Travel

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – Planning a Vacation with Accessible Websites

It’s that time of year again and many of us are beginning to figure out how we’ll spend our summer days. So with that in mind, I’d like to offer you all a few examples of some accessible websites that will help you plan your summer fun in the sun.

A great site that covers multiple states is www.Visitingnewengland.com. While on this site, you can search any one of the six New England states and narrow your results down to specific cities and towns to find available lodging, dining, and entertainment.

When you press on a link for a hotel, you are given very helpful information. Outside of being given the nightly rate, you are given a full description of the hotel and all the amenities it offers. You are told the time to check in and out and the hotel’s phone number and address. They also offer very valuable reviews of countless inns, motels, and all of the bed and breakfasts in New England. If you register on this site, some of the proceeds go to a homeless shelter in Dorchester, Massachusetts as well. So it’s nice to know that your vacation planning is actually helping out others.

Visiting New England also reviews many restaurants–everything from fine dining establishments to ice cream stands–making it a one stop shop for planning your next trip. But you’ve got to do more than eat and sleep, right? Well, they’ve got you covered, as they also review attractions in the area you’re staying to ensure that you can plan plenty of activities during your stay.

Another New England hotspot is the wonderful city of Boston, and www.celebrateboston.com is your accessible guide. They place a large emphasis on restaurant reviews in conjunction with the city’s many landmarks, which allows you to munch your way through history. They’re especially good at recommending some of the better seafood places that are found off the beaten path. However, if some of the more famous places to eat are what you’re looking for, they’ll guide you to the Union Oyster House and Legal Seafood as well. I remember going to Legal Seafood in 1965 and reading my first Braille menu. I sat there reading all the items on the menu wondering who thought of this incredible idea.

Venturing out of my own backyard, I went in search of national resources as well. The one I found easiest was www.metroguide.com, which has an extensive listing of hotels and motels, inns and bed and breakfasts, across the U.S. Studying it, you can either go to top cities they suggest or you can select a specific state in the search field. One of the best hotel descriptions I found was for the Palmer House in Chicago, one of the oldest hotels in North America. The National Federation for the Blind has held national conventions at that hotel. I also studied the Galt House in Louisville, where the ACB is having the 2012 national convention. I did not know that this hotel is the best and biggest in the South East. It has two large wings and about five or six restaurants, an indoor/outdoor pool, shops, and even has a doctor on call.

Another fantastic resource for travel is through one of our own readers, Cheryl Echevarria, who owns her own travel agency and specializes in independent travel for the blind and disabled community. You can visit her website at http://www.echevarriatravel.com or give her a call at 631-456-5394. Cheryl has a lot of experience and will be a great resource.

So, if Ziegler readers are planning their summer vacation, you cannot go wrong with these websites. If you have any of your own that you would like to share, tell us about them in the Reader’s Forum.

Travel – Have TSA Policies Gotten Out of Control?

A lot has been said in the news lately about the new full body scan machines and pat down protocols that have been put in place in many of America’s airports.  According to the TSA, these measures are necessary to ensure that all travelers are safe.  However, many passengers are concerned about these new policies, and a few terrible tales have surfaced that may just justify those uneasy feelings.

In airports equipped with full body scan machines, passengers are asked to enter the machine, place their hands over their head, and wait for a TSA agent studying a monitor to give the OK.  The agent looking at the monitor is able to see a digitized view of your body as it appears underneath your clothes.  It’s not a picture-perfect image, but body parts are easily recognized.  This measure became popular after the infamous underwear bomber incident, and its use became justified because the authorities felt that the bomber would have been caught at the security checkpoint had he gone through a scanner.

But what if you don’t want to go through the scanner?  If you demand an alternative–because you don’t want to be seen digitally naked by a stranger staring at a monitor, for example–then you are subjected to a personal pat down.  These pat downs have gotten more invasive, and even the head of the TSA admits that point. 

Stories involving these pat downs have gotten the most attention lately, because TSA agents end up groping, sometimes aggressively, the areas around a person’s genitals, and for women, around the breasts as well.  In extreme circumstances, TSA agents have essentially sexually abused individuals during this process and law suits have been filed as a result.  The pilots union has spoken out against these policies, as well as multiple travel groups and even senators.  One senator was quoted saying that he would be very upset if his wife was handled as other women have been during a pat down.  One husband was put in an airport jail for objecting to the pat down of his wife.

Now, it needs to be mentioned that those stories, while horrible, are largely isolated incidents and many passengers are treated appropriately, even if the process remains to be uncomfortable.  However, those instances where the agents decided to inappropriately go above and beyond the assigned protocol for body pat downs should be handled by the TSA quickly and harshly, and more in-depth background information is needed for TSA agents if they are going to be literally handling citizens.  Privacy and dignity should not be necessary sacrifices in order to travel.

