Tag Archives: Travel

How to Plan a Sensory Friendly and Accessible Vacation

By: Kelly Nesbitt, MOT, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist

Summer vacation is in full swing, along with all the stress and planning that parents feel as they try to make a great relaxing vacation for their whole family. For parents of children with disabilities, these feelings can be very overwhelming as they have to take into account how to travel efficiently and safely while accommodating their child’s needs.

To make your trips a little easier, I’ve compiled a list of resources about air travel, cruises, and US-based destinations that are perfect for a family with a child with disabilities.

Air Travel

TSA Cares is a national program through the Department of Homeland Security that offers one-on-one assistance navigating the airport and security for people with disabilities. Services include escort by a Passenger Support Specialist who can meet you at a specific point in a chosen airport, help with baggage through security, assist in security checks, and just be another support system navigating a chaotic environment such as an airport.

Click here to learn more about TSA Cares. You can also contact them with further questions at (855) 787-2227 or TSA-ContactCenter@tsa.dhs.gov

Open Taxis is a new wheelchair accessible taxi service in Chicago. It is open 24/7, so it is perfect for quick taxi rides to the airport without parking your own accessible vehicle at the airport for the entirety of your trip. You can call to prearrange a trip or call the day of the trip. You can schedule a ride by calling 855-928-1010.

Two children wait to embark on the airplane

Travelers Aid Chicago is a service in Chicago O’Hare that provides support and protection for “vulnerable at-risk travelers who need guidance, support, or advocacy” as well as crisis intervention for passengers with cognitive or developmental disabilities. Information desks are located in terminals throughout O’Hare.

Travelers Aid Chicago provides the option to schedule an Airport Practice Experience. You can take a “practice run” through O’Hare airport including going through security and the terminals to help children know what to expect on the actual travel day. They even have visuals to provide to families so that the child can have their own visual schedule of their trip to O’Hare.

I would especially recommend this for a child who may have Autism and/or an Anxiety disorder and has not experienced anything like flying before.

To inquire about Travelers Aid Chicago’s services or to set-up a practice day, contact them at (773) 894-2427 or travelersaid@heartlandalliance.org

Cruises

A boy looks over the side of a cruise ship with binoculars

Autism on the Sea is an international organization that creates cruise experiences for children and adults with Autism, Down Syndrome, Tourrette Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and more. These experiences are currently available on well-known cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruises, Carnival Cruises, and Disney Cruises.

With this service, cruise members who are experienced and background checked can accompany you on the cruise and adapt activities in order to fit the special needs of your family. This organization will also collaborate with you in order to contact cruise lines to adapt your vacation to fit the dietary, physical, mental, and emotional needs of your child.

They even provide images of common used “cruise ship words” to be used as part of a child’s Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) so that you can create a social story to prep your child for their trip.

Click here for additional information on Autism on the Sea and their services.

Disney Cruises offers many special services for passengers with special needs, such as accessible suites, access to medical equipment, sharps containers, and a variety of other accommodations. Disney Cruises also offer American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for on-board entertainment and shows. Please contact Disney Cruises 60 days before your cruise to arrange accommodations.

For more information or to request accommodations call (407) 566-3602 or email SpecialServices@disneycruise.com

“Stay-cations” in Chicago

As Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley is based in the western suburbs of Chicago, here are some tips for exploring the Windy City!

The Chicago Children’s Museum Play for All program offers free admission for the first 250 visitors with disabilities the second Saturday every month from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. to experience exhibits via a private tour. You must pre-register in order to get this special offer. The museum also has sound reducing headphones, pictures for a visual schedule, and lap trays for wheelchairs so that children with disabilities can experience the museum.

For more information on the Play for All program, call (312) 464-8249 or email partnerships@chicagochildrensmuseum.org.

Children attending Play for All at the Chicago Children's Museum

Calm Waters at the Shedd Aquarium offers extended hours on selected days especially for children with disabilities. They have specially designed shows with novel sensory experiences, a “quiet room” for sensory breaks, and an app in which there is information about noise levels in different parts of the Aquarium to help you plan your trip.

Click here or call 312-939-2438 for additional information on Calm Waters at the Shedd Aquarium!

Sensory Saturday at the Field Museum: The Field Museum opens early on select Saturdays in which children with disabilities or sensory processing issues can enjoy the field museum without loud crowds as well as access to hands on experiences to learn through tactile play and exploration.

Click here or email to learn more about Sensory Saturdays at the Field Museum!

Want more inclusive event ideas for children with disabilities in the Chicagoland area? Click here!

Walt Disney World

It really is the happiest place on earth. Disney World offers numerous services and accommodations for children with special needs at each of Disney’s parks.

