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Reprinted from PN February 2002
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Fire!The Unthinkable

At 3:30 a.m. we were abruptly awakened by our hotel's fire alarm. Since I've heard most hotel fire alarms are false, we were unsure what to do. However, after hearing frantic footsteps in the hall, we opened the door to check and saw what appeared to be a hall full of smoke. Evacuation, while we still could, seemed like the right choice.

I use the term evacuation loosely, as I knew the only place I could go was the stairwell. We were only on the third floor, but as I cannot walk or even stand, I wasn't going anywhere without assistance.

Well, everything turned out fine, as it was indeed a false alarm. The "smoke" in the hall was actually a heavy mist, the result of someone discharging a fire extinguisher.

However, this incident caused me to think about a situation I had not considered. It made me feel very vulnerable, so I decided to do some research and come up with a plan for the future.

Most hotels have written emergency evacuation plans, but not all employees are familiar with them. So inquire about this when you check in. Find out specifically the procedure for guests with mobility impairments, exactly where you are to go, and what assistance is provided and who is responsible for providing it. Also ask about the availability of an evacuation chair and where it is stored.

If the employee has to ask someone else in order to answer your questions, there is a good chance other employees also don't know or recall the plan. This isn't all bad because it alerts the hotel about a problem. At this point, suggest to management that this must be corrected immediately, as your life could depend on staff being familiar with the plan.

If the alarm sounds, before leaving your room, take a moment to attempt to contact the front desk. If you reach it, make sure the staff know about their evacuation plan. If they don't, tell them what should be done. Explain what floor you are on, where you will be, and that you are waiting for assistance.

If you can't reach help immediately, go to the designated stairwell anyway. If no one comes and other guests offer assistance, accept! If you think you are in immediate danger, don't be bashful. Let others know you need assistance and exactly how they can help.

This isn't going to solve all the problems of an emergency evacuation, but with planning you take responsibility for yourself that will make you believe you at least have some control over your own destiny.


Access Information on the Net

In 1996, I ran my first Internet search for pages with the key words "disabled travel." I only found seven on any search engine.

Today I ran that search again and found from 2,256 to 6,525 pages on those same search engines. The Internet has become the place to find access information and travel resources. Following are some I think you will find useful.

Disability GuideWashington, D.C.: This is not a new site but has grown to be a useful access guide for the area including Virginia and Maryland. It has an extensive list of accessible hotels, restaurants, transportation, wheelchair repairs, personal-assistant providers, and airport information.

New Mexico Access Guide: The New Mexico Governor's Committee hopes this resource's information makes traveling throughout the state more enjoyable for people with disabilities and their families.

Bermuda Access Information: Sponsored by the Bermuda Physically Handicapped Association, this site is packed with access information and resources. Written as an official Web site, this fact-packed labor of love by a journalist with a disability is entirely for residents or visitors withdisabilities.

Disability Access in the Canadian Rockies: This growing site has access information on accommodations, camping, and national parks in the Canadian Rockies.

Accessible San Diego: Access information and resources on San Diego's hotels, transportation, and attractions.

Access Northern California: Great access information, including accommodations, transportation, disability organizations, and other useful data.

Mystic Seaport Access Guide: Mystic Seaport is an outdoor maritime museum that tells the stories of America and the sea. Located on a 40-acre waterfront site in the town of Mystic, Conn., the museum exhibits historic tall ships and small boats, a New England coastal village, and extensive collections of art, ship models, and artifacts.

Cape Cod Disability Access Directory: This site breaks the Cape into three sections, giving overviews of the towns and their accessibility. It also provides information on beach access and surf-chair (beach wheelchairs) locations.

North Carolina Access Guide: Access information for many North Carolina attractions, historic sites, lighthouses, and national and state parks.

Atlanta Accessibility Guide: Created by Shepherd Center, this is a new and complete access guide to Atlanta.

Las Vegas Disability Information: This site has all sorts of useful information for planning a trip to Vegas, including travel tips, getting around, and hotels.


Incredible Journeys

Committed to overlanding since 1992, Epic Expeditions has established Epic Enabled, a separate operation solely for adventure travelers with disabilities who want to experience southern Africa.

Overland travel is in specially adapted and equipped Mercedes Benz trucks. The vehicles are modified for wheelchair access.

Epic Enabled trips are interactive camping tours that keep costs down and enable clients to enjoy Africa's uniqueness. Accommodations include tented camps, bungalows, and cottages. Capacity for wheelchair travelers is six, plus another eight nonwheelchair passengers.

The eight-day Kruger National Park tour incorporates wildlife, culture, and scenery.

Contact: Epic Enabled, 14 Clovelly Road, Fish Hoek, Cape Town 7975, South Africa. ++27 (0) 21-7829575 / 7829576 (fax) / /

The above information was provided by Carol Randall, Access-Able Travel Source, Wheat Ridge, Colo. /


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