Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Cruising With a Wheelchair

by Shannon Coe, Program Coordinator for the AT Network

Over the 2013 Christmas Holiday, I went on a 7-day Caribbean cruise with my husband and 1-year old daughter.   

It was our first family vacation together and our first time on a cruise.  

I use both a manual and a power wheelchair, so I informed my travel agent that I needed a wheelchair accessible room and other accommodations. I was told that wheelchair accessible rooms do get booked quickly.  Fortunately, my agent was able to find an accessible room on Carnival Cruise Line.   Even though my manual wheelchair is tiny, it would not have even been able to enter a standard room because the doorways and rooms on the ship are extremely tiny and narrow, there is enough room to fit you and your suitcase and that is it. Fortunately, in the accessible room, there was quite a bit more space.

picture of shannon in her manual wheelchair and her daughter on her lap and her husband next to them with a view of the ship and the city skyline in the background
Shannon and her family on the Carnival cruise ship in Cozumel, Mexico
I also had to decide whether it would best to take my manual or power wheelchair.  The travel agent told me that the port in Belize City would be tendered, which means I would need to board a smaller boat in order to bring me to land because the ship is not docked to a gangway for me to wheel off of the ship.  This would not be possible to do in a power wheelchair. I wanted to see Belize City and do the excursions that were available there, so I decided that I would take my manual chair. 

When it came time to tender in Belize City, my husband found another passenger to hold our toddler and keep an eye on her. Then my husband carried me piggy back style down a flight of small and narrow steps.  We have learned through experience that this is the best way for him to carry me so that he can see the steps without tripping.  After he put me down on a seat, he went back up to the ship to get my wheelchair and bring it down to the small boat and then went back again for our daughter.  We got to then go spend the day in Belize.

Luckily, when we returned to the cruise, the two staff members on the smaller boat (not associated with Carnival) offered to lift me up to the ship in my wheelchair so that my husband didn't have to carry me and make three trips.  One person lifted the back of my wheelchair and the other held on to the front of the chair for support.

Although some of the on-board activities, outside excursions, and ports were not wheelchair accessible, my family had a great time eating three rounds of lobster tails, visiting Mayan ruins, relaxing on the beach, hanging out with the monkeys, seeing shows, and many other fun activities on the cruise.  We may not do 16 cruises as some of the passengers have already done but we decided after this trip that we would cruise again.  Next cruise- Alaska!

Below are some more cruising tips for passengers with disabilities:

  • You have priority boarding and embarking at all ports.  There are porters to help you with your  luggage from the port to the ship when you arrive on the first day.  But, there are no porters on the ship to assist you with luggage to the port on the return trip.  Your luggage will need to be ready the night before so the cabin staff can take them down to the luggage port.

  • For dining, you should select a time that you will want to eat your meals - which you can schedule ahead of time- or you will have to wait in a line for awhile to be seated. We didn't do this and regretted not setting up the meal times before the trip.

  • Except for the waterslide and ropes course, most activities and places on the ship were easily accessible.  The laundry room was not wheelchair accessible, and the doorways were narrow and the machines were stacked so it would be difficult to reach them if you wanted to do your own laundry while on the ship. There is an option to have the ship do your laundry, but it is expensive.  Take plenty of clothes so you won’t need to do laundry or have someone you know do it for you.
Have you cruised before with any assistive technology?  Please share your experience in the comment box below. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

Growing up, I would frequently spend a couple of weeks each summer in San Diego with my aunt, uncle, cousins and an old family friend who was wonderfully sweet. She would always take my cousin and me for a special treat at the start of the trip but, many times, we would end up walking through a department store that would make her so sick we would have to step outside and rest for a while. Although she knew this meant she was sensitive to chemical fragrances, what none of us knew then was that she was not alone.
picture of a gas mask around earth with the words "chemical sensitivity environmental awareness" 
In many ways, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) is what it sounds like: a heightened sensitivity to chemicals. However, there are a lot of variables, misunderstandings, and much confusion when it comes to elements of MCS.

People with chemical sensitivity develop symptoms after "exposure to chemical, biological or other physical agents" ( Symptoms can begin after inhaling, touching or ingesting such agents as insecticides, pesticides, fresh paint, new carpet, cleaning products, smoke, perfumes, car exhaust, etc.