Services include:

Disney has many guides to help guests with disabilities enjoy their experience.
  • Access to Break Areas for children who need a break from the sensory overload of Disney. You can ask any cast member to help you locate a break area.
  • Sensory Guides for each park’s rides and shows that have strobe lights, scents pumped in, loud noises, have a lot of unpredictability, bumps, go fast, etc. It even lists what type of restraint is used in each ride for safety as well as how long each ride is.
    This guide can help families of children with special needs decide which attractions would be most enjoyable for their child. If you are planning to go to Disney, it may be helpful to show this list to your Occupational Therapist, as they can help you figure out which rides will best suit your child’s unique sensory system.
  • Resources for Children with Autism Spectrum disorders in booklet form. This booklet lists FAQ’s about Disney for children with Autism, what Disney recommends bringing to the parks (ID bracelet, a sensory toy, earplugs/headphones, etc.)
  • Rental wheelchairs
  • Empathetic, warm staff : Many blog posts from parents of children with disabilities rave about how warm and engaging Disney staff and characters are with their children with special needs- meeting them where they are and not overwhelming them. Click here to read our past blog, The Magic of Disney and Your Special Needs Child
  • Sign Language interpreters
  • Handheld captioning/video captioning
  • Braille guidebook

Morgan’s Wonderland

Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, Texas is an amusement and waterpark that has 25 “ultra-accessible” attractions. Opened in 2010 by parents of a daughter with physical and cognitive disabilities, Morgan’s Wonderland is the world’s first theme park designed specifically for children with special needs. This unique theme park has a variety of amazing attractions such as the Sensory Village (which is a replica small town for children to engage in imaginative play), wheelchair swings, a large sand box, a musical playground, and more!

Morgan’s Inspiration Island is a waterpark addition to Morgan’s wonderland that provides an opportunity for guests with limited mobility to experience the fun of a waterpark. They have access to waterproof chairs and compressed air operated power wheelchairs so that all children can play in the water without having to worry about ruin their personal power wheelchairs.

There are also hotels that are partnered with the amusement and water park that offer discounts and accommodations to make the entirety of your trip accessible. Morgan’s Inspiration Island was listed as one of TIME Magazines 2018 “World’s Greatest Places.” Best of all? Admission for guests with disabilities is free.

Morgan's Wonderland and Island Inspiration

National Parks

The National Park Service has a list of the most wheelchair accessible hiking trails so that guests with limited mobility don’t have to miss out on the beauty of our national parks. There are wheelchair accessible hiking paths at the Grand Canyon, Sequoia, and Zion National Parks.

Whether you decide to go on a cruise, roadtrip, or fly somewhere this summer, bring up your vacation plans with your child’s therapists for further accessibility tips and sensory strategies that can make your trip more enjoyable for everyone involved. Happy travels!

For more information about Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley and our services, visit: https://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/

Zika Season: It’s Not Over

By: Dr. Ingrid Liu, D.O.wellcomemd

It’s true, now that the weather is getting cooler, many locations will finally get a break from Zika and other mosquito-borne illnesses. However, we Midwesterners like to escape the cold and travel to the tropics, so this is a reminder to pack insect repellent spray! The following are answers to some of the most common questions asked.

Where are the current outbreaks?

floridaThe best source of information is the CDC website where they have travel notices and the latest updates. Currently the only area in the U.S. with active spread from mosquitoes is in South Florida, near Miami. In fact, on October 13, CDC expanded it’s warning area where there are new Zika cases. Click here for specific advice for people traveling to South Florida.

What are the symptoms?

The vast majority of people who become infected don’t have any symptoms at all. However, if symptoms do develop, they include the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Eye irritation

Symptoms typically last for 2-7 days after an incubation period of about 2 weeks.

How is it transmitted?

mosquitoMosquito bites are the initial mode of infection. We now know that individuals can then transmit Zika to others via sexual activity long after the initial infection from the mosquito. There have also been a couple rare cases where it is unclear how the person contracted the virus.

How long is someone contagious?

There is currently research underway to determine this. The recommendations are that people who have traveled to an area with known active Zika abstain from sexual activity for at least 3 months, preferably 6 months if there was known infection confirmed by laboratory testing.

How is it diagnosed?

The Zika virus can be detected in blood or urine. However, there are a limited number of labs that perform this test and all have to be sent and reported via the Illinois Department of Health.

How do I prevent getting infected?

Insect repellent with at least 25% DEET (not for children under 2) is best and wearing light colored clothing helps prevent mosquito bites. Staying in cooler air conditioned areas also is advised. Condoms do protect against sexual transmission.

