Category Archives: Hacks

Google Street View; a wheelchair user’s friend.

Some time ago, Helen and i went to Paris to see a couple of our musician friends play in a small venue by the Bastille. Google Street View already existed at the time, but I didn’t think to use it to check out the venue beforehand because our friends assured us that it was wheelchair accessible. They meant well but when we got to the little bar where our friends were going to play, we discovered that it was semi-subterranean, with six very steep steps leading down from the front door at street level into the main room. There was no step between the sidewalk and the door, which I think is what made our friends believe that it was accessible, but I guess that the six steps that came after didn’t register in their assessment.

I guess one really does have to be in a wheelchair, or in a relationship with someone in a wheelchair to really understand what accessible means and what to look for, because this wasn’t the only time that we’ve been assured that a restaurant or bar or hotel is accessible, only to arrive and discover two or three steps between the sidewalk and the door.

Nowadays, that’s not a problem, because almost anywhere that we want to go has been covered by the Street View team at Google, and as long as  have the address I can take a virtual trip to check out the doorway. Not only that, but if we are going by foot/wheel, in just a few minutes i can check our route to make sure that there are no obstacles and which way is the best way to get there, all before we even leave the flat.

The above mentioned venue in Paris ( Pakito’s at 15 rue Daval 75011 Paris if you want to see for yourself on Street View. It’s the place with the red trim ) might have been a little trickier, because from the street it looks ok, no steps, easy access from the sidewalk, but then if one looks a little more closely, the windows are suspiciously low to the ground for a place that is accommodating patrons at street level. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it then, but the apparent height of the room in relation to the street is something I make sure to check now as well as looking for any steps.

Even though we couldn’t get in and see our friends play, the night was not a total loss. We were in Paris; a city we both love and we had the whole night ahead of us. We wandered around for a bit and found a delightful, accessible (mostly…part of the dining room is down a few steps) restaurant right around the corner ( Chez Oscar, 11-13 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 75004 Paris) where we had a lovely meal with some of the best mashed potatoes either of us have ever tasted.

I did learn an important lesson on that trip as well. Google Street View is our friend.


Luggage Monkey…

Luggage Monkey


Bring Your Own Shower Seat

As regards to bathing facilities when traveling, I stated in an earlier post: There are four things that I need in order to be able to shower:

  • A roll-in shower, or a bathtub that is low enough to facilitate a transfer.
  • Something solid to sit on.
  • A detachable shower head (on a hose).
  • Grab bars, properly placed in order for me to steady myself during the transfer and as I shower.

I covered the grab-bar solution in that post, and I would consider it the responsibility of the wheelchair traveler to ascertain (by phone!)that the hotel/lodge/resort/etc has a roll in shower or tub, and hopefully their shower head will be on a hose, but I have found through experience that counting on any lodging to provide the wheelchair traveler with proper seating is an iffy proposition at best. Experience has taught me to bring my own seating. Even if I don’t need it, it’s well worth the little bit of space that it takes up in our luggage to have a guaranteed seat for the shower, and I would advise anyone else who cannot stand unassisted to do the same.

Almost every hotel in the US that we have stayed in has provided proper seating, but “proper” can be a little sketchy, even with the ADA . A wheelchair traveler in Europe can be a little less certain that there will be proper seating provided, although the majority of the hotels we have stayed in have fulfilled this need adequately. It’s the minority that I am talking about here, both in the US and abroad that have caused me to adopt a policy of always bringing my own seat, just in case. And there have been several cases where I was very glad that I had.

On more than one instance the seat has been nothing more than a 10-inch square of plastic that folds down in the shower. Even though they’ve been sturdy and capable of supporting my weight, the small surface area of the seat made getting cleaned up a nerve-wracking, back-firmly-pressed-to-the-wall endeavor.

In other instances, the “seat” will be a sunken bench that hooks over the sides of the bathtub, with a good ten-inch drop from the height of my wheelchair seat to the level of the bench. I can’t do a ten-inch hoist back into my chair unassisted, and having to be assisted out of the tub is not the sort of accessible experience that I am hoping for when we travel.

There can be numerous other obstacles that won’t be apparent until the wheelchair traveler actually sees the seat , such as armrests that block a safe transfer or missing rubber feet which cause the seat to slide around dangerously, so even with reassurances from the hotel staff (“Oh yes, we have a shower bench”), it’s a good idea to have your own, just for back up.