Symptoms range from "headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, congestion, itching, sneezing, sore throat, chest pains, changes in heart rhythm, breathing problems, muscle pain or stiffness, skin rash, diarrhea, bloating, gas, confusion, trouble concentrating, memory problems and mood change." (

picture of the word fragrance with a large red line through it.Although experts are unable to put their finger on exactly why these reactions happen to some people, MCS symptoms can be caused by many things, such as a single chemical event, physical injuries,  and/or pre-existing allergies or conditions such as eczema or asthma.

According to, perfumes, once made from natural ingredients, now use crude oil or turpentine as a base for synthetically-created scents. All of these chemicals and harsh environmental compounds just add to the millions of other toxins we are exposed to every day, which impacts the health of everyone. Additionally, people who have multiple chemical sensitivities are extra sensitive to these chemicals and can have immediate and serious immune responses.

Although it is recognized in many studies that MCS "frequently involves imbalances in a person's nervous, immune and endocrine (hormonal) systems" (, some organizations do not yet recognize Multiple Chemical Sensitivity as a distinct disability, as they claim symptoms and the suspected causes range so widely from case to case, it cannot be identified as such.

cartoon picture of a man looking sick surrounded by toxic chemicalsHowever, my old family friend was not the last person I encountered with very real reactions to chemicals. When I was in college, I noticed a rash on my arm that I was worried could have any number of causes. When I went to the doctor, we ran through several potential options before realizing it was being caused by the new detergent I was using to wash my clothes. Although I had not had noticeable issues before from the heavily fragranced laundry soaps I had always used, I suddenly could no longer use any soaps or lotions with fragrance in them without breaking out into a rash when they touched my skin. My symptoms were very minor compared to some but, to this day, I use fragrance and dye-free detergent and chemical-free home and health products, which my skin is very thankful for!

If you find that you are experiencing symptoms of MCS when you are exposed to different agents or if you have someone in your life that is, reminds readers that "avoidance is key."  In addition to changing the personal and home products you buy and use, you can consider the kind of energy you use, appliances you have, cleaning supplies and paints in your home, and move work areas away from common sources of symptoms such as copiers and printers. If you're in a pinch in a particular moment, make sure to go outside and get fresh air or move to a different environment. Check out for more on how to make changes at work or in the home to improve the quality of life of someone with MCS!

Have you ever experienced any chemical sensitivity?  Do you have some tips for others that do?  Please leave a comment in the box below.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

AT for the Kitchen

Do you know someone who loves to cook and is limited by mobility in the kitchen?

Do you love to cook and want to make kitchen tasks easier on yourself?

Here are a few ideas for some kitchen AT that can help make you and your loved one's time in the kitchen more pleasant.
      E-Z Open Grip Claw
  •     This little device can be helpful for those who have limited flexibility in their hands or wrists. It can be used for hard-to-open jars and containers, and even door knobs.

a yellow plastic gripper shaped like a large duck bill that your fingers go into
Juvo E-Z Open Grip Claw

       Good Grips Utensils
  •    These utensils are adjustable and easy to grip. And, the knife can be useful for those with limited upper-body strength, because it is designed to allow cutting with minimal force.

spoon, fork and knife all with large easy to grip rubber bases
Good Grips Utensils

         Cookbook Holder
  •     If you love to try new recipes, a cookbook holder can be a great low-tech addition to your kitchen. It can also be helpful for those with limited upper-body strength, or for people who move with the assistance of a mobility device.

acrylic large stand to hold your cookbook open on the counter
Acrylic Cookbook Holder

         Folding Pan Holder
  •     This device keeps a pan from turning while you are mixing or sautéing on a stovetop. It is adjustable and can hold a pan up to two quarts.

with suction cups that attach to stove top this metal device keeps the pan handle from moving
Folding Pan Holder

         Select-A-Spice Carousel
  •     This is a spice rack that can store, measure, and dispense up to 12 of your go-to spices. If measuring out spices takes longer than you’d like, this could make things easier for you. It has a dial which gives out a selected spice, ¼ teaspoon at a time. It also features labels for 55 spices and a clear window for each container, so you’ll always know what you’re dispensing.

Satin Pro Select-A-Spice Carousel by KitchenArt

         Talking Digital Scale
  •    This scale might be a good addition to your kitchen if you are unable to read the weight of your food items. The scale will read items’ weights aloud and has a feature which will turn it off automatically after a few minutes of non-use. 

Talking Digital Scale

Have you found any useful AT for the kitchen? Share it with us in the comment box below.