Is there any treatment?

There is currently no cure or medication for Zika infection and it will be several years before a vaccine is developed. If you have traveled to an area with active Zika cases it is recommended you call your physician with any specific questions.

Feel free to comment below or email me at iliu@wellcomemd.com with any questions you may have concerning the Zika virus, and I will make it a priority to get back to you!

Editor’s Note:
Dr. Liu has provided family medical care for thousands of patients of all ages over two decades and now. She is board-certified in family practice and licensed without restrictions. She currently serves on the board of Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley and is also a member of the Illinois Academy of Family Practice Committee on Mental Health. Dr. Liu is proficient in all aspects of primary care, but holds special interests in women’s health and travel medicine.  Read her previous post on new patient care models.

 

Holiday Travel Anxiety

Anxious about the upcoming holiday travel? Here are two great resources and perspectives to help you prepare.

The first is a blog post from the Easter Seals Inc. blog with “12 holiday travel tips for families with special needs” by Sara Croft.

Sara Croft compiled “tips from behavior analyst, therapists and respite providers to make holiday traveling a more enjoyable experience for everyone involved.

Before the airport: 

  1. Make sure you pack everything your child might want/need in a carry-on bag, including a change of clothes. Create a sensory pack with their favorite calming toy, stuffed animal, object or blanket. Sensory items are a great relief for kids who may become anxious due to first time traveling and fear of the unknown.
  2. Discuss what the experience of the ticket counter and the security check might be like to the child before you arrive at the airport. You could simply talk to the child about it, discuss it with them, or use social stories to aid in the explanation.01_Mason Esquivel
  3. Make sure you call TSA Cares at 1-855-787-2227 at least 72 hours before boarding the plane to ask any questions you may have. A TSA Passenger Support Specialist can be requested to provide on-the-spot assistance. The TSA has a helpline for individuals with special needs.
  4. Try to book flights when your child is generally the most able to handle a change in routine. For many children this may be in the morning when they are not tired and overwhelmed from a long day.
  5. Ask your doctor for a letter describing your child’s condition especially if your child has an “invisible condition” such as autism. It might be helpful to show documentation of the disability to airport security or flight attendants. Visit the TSA’s website and print the disability notification card that you can present at the TSA screening.

At the airport and on the plane:

6. To make your walk to the gate easier, approach the check-in or information desk to ask for a ride or shuttle to your terminal.

7. Inform TSA of your child’s disability and how they might react to security screening or waiting in long lines. Most airports have a family line or will allow the parent and child to be screened together.

8. It might be a good idea to bring noise cancelling headphones for the airport and the plane to help drown out some of the loud noise in the airport and the airplane. Sunglasses can block out the harsh bright light in airports and create a calmer environment.

9. Bring your child’s favorite music or no mess activity to keep them entertained on the plane. Colorful string beads, bags of beads, and items that light up are great additions for the traveling sensory pack.

On the road trip:

10. If your child escapes from their seat easily consider getting covers for the seat belt buckles and remember to check the child locks on the door.

11. Make sure your child is prepared for the road trip by creating a social story about the trip to read for them. This story may need to be read several times prior to the actual trip.

12. Have a visual aid to represent how many hours you have traveled and how many are left. A timer can help your child countdown the hours or minutes until the next stop or activity.

These are excellent tips from Sara to make holiday traveling easier for the whole family.

Another great perspective is from a local parent, David Perry, who writes in today’s “On Parenting” section of the Washington Post ,”When traveling with children, all needs are special.” David shares his family’s experience with traveling to Italy over Thanksgiving. It is a terrific story and a good reminder that travel with all children takes some improvisation.

 

Accessible Family Vacations Part 2: 5 Tips for an Accessible Trip to Disney

By: Heather Barilla, Center parent & Travel Agent

Heather Barilla is a mom of 3, one having special needs. I have been traveling to Walt Disney World all my life, visiting over 40 times (but who’s counting?). I have also been traveling to Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley for almost 10 years! I loved planning Disney Trips so much, that I started my own business, Palm Tree Travel Agency, an Affiliate of Magical Moments Vacations.

Now I’m booking and planning Disney trips (and more!) for families just like yours. I have found Walt Disney World is by far the best place to travel with special kids.  The cast members are welcoming and understanding, the parks and resorts to be accessible and easy to navigate.  I have found a place where we can be with our special family, and not be that different after all.  It’s truly become our vacation destination.

When To Go:

A question I hear often is, “When is the best time to visit Walt Disney World?” Anytime is great!  Disney has planned special events throughout the year that are all enjoyable, including the Flower and Garden Festival that starts in March and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party in the fall.

