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Wheelchair Travel: Self-Determination Conference in Wisconsin Dells

Loving the experience!

When I was younger, I was fortunate to travel all over, even outside the country.  As a child. my chair was lighter and I was much lighter.  My parents were able to transfer me into plane seats, into non-accessible vehicles and into a bed.  It was not easy on my parents, but it was definitely doable.  Wheelchair travel now is much more difficult.

I do not travel much these days.  I mostly travel a few hours away to visit family or just a fun day trip. My mom and brother work together as team to care for me on the road.  Packing for even an overnight trip can be quite an ordeal.  I need equipment and chargers, as well as items for my personal cares.  My poor brother is usually buried under bags and stuff because we run out of room with all my equipment!

Recently, my IRIS consultant suggested promoting my blog at the Self-Determination Conference at the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells.  This would require a 2 night, 3 day stay.  I was concerned about if we could make this work.  My mom would have to care for me solo, as my brother was unable to come.  When I asked my mom, she said “We will make it work!”

Wheelchair Travel

Drive to Wisconsin Dells

We left later than we had wanted, as it is usually the case when it comes to wheelchair travel!  My mom and I were deep in a discussion about my future when she turned to me and said, “I think we are forgetting something”  We stared going through the list.  I looked at her and asked, “Did you bring the charger to my lift?”  Her response, “Oh, #@&%”  Luckily, we had only driven about 25 minutes.  We turned around and 30 minutes later, we tried it once again!

As we hit Wisconsin Dells, my mom pointed out the incredible sunset and said “If I did not forget the charger, we would have missed this!”  I wish that sunset was a sign of good things to come, but it was not!  Our good fortune dwindled as we turned into the parking lot of the Super 8 by Wyndham in Wisconsin Dells.

Super 8 by Wyndham

The Self-Determination Conference is held at the Kalahari Resort.  However, staying there was not an option for us this year.  So with our budget in mind, we book a room at the Super 8 by Wyndham using  That was our first mistake.  We have not had luck in the past with and this trip only confirmed our bad experiences.  As we pulled into the parking lot, we discovered two accessible parking spaces filled with construction materials.  This was a sign of an inaccessible nightmare to come.

My mom checked in and loaded up the luggage cart.  When we opened the door to our room the nightmare began.  First we were struck by a not so pleasant musty smell.  However, it was the room itself that was most disturbing.  My mom booked a double queen accessible room.  What they gave us was a single queen room with an entrance so tight, my wheelchair could not fit in the room.  My mom went back to the front desk and stated we were not given the room we booked.  We were given a double queen without an accessible bathroom.  In fact, I could not even get into the bathroom.

The room was clean.  However, the bathroom was not according to my mom.  Our food froze in the refrigerator provided in the room.  The beds were super hard and uncomfortable.  The bed pillows were the smallest, flattest pillows I have ever seen!  Basically, this hotel was a bust when rating it for wheelchair travel.

Problem-Solving On the Go

Wheelchair travel is difficult.  The stress of wondering if you are going to be able to enter establishments is one thing, having to stress over not being able to use a bathroom is a whole other level.  Overwhelmingly tired, we decided to stay and tough it out.  My mom and I have 26 years experience for such roadblocks.  We made a trip to Walgreens to create a makeshift bathroom for me.  It was an extra expense we did not plan for or need.

Our remaining stay at this Super 8 was disappointing.  The front desk clerk spent much of his time with headphones on.  There was no apology or any sign of regret for the misrepresentation of the booking or the great inconvenience it caused.  We definitely will not use again and will never stay at this Super 8 again.

Extra Accessible Parking for Conference

Kalahari Resort

The conference was held at the massive Kalahari Resort.  As we pulled up, we were hoping for an easy unload and set-up.  Our first night’s stay did not go well at all!  I ended up getting sick as we settled down for the night.  It was just a lousy night sleep.  There were large signs directing us to Conference Center parking.  However, there was one thing missing…the conference center! Accessible parking is another challenge for wheelchair travel.  If we parked where directed I would have had to roll through several parking lots.  Parking lots are a dangerous place for wheelchair users, so this was not an option.  After entering several wrong buildings, we were finally directed to the conference center.  

