrooms but I was smart and took a porter potty everywhere I went just in case I found myself in a situation.  I am glad I did because I found myself in those “Situations” two to three times a day.  One day we went to church at the Cathedral in Zamora and they did not have an accessible bathroom nor did the car-port where we parked our car.  I had to think quickly and take my porter potty out of the van put it between two cars and transfer into it to take care of business. All I could say was “Thank you God for giving me the intelligence to think of something like that to do, while at this time still staying positive. After that incident I took it everywhere and was not as nervous about visiting family and friends, nor was I nervous about going to pray the Rosary for my uncle who had just passed because if I needed to go to the bathroom I had a potty with me.

In Mexico, there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to making it wheelchair friendly.  There are a lot of curbs that don’t have cut-outs. There are houses with door frames so little that a wheelchair does not fit through, but to me staying positive is the way to enjoy your trip and by staying positive it is easier to make the impossible possible.  The highlight of my trip was going to La Cabana in Saguayo, Michuacan.  Not only was the restaurant wheelchair friendly and step-free, but it also had a big accessible bathroom!  I felt that that was my reward for staying positive in spite of all the difficult things that come my way.  Stay positive when traveling so that you can capture the true beauty of traveling and you will see that good things will happen!!!

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