Flowers at Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party
Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

While traveling in the peak seasons can be manageable, planning trips to Disney in less crowded months may provide a more enjoyable experience. My daughter didn’t walk until she was almost 3.  We chose to vacation in September, when it was mostly preschool families and adults. May and October have great activities and less crowds, and can be some of the best times to visit.

Whenever you decide to go, planning is essential in getting the most out of your Disney Vacation.  Dining reservations can be made 180 days in advance of your arrival date, and if you are booked at a Disney Resort, you can make reservations for your entire stay, up to 10 days.

Resorts:

One of the first things to consider when planning a family trip to Disney is accessible accommodation. Disney offers many types of rooms and resorts for all family sizes and any budget.

Each Disney resort has handicapped rooms.  This isn’t just for wheelchairs, there are rooms especially created for visual and hearing needs as well.  For families that need a place that is super wheelchair friendly, I’d choose the Contemporary Resort or the Bay Lake Tower.  The Contemporary Resort has a wheelchair friendly layout with a variety of dining options and the Bay Lake Tower’s pool has a zero depth entry, with a handicapped chair lift.

Disney Resorts have all sorts of transportation options.  Moderate and Value Resorts will offer buses to all the parks.  Some Deluxe Resorts offer monorail, boat and bus service.  Bus drivers will lower the buses to accommodate wheelchairs if you can’t transfer.

Theme Parks:

With multiple parks at Walt Disney World, there is always something exciting going on. Once you enter the park, head for Guest Services where you can obtain the Disability Access Service Card.  You don’t need a doctor’s order, all you need is your personal information, and be willing to have a photo taken. Once inside, you have access to all the different parks.

Magic Kingdom
Beautiful day at Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom is one of the main attractions at Disney World and is where Cinderella’s castle is located. Getting to Magic Kingdom is easy by monorail and buses. So many rides at Magic Kingdom are for the whole family and many don’t require a transfer.  A great escape is Tom Sawyer’s Island.  There are paths and caves and areas to explore and run.  Or, you can sit quietly on a rocking chair and enjoy the view.

Epcot is my kids’ favorite park.  Here you can experience nature, science, and the world. Our favorite exhibit is the World Showcase, where you can interact with cast members from different countries and there is an accessible boat ride in the Mexico exhibit. We also recommend The Seas attraction which is based on the movie Finding Nemo. Each evening at Epcot there are Illuminations which includes a firework show. Accessible seating is available near the Port of Entry shops.

No matter what theme park you go to during your time at Disney, the FastPass+ makes it easy to pre-plan and be prepared.  All parks use the FastPass+ system, and the My Disney Experience App is simple to use on your phone or computer.  I have found that planning FastPass+ selections an hour apart has kept my family moving with minimal waits, and occupied for the morning, ready for our afternoon break.

Dining:

When it comes to dining while in Disney World, there are a variety of options to choose from. Disney s chefs and staff are accommodating when it comes to special nutrition needs.

When booking a dining reservation, you are able to select certain allergies that may be present in your dining party. Once you check in at the hostess desk for your reservation, always mention again that you have a special dietary need.  Your ticket that is taken to your table should have the word allergy stamped on it which alerts your server and the chef.

If you go to a restaurant with a buffet, you can always request that your children’s food is prepared and brought out separately. This will ensure it is not taken from the buffet to eliminate cross-contamination.
In order to ensure that all your dietary needs are taken care of when you arrive, contact Special Diets at Walt Disney World before you travel.

Cruises:

Disney cruise ship
One of the many Disney Cruise ships

Taking a Disney Cruise gives you the opportunity to see destinations such as the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Europe, Hawaii, and Alaska. Disney’s Staterooms are large, as they have families in mind.  The handicapped rooms on Disney Cruise line are huge.  You have tons of space to move around, store your chair, and easily access all your room’s amenities.

One of the unique things that Disney Cruises includes is the Kid’s Clubs. They are designed for kids of every age level and you will have an opportunity to talk with the counselors to make sure all your child’s needs are met, and what extra procedures might be necessary.

Disney Cruise Line gives you a wonderful all inclusive experience with your family unlike any other.  It truly is an opportunity to play with your kids, or have some alone time for just you parents.

Want more information? Email me at heather@palmtreetravelagency.com or check out and like my business Facebook page at facebook.com/palmtreetravelagency.

For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.

Accessible Family Vacations

By, Sharon Pike, Parent Liaison

Summer vacation is on its way! Many families and I discuss the difficulty in scheduling vacations. Not only do our busy schedules make it hard to go away and relax, but finding an accessible family-friendly destination can be overwhelming.

