Friday, June 22, 2012

On the road with MS

Dan and Jennifer Digmann

Dan: This summer, Jennifer and I are planning our vacation around a trip back to Iowa to celebrate with my family. In addition to the expected late-July birth of my sister’s first baby, August 23 marks my brother’s third daughter’s – and Jennifer’s goddaughter’s – first birthday.

It’s a big trip for us that we’ve made countless times, and it’s the one that has taught us how to strategize traveling on the road with Multiple Sclerosis and a disability. Just ask Jennifer.

Jennifer: When I started dating Dan nearly 10 years ago, I remember thinking I never was going to see where he grew up in Iowa. After all, his hometown is more than 500 miles from where we live in Michigan, and I had concerns that most people don’t have when they travel.

Because I no longer drive, am in a wheelchair and need Dan’s assistance making transfers – specifically in the restroom and into bed at night – I wondered how I was going to make that trip. Where was I going to find accessible restrooms along the way?

Since my MS diagnosis, I’ve realized the importance of nice, clean ADA-compliant restrooms. And especially now, they need to be fully accessible, complete with taller toilets, grab bars and enough space for me, my chair and for Dan to help me transfer. Rest areas off the interstate highways are our top choice.

Dan: The nice thing about these rest areas is that they’re marked on state maps, which helps Jennifer and me plan for scheduled stops along the way. Many of the newer or remodeled rest areas offer fully accessible family restrooms. These are the easiest to help with the transfers and provide more privacy.

When a rest stop doesn’t specifically have a family restroom, attendants always are willing to post the “Closed for cleaning” sign on one side of the women’s restrooms for Jennifer and me to use.

Jennifer: And when that isn’t an option for Dan and me, I find it’s just as easy to clear it with any women in the restroom by asking, “Do any of you mind if my husband comes in to help me?” Fortunately, I’ve never had anyone say they minded Dan’s presence in the ladies room. Truly, this is a fact of life and most people are very understanding.   

A word of caution though: Not all rest areas are fully accessible. Some, even though they’re marked with handicapped-accessible signs, fall short in providing stalls big enough for Dan, my chair and me.

If on your travels you don’t come across an accessible rest area, we’ve discovered it works to try newer fast food restaurants or service plazas and larger gas stations. Many of these feature accessible facilities, and more often than not the cashier is willing to keep watch for you when getting help from a caregiver of a different gender.
  
Dan and I had had nearly a decade of trials and errors to make our travels more manageable in spite of MS and our accessibility concerns. We’ve merely scratched the surface on things we’ve found helpful in traveling with MS or any disability.

Remember that traveling is supposed to be enjoyable, and it can be with the right preparation and some flexibility for unforeseen situations. And if there was a less than accessible facility or if someone went out of his/her way to help, make sure to send cards or emails to provide your constructive feedback or thanks to those people for their assistance in making your trip a great one.  


Combined Dan and Jennifer Digmann have taken on MS for more than 25 years. Jennifer was diagnosed in 1997 and has secondary-progressive MS; Dan was diagnosed in 2000 and has relapsing-remitting MS. They live in Michigan and were married in 2005. They are authors of the book, “Despite MS, to Spite MS,” (available at amazon.com), and write for HealthCentral.com and their own blog, danandjenniferdigmann.com.

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