What do you all think about the new TSA policies?  Let me know in the reader’s forum.

Feature Writer Ann Chiappetta – One Happy Island

My first trip out of the country. My first trip to a tropical island. These are my thoughts as we leave the ground at JFK. The only thing I wish I could have changed was that it cost less.  I fell asleep after about an hour into the flight and woke up as we approached our destination. “Is it me, or are airlines adding leg room by taking away shoulder space?” I asked myself as I took my turn on the armrest.  I briefly thought family togetherness was overrated.

We got there and it was so blue it hurts my eyes. It was hot but not humid. There were iguanas everywhere; pago-pagos (like geckos) and some other lizard with purple scales sat near the pool with the guests.  Birds tried to steal the food from the outdoor buffets and swoop in on discarded food left on the tables.  The wildlife is kindly tolerated but I found out later that iguanas are eaten like chicken.

I went to the beach while hubby got us the drink of the day, a pink, frothy concoction that would cause brain freeze if swallowed too fast. I drank it slowly because the brain freeze face isn’t attractive. 

The sand there is as soft as velvet, free of sharp objects, and feels cool even in the midday sun.  The rooms in our hotel were spacious and clean. I tried to buy bottled water but the natives insisted that the water was safe. Not convinced, I drank club soda for a few days, only using the ice to see if I could tolerate it. Amazingly, the clean, clear, desalinated water had no ill effects.

On day two, the mother-in-law (MIL) and I went on a bus tour of the island while hubby and my daughter went on an off-road tour on ATVs.  My son, the slug, stayed in the room, sleeping.

Our effervescent bus driver, Stanley, took us on a three-hour tour which actually ended up becoming a six-hour excursion. I whole time I was thinking, “Is this how Ginger and Maryanne felt?”  I found out Aruba is only 15 miles from Venezuela, 19.6 miles long and 6 miles wide. It is split up into seven districts. We visited the California lighthouse, named after the merchant ship, California, which ran aground in the early 19th century. On part of the island, forests of cacti and aloe vera spread out to the horizon. It is breathtaking in an Ansel Adams kind of way. The bushy sea grape trees are profuse, as are the little, slanted divi trees (more like bushes) and their larger cousins, according to Stanley, what natives call squigi trees. The latter reminded me of the flat-topped acacia trees in Africa. The palms are the most normal and unremarkable trees on the island. At least that’s what I thought after Stanley stopped by an overgrown cashew tree and plucked off a nut fruit. We passed it around as he chugged up the hill, stopping at another tree, identifying it as the island’s oldest and largest Christmas cactus. It was eight feet tall and just as wide, dense and healthy. I’d never seen one with multiple arms, let alone hundreds of them in full bloom. I thought that it must have been sacred to them. How else could it survive so close to the road if it wasn’t?

Soon after, Stanley drove up the hill to the Chapel of San Christo.  He told us that it was erected by Catholic missionaries in 1780-something. As we turned up the drive to the chapel, we passed a white cross festooned with ribbons. The clearing in front of it was littered with remnants of offerings–dried flowers and palm crosses.  When we passec the next one, I asked Stanley about them. He said they were the stations, just like in a Catholic church but since the chapel was small, the missionaries erected the stations that way instead.  I thought it was unique, yet impractical; What if they are already at the chapel? One would have to walk down the hill, and then back up the hill to stop at each station and pray. Or do it all backwards.

When we got to the chapel, the Hooters girls were there with an entourage, the photographer clicking away. Stanley shook his head, saying, “Only on Aruba.”

We waited outside the gate until they left, then went in to the courtyard. I went to the gate to push it open and I was struck with the thought of how many hands had touched that same gate? Then I saw the whitewashed benches lined up in a semi-circle in front of the chapel. I was told later that Arubans believe worshipping in the open air means they are closer to God.  He can hear you better, said Stanley. We looked at the chapel but couldn’t go in–it was being renovated. No matter, one look through the window shows all. The alter was on the porch, anyway. As we crunched our way along the gravel path back through the gate and on to the bus, I thought, “This is very cool, even spiritual in spite of the Hooters gals.”  I made my MIL take a snapshot of the gate.

Next, it was time for Baby Beach and snorkeling. Stanley informed us that baby beach was formed during a storm: some wicked tides chewed up the reef spreading the rocks and coral out and, voila! a breakwater and lagoon were born. We waded in, scattering schools of silver bait fish. It was just so beautiful. We didn’t snorkel because it was too crowded but we floated around taking it all in.

As we drove off, Stanley pointed out the local pet cemetery, erected about twenty years ago. As we made our way to the north shore, Stanley told us that only the very rich can have an actual burial. The rest of the island must be content with above ground burials because there simply isn’t space. The most interesting thing about it is that even the rich cannot remain in the ground for more than ten years. Once the burial time is expired, the remains are transferred from a casket to a shoe-box sized container and given back to the family. If one can afford it, the remains can be housed in a family mausoleum, but, Stanley added that most families just store them in the garage. Interesting, I think that a box of bones is certainly more macabre than grandmother’s ashes, not to mention a shoe box has less decorating potential on the mantel.         