We were delighted to see extra accessible parking right in front of the entrance!  Upon easily entering the first wide set of automatic doors, we discovered the second set of automatic doors were not functioning.  There was a sign directing us to a set of small, manual doors.  It was a tight squeeze for me.  However, I really felt bad for my mom who had to carry in all of our conference supplies and inventory.  After setting up, we went on a search for a family bathroom.  Considering our hotel situation, this was pretty important.

Hidden Gem at Kalahari Resort

I was really disappointed that there was not a public family restroom in such a large facility.  We inquired and were directed to a service hallway to an accessible bathroom.  However, there was something super awesome in the restroom.  A lift!!  The Kalahari Resort has an employee with a physical disability.  The bathroom provided him with a secure place to store his lift!  The lift was not for use of anyone else, but how cool is that?  Progress!!  If there was a lift in every accessible bathroom, wheelchair travel would be a breeze!

An expansion is in the works for the Kalahari Resort Conference Center.  I hope it includes several public accessible, family rest rooms.  Aside from the entrance and rest rooms, my only other complaint was the ridiculous prices at the Kalahari.  Part way through the day, I needed water to quench my thirst.   A small bottle of water in the vending machine was $3.25!  Seriously?  I understand a profit is the goal at the end of the day, but this is definitely overkill.

The highlight of the Kalahari Resort Conference Center was the staff.  Every server we encountered throughout the length of the conference was so very kind, polite and ready to help.

Dells Distillery

After wrapping up our first day of the Self-Determination Conference, my mom and I decided to treat ourselves to dinner and drinks.  It was a challenge to find a place that was open on the off-season.  We decided on the Dells Distillery.  Limited options worked toward our favor as we may have never discovered this gem.

The entry way was a bit challenging.  However, the design of the older building was the culprit, not the business itself.  As we entered, we were greeted by the bartender.  He directed us to the accessible seating area.  He asked if we have ever been there before.  Since we had not, he explained their specialty, tater tot dishes!  My mom and I ordered a couple of beers and selected our dinners.

Bar at Wisconsin Dells Distillery

The atmosphere was warm and friendly.  An exposed kitchen was located right off the side of the bar. Watching my food being prepared in an open and very clean kitchen is appealing to me.  The two bartenders were so friendly.  I always appreciate when servers address me directly.  Our food was so delicious and the beers were cold!  My mom and I talked about the days events and made plans for our future.

As we were getting ready to leave, our bartender came over to see if we needed help.  What a kind gesture!  Actually, we did not need any help.  The design of the doorway was easier leaving than coming in.  We decided the Dells Distillery is a must stop on our next Wisconsin Dells visit.  Experiences like this make wheelchair travel worth the extra effort.

Self- Determination Conference

This was my first experience as an exhibitor.  As a matter of fact, this was my first conference experience.  I was a bundle of nerves, not knowing what to expect.  My stomach was killing me as we rolled in.  However, the organizers of this conference were amazing!  Everything turned around when we rolled into the conference center.  Our bad luck turned into good fortune.  We had our table set up in no time.

People started to filter in and I was eased into the exhibitor role.  My mom helped quite a bit, bailing me out when my stutter took over.  We met some of the most incredible people!  The programs held in the main room were so inspiring and informative.  My only regret is not being able to attend any of the sessions.  Next year I am going to definitely try to catch a few.

Amber and Gabi

The vibe of the conference was constructing a fulfilling, productive life with a disability.  Exactly the message I work hard to convey through Come Roll With Me.  I made incredible connections and learned so much!  I was sad to see it come to an end.  This experience has opened the door for me to seek out more conferences and broaden my blog and my own personal goals.

Moving Forward

I am going to be working super hard this year to make next year’s conference even more successful!  We will take the lessons we learned from our experience this year to make adjustments for a smoother trip next year.  Whatever your profession, disability, hobby or life goal, I strongly encourage you to seek out conferences of interest.  Being in a room filled with others of similar interest and outlooks is so powerful!

Wheelchair travel is difficult.  However, the experiences to be had make it worth the extra effort.  Careful planning is a must.  However, the obstacles are inevitable and can be the best learning experiences!

Until next time, Keep Rollin’ and Keep Smilin’


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