Jim's Wheelchair Traveler Tips & Information
I've been fortunate to have traveled to many corners of the globe. Although planning comes to me fairly easily, traveling in a wheelchair necessitates becoming an even better planner. Experience has taught me many lessons. I've been to hotels where the wheelchair could not fit through doors or into an elevator, and visited too many restaurants without an accessible restroom. While traveling, I've had wheels, axles, the wheelchair frame and footrests break or fall off. And getting into a taxi or renting a car was far easier 30 years ago when vehicles were considerably larger.
With today's car rentals being more compact, it is much more difficult to fold up my wheelchair and throw it in the backseat. Although Hertz and Avis have specialty reservation desks for wheelchair accessible vehicles, neither provides vehicles that easily accommodate independent wheelchair travelers and both are incredibly unreliable.
Today I plan my hotel and restaurant reservations with great care, calling and emailing and following up well in advance. It is now possible to arrange almost everything including taxis and van rentals across the globe in advance. Every location can be put on speed dial before departure. It's also nice to know the location of the local wheelchair repair shop and have access to medical supplies when and where needed. We have attempted our best to provide you with some helpful hints throughout our website including some local contacts below that you might find helpful.
Booking your Hotel Room
Booking a hotel room online is convenient, but more often than not it results in arriving to the hotel only to find out they did not properly reserve an accessible room, or even worse - they have no accessible rooms in the hotel. Before booking a hotel room, we recommend reviewing our extensive list of certified Chicago hotels, hotels to avoid, plus a directory of wheelchair accessible hotels in and around Chicago. When booking a hotel room, WCJ highly recommends the following:
- Call the hotel directly and "block" your wheelchair accessible room for the desired dates of travel.
- Have the hotel email or fax you a confirmation, noting the accessible room and bring this with you at check-in.
- Call the hotel directly 24-48 hours in advance of your arrival to re-confirm your wheelchair accessible room.
When calling the nationwide reservations call center for many hotel chains, they do not have the ability to "block" wheelchair accessible rooms with individual hotel properties. We recommended to call the hotel directly, and speak to the front desk to properly reserve and block your accessible guestroom.
Pack You Airlines Bags Carefully
Wheelchair passengers are always last to exit the plane, sometimes 30 minutes or more after all other passengers have departed. Since I'm generally the last person to the luggage carousel, I'm always concerned someone will steal my bags (yes, this has happened). As a result, I always pack a special carry on bag with anything I might need for 2 days if my luggage is lost or stolen. This includes critical medical supplies and medications, an extra seat cushion cover, lightweight wheelchair repair tools, handy wipes and plastic bags.
I always bring large black plastic bags to collect my detachable wheelchair parts at the end of the jet way. These should be placed in the over head luggage rack, not in the cargo area.
You should also know that the Air Carrier Access Act mandates that fold up wheelchairs have priority for on-board storage if a closet is available. Keep your wheelchair on-board if possible. Demand your rights!
Chicago O'Hare Airport | Visit Airport Accessibility Website
Jim's Comments: Most flights to Chicago come thru O’Hare International which is about 40 minutes NW of downtown. O’Hare International itself is huge but very wheelchair accessible. Be sure to allow yourself plenty of time if going between terminals. There are lots of elevators and some very long underground walkways.
To go from the airport to downtown Chicago requires the train and 2 buses and takes at least 2 hours in transit time. What you’ll do is take the Blue Line “L” train from O’Hare to the Jefferson Park Transit Station which is easy and takes only 15 minutes. Then you transfer to a bus and if you’re trying to get to Michigan Avenue you’ll take 2 different Pace Buses. The Pace buses do “knell” and are wheelchair accessible. However the Pace Bus schedule has limited hours so check station and bus times and plan in advance.
If you're in a hurry, the best bet is to grab the 1st available taxi outside the airport baggage claim or have someone pick you up.
O'Hare International Accessible Restrooms
Jim's Comments: My experience is that O'Hare International has wheelchair accessible restrooms but not all the restrooms are accessible. Watch the signage. Within each restroom it seems to me there are fewer accessible stalls at O'Hare than other major airports.
O'Hare International Rental Cars (baggage claim)
Identify which terminal you're in. O'Hare International Airport has four terminals: Terminals 1, 2 and 3 and Terminal 5. The is no Terminal 4. Each terminal is clearly marked with signs.
Chicago Area Transportation
The Chicago area provides for many private and public wheelchair accessible transportation options including trains, buses, taxis, van and car rentals.
For complete information on Chicago area transportation, visit our Chicago Transportation page.
Valet vs. Self Parking
Please note that many hotels, especially donwtown-area hotels, charge exorbitant prices for both valet and self-park garages.
Because I drive a converted van with hand controls and a transfer and swivel seat, I prefer not having valet attendants drive or park my vehicle. I prefer to find hotels with self-parking options and have attempted to note such facilities whenever possible.
Chicago CTA "L" Trains
Please note from our Transportation page that only 100 of the 145 train stations (69%) are accessible (there can be many steps) so unless you know your route, I’d absolutely avoid the “L” trains.
Driving Chicago Expressways
If you’re traveling in a car or van, especially from the airport, be prepared to pay “toll fees” every couple miles. You can purchase a prepaid I-Pass that you mount on your windshield (which I recommend), but alternatively bring along a several rolls of dimes and quarters – it’s really very frustrating (and dangerous) trying to make correct change ever couple miles.
Downtown Chicago City Attractions
Chicago is a big, fun city with lots to do and great places to visit. And the good news is that much of the Chicago including most sightseeing activities are consolidated right downtown along the very level, beautiful waterfront and along Michigan Avenue. Make sure you spend a day along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, which is one of the greatest avenues of the world and is at the center of all that makes Chicago an international destination. There are generally elevators and ramps when necessary and accessible restrooms.
Making Restaurant Reservations
When you book a restaurant reservation, let them know that a member of the dining party is in a wheelchair. You will receive preferred seating for your convenience and restroom access.
Additionally, if you are meeting in a private or banquet area of a restaurant, make sure that it is wheelchair accessible and has accessible restrooms.
Medical Supplies & Repairs
Sometimes things go wrong. Items get lost or broken, wheelchairs lose a screw or fall apart, or you just need something that you forgot to pack along for the trip. Not to worry, the Chicago area has some great medical supply and wheelchair repair companies ready to give you a hand. And if you require a Hoyer Lift or rolling shower chair I'm told you should contact Amir Montazery at Koebers Medical Supply in Skokie (north of Chicago) Website.
66 E 71 St. Chicago IL 60619
Home Health Depot (Wheelchair Repairs) 2101 W. Cermak Road Broadview, IL 60155 Phone: (800) 617.4140
All Care Medical Supply
103 S Rand Rd. Lake Zurich, IL 60047
Phone: (847) 550-0306 Visit Website