Adaptive Summer Fun

Home > Articles > Adaptive Summer Fun
By Morgan Stanfield

While beautiful weather beckons and summer vacations stretch ahead, it's time to think travel. And if you have a mobility disability or wear an orthosis or prosthesis, you may hit a few rocks in the road, but there's no reason you can't enjoy your dream destinations this summer. "Just because there are mobility issues or you're an amputee, it doesn't mean you can't do a lot of things," says Ed Rymut, owner of the Eco-Adventure International travel agency, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. Rymut's customers roll on wheelchairs through the Costa Rican rainforest, take safaris on the African veldt, and climb Peruvian ruins. "There are a lot of people in not only the U.S. but around the world who have [travel] solutions already in place to do neat and interesting things. There will always be issues and challenges," he says, "But the big thing is, of course, not to give up."

The O&P EDGE gleaned information from expert travelers, disability travel specialists, and the travel guides of the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA) and Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) to bring you helpful tips for air travel and having a good time at two popular summer destinations: theme parks and beaches.

Preparing for Liftoff

Communication is key when it's time to fly. Even if you book a flight online, you can prevent hassles by calling your airline's customer service desk right after you've booked to notify them of your physical condition, inquire about their current policies and procedures for your devices and adaptive needs, and ask for your preferred seating location. Amelie Chalal, a travel specialist with Your French Connexion, Seattle, Washington, recommends faxing to the airline a certificate of disability or copy of a parking placard, and keeping them handy when you check in with the desk agent and the security screeners.

Nicole Roundy catches air in her XT9 knee. Photograph courtesy of Nicole Roundy.

Once you're booked, packing savvy becomes essential. Ruth Clark is owner of Fashion Moves, Kamloops, British Columbia, a company that specializes in the design, creation, and promotion of adaptive clothing and travel gear. She recommends that wearers of braces or prostheses pack flight clothing that allows them to remove their device to give their skin "a bit of a breather" in flight.

"Then you can be enjoying your destination, rather than having skin issues...color the rest of your trip," she says. "One of the things I do for below-knee amputees is put zippers in the inseam of trousers below the knee. To access either the knee brace, KAFO, or below-knee prosthetic, [the pant leg] butterflies open."

In its "What To Do Before Your Trip" fact sheet, the ACA asks, "You wouldn't think of getting in your car and starting a long trip without first getting the car serviced.... Why do less with your prosthesis?" The ACA recommends cleaning your device and checking the suspension, cover, and all moving parts for wear. Travelers should also carry on any device-repair tools, and extra items such as myoelectric chargers and spare socks—the TSA will allow you to carry them on. In case your equipment does fail, it's a good idea to know in advance what patient care facilities are closest to your vacation spot. The American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics (ABC) and the Board of Certification/Accreditation, International (BOC) allow you to search for certified and accredited facilities on their websites (www.abcop.org; www.bocusa.org). The oandp.com website also has an O&P facilities search page (www.oandp.com/facilities), which allows you to search for facilities by zip code, state, facility name, or country.

Once at the airport, some people swear by packing their prosthesis or orthosis in a carry-on and traveling in an airport wheelchair. Doing so may allow you to breeze through inspections, only having to notify safety screeners that you have a medical device in your bag. Most travelers who do wear their device will set off metal detectors, and those wearing a device that contains any metal, gel, or liquid—such as a breast prosthesis—are required by TSA regulations to tell the screener as soon as it's their turn to be screened. You can notify the screener in writing or verbally, according to the TSA, and showing your disability certification can facilitate the process.

According to Reuters, people have attempted to smuggle everything from cocaine to iguanas inside prosthetic limbs, so don't be surprised that the TSA will want to carefully inspect your device. If you're lucky, you'll be at one of the 11 airports that currently have the new CastScope, a super-fast x-ray system that can see into casts and medical devices with only one thousandth the radiation of a normal x-ray. Even if your travels don't take you through one of these airports, the TSA says that you won't be asked to remove a prosthesis during your screening, but that "security officers will need to see and touch your device, and collect air samples from your clothing." If this happens, you can always ask for a private screening, during which you can be accompanied by a travel companion of your choice. You can also ask for help—if you're unable to stand, you can ask to sit down after you have passed the walk-through metal detectors, or ask a security officer for a hand, arm, or chair to lean on. However, the TSA's procedures change often, so read the guidelines at www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/specialneeds/index.shtm before your trip.

