Wheelchair Accessible Hawaiian
by James Glasbergen © 2000
Enroute to Australia, James Glasbergen stopped over for a week in Hawaii.
As a C4 quadriplegic in an electric wheelchair, I never dreamed it would be possible for me to go to Australia because of the 20 hours of flying it would take to get there from Toronto, Canada. However, after doing a bit of research and planning, I discovered that Australia was entirely possible.
Travelling with a friend/attendant in February, 2000, we decided to spend a week in Hawaii both on the way to Australia and also on the way back. This was important just to break up the flights, as Hawaii was almost exactly halfway between Toronto and Sydney, Australia, therefore making two 10-hour flights instead of one long 24-hour flight, which would have included a brief stopover in Honolulu anyway.
I found that the 10-hour flights were still quite long for me, especially because I was forced to sit in the very uncomfortable, cramped airplane seats instead of being allowed to remain in my own wheelchair. (I'll never understand why the airlines cannot do something about this, because I could have EASILY driven right into the airplane in my electric wheelchair--all they need is a designated wheelchair spot with a couple tie-downs and I would have been comfortable for the whole flight).
The flight attendants were very helpful for both Canadian Airlines and Qantas, and they did what they could to help out. The baggage handlers for Qantas were terrible, however. It was evident upon our arrival in Sydney that they had poked and prodded at my chair very carelessly. On the way back to Honolulu, my wheelchair arrived with a very bent armrest. They also tried in vain to take the tilt box off my wheelchair (which wasn't meant to come off), and they lost my joystick which I had to have specially made (although they did reimburse me). I discovered that the key is to put clearly labeled signs on my chair for things that they should not mess with, although I didn't do this until the fourth and last flight.
Accessibility in Hawaii (specifically Oahu, where we stayed the whole time) was probably the best I have ever seen. We made reservations for wheelchair accessible airport transfers with a company called Handi-cabs of the Pacific. This worked out great, as they were waiting for us at the airport when we arrived. We stayed at the Outrigger Reef On the Beach in Waikiki, where the "wheelchair accessible" rooms were excellent. There was a roll-in shower, a sofa-bed, and two beds (which had plenty of space under them for a hoyer lift, which was very important for me). We rented the lift from CR Newton, which delivered it and picked it up from the bell desk--very convenient since we didn't have to be there.
Waikiki was generally very accessible, as the curb-cuts were very good. Waikiki beach was also great, because there were sections where the sand was hard enough that a wheelchair could easily wheel right onto the beach. We took three different day tours with Polynesian Adventure Tours, which had accessible buses. The first was the Grand Circle Island tour, which was great, although several of the stops were only 10 minute stops, which wasn't enough time for a wheelchair to get out of the bus and get back on--but I did get out at the major stops.
We also went to the Polynesian Cultural Center, which was totally accessible, and Pearl Harbour, which was semi-accessible. The ferry going to the Arizona Memorial would not take electric wheelchairs, only manual wheelchairs (no idea why!). Therefore, I had to get transferred into one of their manual wheelchairs, which was OK. The battleship Missouri was also worthwhile, although only the main deck and the surrender deck were accessible. It was too tight inside the ship for a wheelchair.
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