But family vacations are where wonderful memories are made. I found several destinations below with a little help from a Center parent.

Shared Adventures, Santa Cruz, CA

day on the beachShared Adventures is a non-profit organization that puts on an impressive array of programs through the summer for special needs children and adults.  In July, they host an annual Day on the Beach, which offers adaptive or assisted kayaking, canoe rides, scuba diving and floatation for people of all ages!  Volunteers erect plywood “paths” for wheelchair access; you can also rent beach wheelchairs.   The day ends with live music and free food!

Splore, Moab, Utah

Splore, is a not-for-profit that provides outdoor activities for special needs children and adults at affordable prices.  Theywhitewater organize river trips, rock climbing, hiking through a partnership with Red Cliffs Lodge.  More of a resort that a hotel, Red Cliffs Lodge offers an impressive variety of accommodations and activities. There are wheelchair-accessible rooms adjacent to the lodge.  Sidewalks with ramps let to all patios and to the museum.  The meals are “traditional cowboy fare”, the chef can rustle up special menu plans upon request.  Utah prides itself on offering accessible recreation!

Island Dolphin Care, Key Largo, FL

Island Dolphin Care is a not-for-profit magical place for children with special needs and their families to enjoy and discover new abilities through dolphin therapy.  Parents and their children celebrate their strengths and even new inspirations through classroom activities and dolphin therapy.

The founder, Deena Hoagland‘s goal was, and still is, to help children with special needs and their families who have developmental and/or physical disabilities, critical, chronic or terminal illnesses and emotional challenges.  Deena is a mom who witnessed the remarkable recovery of her disabled son Joe, at the age of three after swimming with dolphins.  Her son was born with a heart defect that required many open heart surgeries. During one surgery, Joe suffered a massive stroke which paralyzed his entire left side.  Through repeated therapy sessions with dolphins and hard work, he regained use of his left side.    Deena believes that all children with special challenges should be given an opportunity to enjoy life‘s experiences through a full range of activities, including dolphin assisted therapy, all children love to smile, laugh and have fun!

I learned about this destination from Center parent, Lynn Matusik, whose family has now traveled twice to the island Dolphin Care. Who better to talk about their recent experience then her?

Lynn: Our son Sam LOVES the water.  We thought it would be a wonderful experience for him if he could somehow swim with dolphins. Due to his severe disabilities and being 100% dependent on others we were not sure if this would be something he would ever be able to do.

During one of our weekly therapy visits at Easter Seals, our therapist told about a place that a fellow client had visited called Island Dolphin Care which is located in the Florida Keys.

We did some research on Island Dolphin Care and found it to be a family oriented facility.

sam with dolphinsOur first trip to Island Dolphin Care was in 2014.  From the moment we saw his name on the board, walked out of the elevator (yes the ENTIRE facility is handicapped accessible!) and were greeting by staff, we knew this was the perfect place for our son Sam.  The staff at Island Dolphin Care are incredible, welcoming, knowledgeable, patient, unbiased and understanding.

Sam participated in the IDC (Island Dolphin Care) 5-day program.  There are four days of classroom time and 5 days of dolphin swim time.  In the classroom, families and their children are able to work toward IEP or therapy goals if they chose, with a therapist while applying those skills by participating in aquatic related crafts and projects.  It was truly a time to laugh and enjoy family time in a non stressful environment!

Swim therapy time with the dolphins was INCREDIBLE!  Our son worked with his therapist, dolphin trainer and a dolphin or sometimes two!  Sam was able to work, interact, and play safely with his dolphin in a structured environment.  IDC also provides swim time with siblings so they are also able to interact with the dolphins along with their brother or sister.  The last swim day at IDC is for one parent or caregiver and child.  They swim freely in the water among all of the therapy dolphins and other families.  The dolphins at island dolphin care are so patient, gentle and loving with the children that words cannotsam with therapistt express the emotions that parents feel when they see their child interact with these beautiful creatures.  Seeing our son Sam smile and hearing his giggles were truly priceless.

IDC is a place where parents can leave the stress of caring for a child with special needs behind and just enjoy their child.  It is an exceptional experience that the entire family can participate in and enjoy!

IDC will also provide you with hotel accommodation information, places to eat, other attractions, etc. to help make your stay in Key Largo one that you can enjoy with your entire family.

We could tell you so much more about our trip to IDC and our son Sam but  we would love for you to experience the magic first hand with your special needs child!

More information can be found on their website: www.islanddolphincare.org.  Tell them Sam Matusik sent you!

Thanks Lynne for that great information!

I can’t wait to hear about your family adventures this summer. Look for my next blog post for more family-friendly vacation ideas!

For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.