The first personal shower seat I got was a folding shower bench. I have never used it because:

A. It’s too wide to fit in our tub, so it’s probably too wide to fit in many hotel tubs.
B. It didn’t fold down flat enough. Even folded as flat as it goes, it takes up a quarter of the depth of our luggage.

So I looked around and found a nice little shower stool with extendable legs that easily detach and re-attach to the stool so that the whole thing lies flat in the bottom of our bag. It’s a little wobbly fully extended, but it’s sturdy and with grab bars close by it’s safe enough for me to relax and enjoy my shower. Plus, it will fit into any tub or shower, and I can count on it being there since I bring it with me wherever we go.

Suitable shower seat

This is the model that I got. I would give it a good recommendation. Use at your own risk. I have no affiliation nor connection with this company in any way.


Oh, BTW…

If you hover your cursor over any of the photos in this blog and get the little finger icon, you can click on it and get the full sized photo.


Portable Grab Bars that WORK.

(this photo is from the seller’s website)

One of the most important requirements when Helen and I travel is that I be able to shower. I can skip getting clean one day, but if i have to go two days without a shower I start feeling really grubby and it ruins the holiday for me.

There are four things that I need in order to be able to shower:

  • A roll-in shower, or a bathtub that is low enough to facilitate a transfer.
  • Something solid to sit on.
  • A detachable shower head (on a hose).
  • Grab bars, properly placed in order for me to steady myself during the transfer and as I shower.

We have learned to pack our own shower seat (more on this in a subsequent post), and I can usually work around a too-high tub or a fixed shower head, but it is absolutely essential for my safety that there be something solid for me to grab onto during the process of getting clean. Unfortunately, although rare, there have been instances where the grab bars were improperly placed, or worse, completely absent.

We ran into a case of the latter this past July when we booked a stay in the Court Hotel in Utrecht, The Netherlands. We had a window of three months between when I booked and found out that they didn’t have grab bars, and when we were due to arrive, and I had planned on emailing them with the suggestion that they install grab bars (complete with a handy link showing them where to get them), but I got busy and didn’t get around to it until it was too late.

I thought (rightly so) that there must be some portable grab bars available from one of the mobility aids sites on the net, and so I ordered a pair. They seemed quite reasonable at £10.00 for the set, but when I received them I couldn’t have been more disappointed. They were completely useless. They wouldn’t have supported the weight of a kitten. The only thing that kept them from being dangerous is that they wouldn’t fasten to the wall long enough for anyone to actually attempt to use them.

I couldn’t accept that there wasn’t a solution to this problem,  and then I wondered, “What about those suction thingies that construction workers use to carry/install those big sheets of plate glass?” Those would have to work dependably or else people would get hurt, and I don’t mean just some cripple taking a tumble in a bathtub. Once you get OSHA involved (Occupational Safety and Health Administration; the department of the US government that oversees on the job safety), there has to be a factor of reliable safety.

So I did a little looking around on the Internet, and Voile, I found something.

What I found was a “Double Glass Sucker”, which is, according to the website, “Ideal for carrying heavy awkward items such as glass, doors, windows and sheet metal”, with a 70 kilogram capacity for £5.11. So I ordered one.

It WORKS. I tried it out as soon as I got it, and it was easy to use and clung to applied surfaces with such strong force that I was afraid to use it on our oven door for fear that the power of the suction would break the glass.

I have since used it in two hotels (the one in Utrecht, and another one where the grab bars weren’t properly placed), and it held flawlessly.

Before I provide you with the link, I must caution you regarding this product for two reasons.

  • A properly installed, permanent grab bar is bolted into the wall itself. This portable grab bar is fastened to nothing more than the tiles, and so will only be as strong as the mortar/grout/adhesive which holds the tile to the wall. It is entirely possible that one could pull the tiles off the wall and take a spill. USE AT YOUR OWN RISK.
  • The surface of the suction cup is 4.5 inches/12 cm wide. If the tiles on the bathroom wall are smaller than that, the uneven surface of tile and grout may prevent an adequate seal.
  • This isn’t so much a caution as an advisory. The suction cups smell strongly of rubber, and so it would be a good idea to pack the grab bar in a separate plastic bag in order to keep the rest of your luggage from smelling like you work in a tire factory.

Aside from the above caveats, I highly recommend the purchase of one or a pair of these devices for travel to unknown  hotels. They are light, affordable, strong, and very easy to use.

I am sure that there are other outlets, but this is the one that I purchased. I have no affiliation with or interest in this company; it’s just the one that I tried and so can offer a first person review of their product.


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