A few weeks back, I was at a friend’s place with my wife. I was chatting with a few of the guys, when suddenly Shannon appeared on my arm with a huge grin. Come on, all you hubbies out there, you know the grin. The one that announced a road trip had been planned…and would I like to go? ummm…sure?

So off for a weekend away with two other families we went, to Grove City, Pennsylvania and the absolutely monstrously massive outlet mall they have in that otherwise ignorable (trademarked made up word I know) town. I won’t bore you with the details of what was purchased or how the cramming of stuff into outlet stores can quite often NOT work with a wheelchair…this is more about some interesting observations and contrasts between how they do things in the States with disabled access and how they do things here.

First off…hotels! We stayed at the Springhill Suites by the Marriotts in Erie PA, about an hour north of Grove City. It’s a relatively new hotel and we were able to get an accessible room thanks to our organizers (thanks Christina Farrell!). Really it was a good-sized room and everything one could need to move around with a chair…except for one issue that seems to be shared between hotels and casinos.

The damn carpets!

Look, I get it. You want thick pile to make it easy to walk on and to keep noise to a minimum (or in the case of a casino be easy for standing for long periods), but have you ever tried to push a wheelchair through that carpet? It might as well be wet sand. Trust me I’ve tried to push through wet sand (yes I know its called mud), and that is less of a workout than the carpets in these places! Thanks to those I was with I didn’t get completely fried and rubber armed just trying to leave the hotel each morning. Seriously, at minimum please use something different in the rooms themselves.

A couple of other tidbits…parking spots. We think we have a lot of disabled spots up here in our malls, but you haven’t seen anything till you get down there. It seemed that every second row, the first 4-6 spots were reserved for disability parking, and even on a Saturday afternoon at an outlet mall we had no problem finding spots. So they get that part right.

But then…there are the doors. Now anyone in a wheelchair has figured out the way to open a door…the grab the handle and make a quick forward then back with one hand and twist and turn the chair to get through. That’s assuming the door doesn’t weigh a ton of course (imperial not metric). Not only did every door, even the bathrooms, seem to weigh that but…have they not heard of the buttons to automatically open and close the doors to go in and out at least? From the smallest restaurant to the biggest mall, no matter where we stopped in New York and Pennsylvania, we all made the same comment. No buttons! It probably made no sense to any american who overheard us but…its amazing what you start noticing once your perspective changes a bit.

It was out first real road trip since moving to the chair and we learned a lot…mostly that we can still do it and do it well. There is a lot to keep in mind though as you go from home to away…and what not to take for granted…though come on hotels…really…carpets???