Main content

Alert message

Spring/Summer 2010 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Edgenie Bellah and Jean Robinson
Abstract: Parents of children with visual impairments, including some with additional disabilities, share their family travel experiences.
Keywords: family wisdom, blind, visually impaired, travel, vacation
Editor’s note: The following article was compiled from postings to the TX VI Family Network listserv . Family members who reside in Texas are welcome to subscribe to the listserv by sending an email to .

ALISON:

I have been traveling with my girls, Meglyn (17) and Madison (15) for years. Madison is visually impaired, somewhat physically disabled, and is immunosuppressed due to a transplanted kidney and has some special considerations regarding her previous cancer. Each of those makes traveling a little different, and altogether they make it necessary to plan and be flexible at the same time, too.

When Madi was really young, the difficulties that we had to work around had to do with her inability to walk much/far/long, lack of flexibility with change, tantrums, etc. After her illnesses, they have been about keeping her healthy and working up her stamina. Now she is doing much better physically (we still have to really watch out for curbs, steps, uneven ground, etc.), and we are exploring more complicated trips

The first trip we took after Madi got better was a spring break 2004 road trip across Texas. Madi was still quite weak and still had some tubes in her, so I wanted to make sure we had maximum control over our itinerary. We drove all over; from Austin, we headed west and had stops in Midland (petroleum museum), Odessa (crater), Monahans (sand hills), Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe mountains, Davis mountains, McDonald Observatory, Fort Davis, Marfa (alien lights!), Del Rio, Goliad, and various other little towns around San Antonio. I didn’t let the kids bring electronics of any sort, and I read to them most of the time about Texas history and geology! Sounds like torture at first, but we had a great time and the girls remember the trip very fondly.

We’ve been working on Madison’s stamina (in walking, standing in line, etc.) and ability to tolerate change and be flexible for years and she has made enormous progress. We used to have to always take her special needs stroller everywhere we went, but she has done so well that we haven’t used it at all in the past 3+ years.
We took a little 5-day cruise out of Galveston over Christmas break a few years ago to test Madi’s sea legs and see how she would do on our one-day visit to Cozumel. It was really great. We worked on alternating feet on the stairs the whole time and she made enormous strides in that (pun intended!). She walked all over Cozumel that one day we were there (and we were very careful about what we got her for lunch). She even bartered some and bought some t-shirts with her own money that she earned every time she alternated feet on the stairs! That was really effective. Meg sang a karaoke song for Madi.

So, in an effort to continue to expand Madi’s repertoire of travel skills, we are going this spring break to Mexico for a week - just the three of us! We are staying in one place and have no specific plans, so we’ll be free to explore at our own pace. Because she is immunosuppressed, my focus will be on keeping her healthy (food and water, and zero suntan/burn) the whole time.

Madi doesn’t really ask for much, and there aren’t a lot of places she says she really wants to see, but she does talk about Alaska (she says she wants to walk on a glacier), the Grand Canyon, England, San Juan Puerto Rico again, Australia, Barbados again, Galapagos, Rome & Sicily, and Ireland.
We will definitely make plans to visit these places over the years. I want to try her out on a tour at some point - traveling across some European country. Those present different types of challenges than we’ve encountered.

Thanks for the opportunity to write about some of my favorite times!

SUZANNA:

When my children were younger we took them skiing. We called ahead and found a ski place that had an instructor experienced in teaching the blind to ski. After a few days of lessons, we would put an orange vest (like construction workers use) on my children that said “Blind Skier” and an orange vest on us that said “Guide” and we would take them down the mountain using verbal cues. They loved it!

We took them on a three city walking tour of Washington DC, New York and Boston. We called our Senator and arranged a behind the scenes tour of the Capital, called the Smithsonian and got a behind the scenes tour of the museum and also arranged a special tour of the White house.

In New York we got a behind the scenes tour of NBC and a museum where they let my kids touch stuff. In Boston there is already a walking tour set up where the tour guide describes everything. We also took them to Disneyworld where we got a special pass so they did not have to wait in line. Also, they got to meet the characters all together at one time so did not have to search for them.

When we are traveling in the car we stop at Cracker Barrel and get books on tape. You can rent them for three dollars for two weeks and return the tapes to any other Cracker Barrel store in the US. This way we always have new books. We used to carry around the Franklin dictionary because they have some fun games on it.

My children are now 23 and 20 and I don’t regret the sacrifices made so that our children could have some of the same experiences as their sighted friends.

MICHELE:

As a family, we have traveled to Galveston Island, Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels, and California.

It took awhile for Lauren to get used to beaches. When she was younger, she did not care for the sand or the salty air, so we did not stay long or overnight. After several visits through the years, now she enjoys sinking her toes in the wet sand, playing in the ocean waves and even riding a boogie board in calmer surf. We skip building sand castles and search for sea shells instead.

A good substitute for the beach is Moody Gardens Palm Beach, a multi-level swimming pool with waterfalls, splash pads, and white sand. It is somewhat cleaner and safer. We stayed at condos on the beach with our extended family, so we used our kitchens for meals. That saved money, time and our sanity. The condos also had a swimming pool, which provided a fun break for everyone from the salt water and the sand. During car rides we listened to music, and we took turns selecting the CDs. Close to home and affordable, Galveston was a nice vacation spot.

Every summer, Lauren spends a lot of time at the swimming pool. When she was younger, she began exploring the steps first, then the sides, then the jets, and finally tip- toeing around the shallow end as she grew. Now that she can stand up and feels more confident in the water, she thoroughly enjoys water play.

Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels is a water park heaven! Lauren especially liked the torrent rivers, wave pools, and children’s body slides. She also rode the big tube chutes with us, although she did not prefer them as much. We spent most of our time in the areas she liked best and avoided the rides with long lines. The park offered plenty of shaded sitting areas to rest or have a picnic lunch. The newer sections seemed more accessible and had more options for younger kids, while the original section was filled more with teens and up. In the evenings, we stayed at an inn within walking distance of the water park. It was private, quiet, restful and wonderful! After a long day at the water park, we appreciated simply relaxing and watching TV or videos.

Last summer we visited California and spent 2 days at Disneyland. On the plane ride, we brought a portable DVD player, so Lauren listened to her favorite videos and music. A life saver! She really liked the Disneyland California Adventure Park. It is smaller and easier to manage mobility wise. They have a 4-D ride called Soarin’ Over California and a 4-D movie - both very cool! Lauren loved the “It’s a Bug’s Life” rides and splash pad. She could have spent all day there. However, she was brave and rode the big, scary rides, too, so we took turns being brave with her. The second day we explored the main park. We rode as many rides as possible since Lauren was not really into the Disney characters. We requested a special pass, which enabled us to go to the front of most lines. That was very useful for the more popular rides with long waits.
Lauren enjoyed the Fantasyland rides and eating foods from around the world. She did not like the log type rides, where we sat in a row and got jostled around. She preferred more predictable rides that moved smoothly, like the tea cups or the Jungle Cruise, as well as character theme rides where she knew the story, such as Snow White or Peter Pan. She even climbed to the top of Tarzan’s Tree House - a true mobility feat! There are shows and lots of music piped throughout both parks. We skipped the crowded parades and loud fireworks because we thought it would be too much sensory overload for her (and us).

I recommend taking breaks at Downtown Disney or at your hotel. We were pretty exhausted by the end of the day. We relaxed in the hotel hot tub and enjoyed dinners at a cafe across the street. Asking the locals where they eat helped us find tasty, quiet restaurants. Lauren still talks about our trip almost a year later. She mostly talks about going to California and staying in a hotel. I think she really likes hotels. Me too.