Amusement Parks

Once you know how you're going to get there, where to go and what to do are the next logical questions. Theme parks offer an amazing range of attractions, some of them disability-and-device friendly, some not. The Walt Disney parks are a real "Magic Kingdom" for people with disabilities. "All attractions are accessible," says Disney customer relations representative Michael Dunlan. "For a lot of the older attractions [wheelchair users] may need to transfer, but we have a list that tells you where the accessible entrance is for every ride."

Thrill parks are a different story. Some roller coasters are accessible, but many may not be safe for prosthesis users, in particular. In October 2008, an unclaimed prosthetic leg was found under a roller coaster in Alton Towers, England. In 2003, Hawley Webb, who has a transtibial amputation, said that his prosthetic leg flew off during a roller-coaster ride at Universal Orlando, Florida. Six Flags, which owns 21 theme parks across North America, did not return calls from The O&P EDGE asking about their policies for people with prostheses and other devices, and their website says only that a booklet for people with disabilities can be picked up inside each theme park. Cedar Point, a thrill park in Sandusky, Ohio, is more explicit. Riders wearing prostheses can go on a substantial number of its roller coasters without restriction, but for its fastest rides, the manufacturer, Intamin AG, Wollerau, Switzerland, requires "documentation from the manufacturer of the prosthetic device guaranteeing that the prosthetic device has been designed to remain in place on a high-speed roller coaster ride exceeding a maximum speed of 120 MPH...."

On the Water

Whether getting splashed on a theme-park boat ride or diving in the ocean, knowing the best tricks and devices can make water play much more enjoyable.

Gracie Rosenberger. Photograph courtesy of Gracie Rosenberger.

Gracie Rosenberger, executive director of Standing with Hope, Nashville, Tennessee, loves the water, and swims using her oldest set of transtibial prostheses, with duct tape around the rims to hold them on. That is, unless she's waterskiing. Then, she uses higher-tech legs, which she tapes with particular care.

"If your limb is not attached to the ski or to you," she laughs, "you're going to have to go diving for that sucker. It's a much bigger pain to have to stop skiing than to wrap it with duct tape."

In lieu of duct tape, neoprene suspension sleeves or specialized liners such as the FSL liner by Alps, St. Petersburg, Florida, which was originally designed for a flukeless dolphin, can hold limbs on. However, any devices that are exposed to salt water should be cleaned with liquid dish soap and fresh water, be dried completely, then sprayed with WD-40 to prevent corrosion, according to Prosthetics and Patient Management, by Kevin Carroll, MS, CP, FAAOP, and Joan E. Edelstein, MA, PT, FISPO.

If you want to skip these chores, another option is a vacuum prosthesis cover. Dry Corp, Wilmington, North Carolina, and XeroSox, Oxnard, California, both offer inexpensive, durable, waterproof limb covers that are designed for conditions from the bath to the ocean.

For those who do want a waterproof prosthesis, TRS, Boulder, Colorado, offers a freestyle swim­ming "hand" that flares open on the power stroke and folds closed during stroke recovery. People missing feet can supplement leg power with hand power, in the form of webbed "power gloves," used traditionally by scuba divers. Another option is to use modified or specialized lower limbs. Rampro, Oceanside, California, makes the ActivAnkle and SwimAnkle, both of which can be locked into ranges of motion for swimming or for walking. Aulie Devices, Redmond, Oregon, makes the Nylon Knees, hydraulic knees made of lightweight nylon, some of which are certified for full immersion and even mud. For gung-ho athletes, the XT9 Energy Storing Prosthetic Knee by Symbiotechs, Seattle, Washington, is fully waterproof and suitable for the hardest-core watersports, including wakeboarding, surfing, and kiteboarding.

With refreshing options like these, it's time to pack your bags, buy your tickets, and get ready for a great summer.

Morgan Stanfield can be reached at