Recently I have been making frequent road trips with my mom, who is not so mobile and require a wheelchair to move around.
I’ve had some learning experiences that I wish to share in this article. This applies to those who faces mobility issues (they could still get up) but requires a wheelchair due to loss of strength in the leg as the result of a fall or recovery from an injury/operation.
My mom suffered a fall last year which rendered her less mobile. I resigned from my corporate job to care since her last year. In the house, she could walk slowly using a walker (a quad walking stick is no longer steady enough for her). But when we are outside, we need to use a wheelchair or else she could not be able to walk long.
When taking my mom for road trips, the realization hit me…. things that we took for granted like steps and uneven terrain is out of reach for someone who is less mobile.
And it would be really challenging, if not almost impossible for someone who is fully wheelchair bound to travel alone. For example, if the person is driving along the roads in town, a wrong turn will lead one to the highway when you would need to pay toll.
All tolls are automated where you need to use Touch N Go card. I find the card reader a little high that sometimes I have to unbuckle from my seat belt and lift myself up from my seat in order to touch the reader. A disabled person travelling on a disabled vehicle would be hard to do that.
Here are my experiences and how I tried to adapt to make my mother as comfortable as possible. When planning for our outings, there are 3 factors to take into consideration:
1. Toilet facilities- Is the toilet accessible by wheelchair?
Most shopping complexes are equipped with disabled friendly toilet. But I have encountered a few times where for some unknown reasons, the toilet for the disabled is being locked!
And the usual toilet has steps which made wheelchair hard to access or the toilet stall is too narrow for a wheelchair to go through.
It is important for the less mobile person to be comfortable. Due to this, when travelling, I prefer to take the highway (even though I had to pay toll), in case we need to use the restrooms which are mostly disabled friendly.
When travelling at the highway like North South highway, stop at R&R (example below picture at R&R Rawang) instead of the normal stop as their washrooms are larger and more comfortable. Even if the disabled toilet is locked, you can usually try to wheel the person the normal toilet.
I am still able to bring my mom to sightseeing roadtrips like Hulu Langat- just that I would ensured she used the washroom before the drive in the town and also take note of Tescos and Giants along the way for us to use their washrooms.
Note: A neighbor had suggested that she wears adult diapers but we do not want to do that unless it is absolutely necessary.
2. Eating places- is it disabled friendly?
Once during an outing for my mom’s birthday lunch, we went to one of the restaurants by a shoplot. Oh how my poor mom struggled with the pavement steps. To get to the car is also difficult as sometimes the cars are parked so closely together with sometimes motorbikes parking close that it is difficult for her to get out to the car.
After that incident, we would eat before we go out or have our meals at shopping complexes or eating places located at AEON or hypermarkets which the stores and parking could be accessed by a wheelchair. But I would still survey around and hope there is a roadside restaurant which a wheelchair bound person could access:
Above: I am grateful for this restaurant in Cheras, Yin He Restaurant that actually build a wheelchair slope so that I could push up my mom for us to have a meal together.
On the other hand, if we wish to have fastfood like KFC or McDonalds with my mom, then it would be preferable to have at one located within the shopping complex rather than a drive through.
For example, we were at Jalan Genting Klang and wanted to stop at either McDonalds or KFC there. We could not find parking and I observed most washrooms of these restaurants are located on the second floor which is only accessible by the staircase. In the end, I drove to AEON Alpha Angle where we could find parking and push the wheelchair into the building. One thing though, I am surprised that they do not have a disabled toilet. I had to push my mom to the ladies and her wheelchair could not get into the narrow stall.
3. Is the area wheelchair accessible?
If the design comes in split level, without any build in wheelchair slopes, it is impossible for a less mobile person to access. Or it does not have a lift or elevator, then is also impossible to access. When pushing someone on a wheelchair, do not use the travelator (you know, those where hypermarket grocery carts are able to move) as the wheelchair may move backwards. I have hurt my back as I tried to restrain my mom’s wheelchair from sliding off with all my might so I have really learnt my lesson.
Most complexes have a working lift but there are still a few hypermarkets that does not provide lifts (they only have travelators). Usually before bringing the person there, you need to first survey the place.
To drive or take Grab?
Personally, I prefer to drive because it is much more cheaper. For example, a trip of about 30 km one way would cost me about RM20 (toll plus petrol) and we get to travel at our own pace. Also because I need to take along a number of stuff in our roadtrips which made it almost impossible to carry together with pushing my mom on a wheelchair:
- The handrail and quad walking stick, just in case
- a large bottle of drinking water to refill our small drinking bottle. Also in case you need to fill up the water tank in your car
- hat, umbrellas
- extra change of clothes
Other things to take along: powerbank, charger, cable especially if you are relying on Waze to take you there/back ….you can’t afford for your phone to run out of battery. Ensure your Touch N Go card also have sufficient balance for the tolls and parking (I now pay using TNG at shopping complex because I find it easier).
Time of travel
Plan your road trips well so that it would not clash with the infamous office rush hour jam. That means start after 9.30am and reach home before 5pm. During the fasting month of Ramadhan, the jam starts earlier hence try to get back home before 4.30pm.
By knowing when you need to get back, you would know the limitation of the place you could visit. For example, if you stay in Shah Alam, it would not be advisable to go sight seeing in KL town at 3pm because by the time you finish you would be stuck in the massive jam with the rest of the folks who are trying desperately to rush home after work for dinner. Unless you plan to go into a shopping complex and come out after 8pm. I find driving in massive traffic jams to be stressful and painful on my knees (from pressing the pedals in my car).
During Raya and Chinese New Year, if you are staying in Selangor or Kuala Lumpur, you have the roads to yourself as many city folks have gone back to their hometown. Even the first few working days after that, the roads are much less congested.
As our parents get older and less mobile, they would be stuck at home if they do not have us to take them out. My mom enjoyed the road trips and I enjoy driving and taking her to explore new places. I have love exploring new places.
My mom has short term memory loss- even though she does not remember where I have brought her, but she remembers the happy feelings she felt and look forward to each new road trip as she looked at buildings or admire the nature. That is what really matters.