Travel: Lisa’s Trip (Part 1) – Plan an accessible train trip with me

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Hello! My name is Lisa, and I live in Canada. At the end of June, I’m going to be traveling by train to visit one of my oldest friends, who lives in Ottawa, Ontario. Originally published on Day Undefined.

This trip will have several legs, starting with taking DARTS (Disabled and Aged Regional Transit System) from my home to the Aldershot train station. From there, I will take VIA Rail Canada to Toronto Union Station, where I will transfer to a different VIA train to finish the journey to Ottawa. In Ottawa, my friend will pick me up 🙂 The total trip will be well over 9 hours. 

I’ve done this trip before, but I will be looking at it with fresh eyes this time because I want to share my experience planning an accessible trip with you!

Planning:

Below is a screenshot of the train route from Aldershot to Ottawa, via Toronto’s Union Station. I’ll leave around 10:30 AM and arrive around 6:30 PM, with a one-hour layover in Toronto. The final leg will be another 30+ minute drive to my friend’s house. I’m going to be pretty beat after this! 

train

Image: Screenshot of Google Maps showing yellow train route from a starting point near Mississauga to Toronto to Ottawa

I did learn from last time that I don’t want to be in my wheelchair the whole time because if I want to rest, I have no neck or head support. I didn’t think to ask for a seat last time. This time, I told them that I have a manual wheelchair that can be folded up, and they told me it will be folded up and kept with the baggage in the same car that I’m in. 

I will have a regular seat with a headrest, and I also bought a neck pillow so that I can be comfortable should I want to rest or sleep. [Update: The neck pillow that I bought from Amazon has a hole in it that’s leaking the little bead things – ugh! My husband got crafty and put a little cement glue over it, but if the hole gets worse during the trip, I’ll have to abandon it.] Here’s a photo of it:

train

Image: Gray neck pillow with a button clasp at the front

Requesting Assistance:

VIA Rail customer assistance has just been incredible so far with accommodations and help. It’s really been refreshing and encouraging. I told them that I didn’t need a lift to get onto the train, and that I could walk to the seat. The train aisle is narrow enough for me to always have something to hold on to. 

Here’s part of an email confirmation that the VIA Rail Canada Special Services Desk sent me, noting the assistance that I’ve requested:

train

Image: Screenshot from VIA Rail Canada email listing the assistance and notes for Lisa’s train journey as a disabled passenger

I’m a tiny bit concerned about having to go to the washroom. But I think it will be okay. My concern about going to the washroom is all about how much space I would have to navigate on my feet without having anything to hold on to. I told them that, and they booked a seat for me that was closest to the washroom. And I can ask for help. I don’t think I will need to adjust my routine at all.

Where I’m staying:

The friend who I am visiting and I go way back. We were each other’s Maid of Honour at our weddings 🙂 They are going to create a completely wheelchair-accessible path for me in their home so that I will be able to access the kitchen living room, dining room, washroom, and then bedroom and washroom upstairs (I will have to scoot up and down the stairs). And they are moving furniture to accomplish all that! I told Cindy that I wished they didn’t have to do all that for me to come to visit. Cindy says that’s what friends do. 😀

Other considerations for this trip:

❖ How I’m packing…

I am hoping to get by with just the backpack that is on my wheelchair that I will then be able to keep with me in my seat. Along with my backpack, I have a larger-than-usual over-the-shoulder purse to hold documents and whatever else I need to get at easier than the backpack. Here’s a photo showing the size of my everyday purse (black) compared to my larger travel purse (purple):

 Don’t forget the snacks and drinks!

I’m planning to pack some snacks from home. I will probably fill my water bottle with ice and then refill it with water at Union train station. There is a Tim Hortons at Union train station! I will totally avail myself of their services and food products and probably grab a coffee and maybe a sandwich or a bagel or something like that. They’re not cheap there but they are a  WHOLE LOT cheaper than on the train! [Of course, my husband has reminded me many times that no coffee is worth missing my connecting train, no matter how much I love the stuff!]

I will bring my Contigo travel coffee cup, probably with a full cup of coffee when I start my journey with DARTS. And I will definitely get another one at Tim Hortons in Union Station. So I will have my Contigo for coffee and my Thermos water bottle for cold drinks. Both fit very conveniently in the side mesh pockets of my wheelchair backpack. [Side note: Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a Tim Horton’s at my final train destination, which means… no Tim Horton’s coffee for the first leg of my return trip — now you know how much I plan around coffee ☕️ ]

 Request the assistance you will need in advance, when possible

I let them know of my needs on May 14th when I booked my tickets (for my end-of-June trip). I received an email with all of the accommodations they are going to make for me the next day May 15th! So even before I set out, I was really confident and thrilled and ecstatic about all the customer service I have received already. I have also been assured that those same accommodations will be noted and afforded to me for the trip home a week later. The accommodations might even be noted for whenever I take a VIA train trip!

Final thoughts:

Here is a recap of my packing strategy, most of which is already sitting by the door…

Image: Lisa’s black wheelchair backpack, purple crossbody bag, blue wheelchair gloves, neck pillow, and footrest are ready by the door.

  • That over-the-shoulder bag (in the photo) is holding pretty much everything that I want to have close to me. Although my backpack will still be at my feet.
  • I have my pillow for snoozing and resting.
  • My footrests are in that pile on the floor in this picture but they will be attached to my wheelchair. (DARTS will not accept any riders without footrests or open-toed shoes.)
  • My runners will be on my feet, sandals are packed.
  • My gloves will be on my hands, and my little black purse fits in the over-the-shoulder bag, but I might need it tomorrow for a credit card or ID or keys. It’s great just to be able to put that in my over-the-shoulder bag, and not have to go through it. I know where everything is in that little black purse. I’m grateful not to have to try and find things in other places that I’m not used to.
  • Medications packed! 
  • My manual wheelchair will be completely folded up and stored. With other baggage in the same train car that I’m in.
  • A few snacks in baggies. And MULTIPLE chargers and cords. My Fitbit has a proprietary cord. My Bluetooth headphones have a proprietary cord and my tablet and my phone have the same USB-C charger + cord.
  • My glasses have Transition lenses so I don’t need to worry about sunglasses. I have a hat packed in my backpack. It’s supposed to be quite warm in Ottawa – 75-86F for the daytime highs. 

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