As we chugged and bounced along the broken track leading to the north shore, Stanley informed us that that part of the island was not habitable because it corrodes metals so fast it doesn’t pay to build there.  We got off the bus and viewed the quarter-mile long Natural Bridges, the largest of it’s kind formed by erosion. I though, wow, if the wind, sea, and air do this to the rocks, then I can see why no one lives here.

Back on the bus. Stanley pointed out a narrow track veering off to the right leading down to the end of Ugly beach, named for it’s collection of black volcanic rocks. He said this was where the butchers used to come to dump waste. Stanley added that it is not used any longer but the water is still full of sharks.

We made our way back to the south shore’s hotel district. Stanley took us back through San Nicholas via side streets, pointing out where he was born. I fell asleep somewhere after the Harley Davidson rental shop, awakening when we stopped in front of our resort. As I left the bus, I complimented Stanley on his wealth of knowledge and sense of pride. He smiled, and touched the brim of his hat, saying, “Thank you, mum.” After I added a few dollars to his tipping cup, he mentioned with a smile, “This is one happy island.”

Blind Man to Hike the Appalachian Trail Alone

This popped up when I was researching topics for the magazine and I wanted to bring it to your attention and offer the support of the Matilda Ziegler Magazine.

If you visit the homepage of his site, you’ll be able to read, “My name is Mike Hansen.  On March 1 I will begin to hike the 2174 mile Appalachian Trail solo.  I happen to be blind.”

Mike says he is doing this to make a statement about the “independence and confidence of the visually impaired.”  He is upset that nearly 80% of all visually impaired people are unemployed, a number created by the US Department of Labor.  That number represents employment figures across all fields and positions.  This forces those with a visual impairment to rely on systems like welfare and social security.  Aside from the financial cost, though, he cites the psychological issues that stem from such rampant unemployment.  Depression and isolation, among others, wear terribly on people who are living life with a visual disability.

He says that with technology, he has learned to operate a computer just as well as a sighted person and with the advent of personal GPS, he can navigate the city he lives in very easily.  With future technologies becoming more accessible and less expensive, and as the potential for the blind and visually impaired to operate the same as sighted employees, there is hope that the number of unemployed will drop.  However, it’s the stigma that is placed on the visually impaired that adds another layer of difficulty.

By making the long and, at times, dangerous trek along the Appalachian Trail, Mike is hoping to shatter that stigma and encourage everybody, sighted or not, that the blind community is as independent and strong as anyone else.

Mike will make his trip alone, with only a cane and a GPS to guide him on his way.  When he is able to access the internet at stops along the way, he will update his blog and inform the world of his progress.  He is anticipating that this trip will take him anywhere from six to eight months to complete.

I hope that you’ll join me in encouraging Mike as he sets out on his journey.  To visit his site, go to http://www.hansonatcampaign.com/index.html.  The direct link to his blog is http://blindhiker.wordpress.com/.

Good luck, Mike.  Stay safe out there.

Travel Tip – Ship Your Luggage

With many airlines charging higher amounts for checked luggage and increasing penalties if someone is over the limit with the amount of luggage they’re allowed to have, a reliable alternative is simply shipping your luggage to and from your destination. While it may seem unconventional to send your luggage with UPS or FedEx instead of US Air or Delta, it’s a practice that makes a good deal of sense when you break it down.

For one, the cost of shipping your luggage to your destination in some cases will almost mirror the cost of putting it on the plane with you, now that most airlines have begun including a flat charge for your first bag and additional charges for each extra piece of luggage. It’s also convenient when shipping your belongings because you won’t have to lug them through the airport and have to deal with checking them or stowing them in any bin while on the plane.

Another great argument is that large-scale shipping services have a much better track record than the airlines concerning the delivery of packages. An added bonus is that most major shipping companies also offer tracking information, guaranteed delivery times, and in worst case scenario situations, even allow you to insure your packages, should anything happen in transit. The airline only offers one of those three, and their guaranteed delivery of your luggage only works if your bags land with you and aren’t on an inter-continental flight to Beijing instead. Since every airport I’ve ever been in has a lost luggage counter, you can assume that bags often end up on planes that they were never meant to be on.

So, next time you’re thinking about getting away, you may want to consider saving yourself the hassle by shipping your luggage instead of setting yourself up for disappointment when your suitcase isn’t on the baggage carousel and the line at the lost luggage counter wraps around the room.

To read the original article, please go to

http://lifehacker.com/5474056/ship-your-bags-to-save-on-airline-fees-and-enjoy-better-consumer-protection