people with physical disabilities

Individuals using wheelchairs may not be sitting still much longer.

Design enhancements are coming from several quarters that expand possibilities for people using wheelchairs.

CBS News aired a story Jan. 17 about the latest and greatest iteration of a standing wheelchair. It shows a user in a gym easily maneuvering his compact chair from a sitting to a standing position and then shooting a basketball through a hoop twice.

Standing wheelchairs give users more autonomy and independence, but the greater benefits may be to the user’s physiology.

Many doctors consider immobility to be the “new cancer” that’s slowly killing too many people.

Standing promotes bone health and muscle strengthening, improves respiratory function, enhances bladder and bowel function, and reduces the threat of contractures.

“The human body is designed to be upright,” said Erin Neuland, a physical therapist at The International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore told Rehab Management magazine. “Our bones, muscles, organs and nervous system function optimally when either walking or standing.”

Scientific research shows that upright mobility improves outcomes for patients in physical therapy, she said.

The newest standing wheelchairs offer multiple functions, including sit-to-stand and seated transfers. Inventor Dean Kamen is working on an electronic one that is highly intuitive – allowing the user to move when reaching forward and leaning back. The iBot can even climb stairs!

Design of prone standers is also improving to add premium adjustability and increased utility.

Ever popular power wheelchairs -- which perform well under many indoor and outdoor conditions -- are also getting new features like easy-touch switches and chin booms with joysticks.

Not all of the newer features are all that high tech. Methods are now available that custom-mold seats to fit people using wheelchairs with structural deformities. These seats make wheelchairs more comfortable and functional for users who need them.

Another exciting wrinkle: Wheelchairs are being designed to connect with their user’s computer keyboard and environmental controls through Bluetooth and joystick technology. 

The wheelchair becomes part of the interface that allows users to turn off the television, turn on the lights, unlock doors and answer the telephone.

That’s a whole lot more than a ride.

Reserving an accessible hotel room should be easier now!

We’re putting a bow on another summer -- the season synonymous with sunshine and vacation.

It’s uplifting to break with routine, see fresh sights, and relax.

But the logistics of traveling can be daunting for people with physical disabilities, even when they stop for the night. Many have to be concerned whether their hotel will be accessible enough.

Sometimes guestrooms are listed as being “accessible” when they are not fully accessible for people with particular disabilities.

Most hotel chains have a central booking agency staffed with representatives who are delighted to reserve you an “accessible room,” but might be hard-pressed to explain what makes it accessible.

Usually accessible means wider doorways, a high toilet with grab bars to help a person using a wheelchair transfer, and a shower you can roll into with a waterproof chair on wheels.

Information on accessibility features at call centers is increasing thanks to Americans with Disabilities Title III requirements, which went into effect March 15, 2012.

But travelers who require specific amenities are still advised to phone the hotel directly and quiz the front desk clerk, not just all an 800 number.

“We do sometimes carry a slide-in seat for a tub in the event that 's what we get,” Tom Bird said. “Most hotels do not have specific hardware to meet our needs, so we travel heavily equipped.”

Since accessible rooms usually have one bed without guardrails, the Birds slide Dany’s bed against one wall and line the opposite side with chairs to prevent a roll-off.

They have not done a family trip since ADA requirements that require central booking agencies to provide more information on accessibility features went into effect.

In the past, it has been difficult to find the type of accommodations they as attendants need – a room that adjoins one that is handicap accessible. 

Dany goes to bed at 8:30 p.m. In an adjoining room, Tom and Rita can watch primetime TV without disturbing Dany.

Some hotels put accessible rooms on the upper floors, but the Birds prefer to stay on the ground floor, if possible. In the event of a fire, elevators shut down, making it very difficult for anyone in a wheelchair to exit, Tom said.

The new ADA regulations require all establishments that provide transient lodging to use the same process for booking all guestrooms. If the establishment uses a centralized or online booking system, that system must display a detailed description of the accessible facilities.

The new regulations also require hotels to hold accessible guest rooms for people with disabilities until all other guest rooms of that type have been reserved. The custom of assigning rooms upon check-in and subject to availability is no longer lawful if it would mean disabled guest’s reservation of accessible room would not be honored.

Previously, guaranteed reservations by people with disabilities were sometimes given to earlier-arriving people without disabilities. Often no other accessible room remained and the person with the disability was stranded.

The accessible travel market is a $13.6 billion market and one of the fastest growing tourism niches today, according to the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA).

“… With estimates of one Baby Boomer turning 65 every eight seconds, it’s a market that will continue to see significant expansion, “ said Tony Gonchar, Chief Executive Officer of ASTA, in a 2011 press release.