While travelling can have its share of entertainments, it also has its share of exertions. For most of us, the latter consist of such troubles as straining through alien accents to get directions, migraine-inducing minutes of glaring at local maps, and long walks up and down foreign streets in search of a cab or a subway terminal.
Petty troubles, all things considered, but they do mount up. Still, only imagine how much worse the trouble becomes when you have to go through these tasks without one of your current abilities. What would accents matter if you didn’t have the ability to hear in the first place? What if you couldn’t see your hand an inch from your face, let alone a map? What if you couldn’t walk and had to roll—or be rolled, in some cases—up and down streets instead?
Fortunately, accessible tourism is now moving out of the realm of concepts and into reality. A lot of countries have been seeing provisions for it being made lately, whether by government or the private sector. And though developed countries are a little ahead of the game, there are developing countries striving to match them as well.
Take the Philippines, for example, where one major city put to motion a public search last year for the most disability-friendly establishment (to promote accessible architecture). Very recently, the country also saw the establishment of its first wheelchair-lifting transport service for PWDs or persons with disabilities in the capital: Lifelifters Transport.
Lifelifters Transport Inc. and Its Services
Lifelifters was established as a transport solution for wheelchair-users in Metro Manila. As most people confined to these contraptions know, commuting in the big city is none too pleasant when you have to load and unload your own seat each time you board or get on a vehicle. The answer from Lifelifters: to offer a private vehicle for hire that can provide a transport experience tailor-made for wheelchair-users’ comfort.
Lifelifters uses a modified van, specifically a Toyota HiAce Grandia. The van is equipped with a US-made hydraulic lift: it’s designed especially for lifting and lowering wheelchairs to and from vehicle interiors. Thus, the Lifelifters client needn’t budge from his chair to get on or off his mode of transport. This eliminates the painful picking-up, carrying-around, and thumb-twiddling while waiting for the wheelchair to be either packed up or unfolded.
The company’s van also has wheelchair restraints to prevent rolling or overbalancing of the chair within the vehicle. Despite the space taken up by the hydraulic mechanism and that allocated for the wheelchair itself, the van retains sufficient space and seating for other passengers as well.
The company offers it services by appointment and also claims to be the first company of its kind in the country.
Is the Lifelifters Service Worth Your While as a Traveler?
So is booking the Lifelifters specialty vehicle worth it? For most differently-abled people traveling in the country, the answer will be yes. While one can’t fault Philippine locals for lack of assistance when it’s needed (this is a predominantly Catholic country we’re talking about, after all, and Christian generosity comes to most of the natives like second nature), one can complain about the accessibility of transport even in the capital.
The primary means of getting around the metro—at least if you don’t have a lot of money to throw around all the time—are the jeepney, the bus, and the MRT/LRT (the rails). All three options can prove difficult to deal with for wheelchair users.
Philippine jeepneys and buses are notorious for picking up and dropping off people at places other than designated jeepney or bus stops. Many of them don’t even truly stop for either task. In fact, a gentle slowing down is often taken to be sufficient for someone to board or get off one of these vehicles, which makes them immensely problematic modes of transport for anyone with ambulatory issues.
As for the MRT or LRT, depending on what time you board, you may very well find them so full that your wheelchair shall end up carrying three instead of one: it gets so crowded at rush hour and weekdays that it’s typical for people to practically pile up on top of each other. In fact, I have Philippine friends who claim they’ve even missed stops while riding the rails—not because they didn’t notice, but because the cars were so packed that they couldn’t even push their way to the exits.
In fact, the only real method of travel for wheelchair-using tourists or travelers in the capital without their own cars is the pricier alternative to the aforementioned three options: the taxi. But taxis come with their own problems.
First, if you think cabs in the Philippines will be like the ones you regularly find in London or Germany, you have another think coming. Most Philippine cabs tend to be on the slightly worn side, and air-conditioning issues aren’t uncommon: a concern in the tropical heat. Most are smallish sedans too, which can result in cramped travel if you have a big party and a wheelchair, to boot.
Besides that, the process of hailing a cab can take over half an hour on the main streets. While apps like GrabTaxi do make it easier, they can lead to more issues as well.
Bidding wars on “bonuses” offered by customers trying to get a taxi before others can drive costs up to incredible amounts on busy days. There are also cases where no one will take your fare no matter how much more you offer to tack on to the price (something that actually happened to us when we were traveling in the city on a rainy day, which is when cabs become rarer than hen’s teeth). If you add “being a foreigner” to the mix, you’ll also be billed more for your rides. A friend and I once took a cab in the capital and nearly got billed five times the actual fare.
By contrast, rented vehicles tend to have fixed rates whether you’re local or otherwise. There are fewer variables unaccounted for, as you can choose the car, the time and date, and even the place beforehand. So rented vehicles are ultimately the best option for differently-abled tourists trying to get around Manila.
And with Lifelifters now in operation, the choices for PWDs trying to rent a car in Manila are even better than before.
The conveniences seem small at first: easy boarding and unloading, and a stable ride. But if you’re a tourist looking for some major sight-seeing in the city, the convenience stacks up well. You’ll be getting on and off a lot as you go to the tourist spots, and having a hydraulic lift will make it a lot easier on you and your companions throughout the day. And given the state of most of the city’s roads—as well as the famous temperaments of the local drivers—you’ll find yourself more than grateful for the wheelchair restraints stabilizing your seat after a while.
Final Notes on Accessible Travel in Metro Manila
The Lifelifters service is undoubtedly one tourists to the Philippine capital want to keep in mind if they have someone in their group who’s wheelchair-bound. For those interested, you can call the company through 438-3520, 438-3091, or 09428115438 (cellphone). You can also send them emails through firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website at www.lifelifters.net.
But besides bookmarking the Lifelifters site, there are other things you may want to note about traveling in Metro Manila as a differently-abled person. First, keep in mind that not all hotels in the country will provide disability-friendly rooms. If you want to check, you should ask them in advance even as you’re booking your lodgings. Fortunately, Philippine culture favors accommodation, so if you have any special requests that might make your stay in the country easier, don’t hesitate to put them forward to hotel staff.
Another thing to note is that despite the law stating otherwise, many of the restrooms you will encounter on your travels will not be disability-friendly. Whether it’s awkward door sizes and corner angles or toilet paper and tissue dispensers set too high on the walls, you will most probably have to be prepared for this whenever you go to a restroom in a commercial establishment.
Finally, note that some places are a little more disability-friendly than others. These can make good stops on days when you want a little less effort than usual to sightsee. Most SM’s, for instance, have excellent disability-friendly service training for their personnel. Jaime Silva of the United Architects of the Philippines has mentioned Greenbelt Four and the Rockwell Cinemas as other places with great accessibility. Greenhills tends to be strongly favored too for its accessibility. Some of the more chic theaters in the city even let PWDs into screenings for free. You can ask around for more suggestions from locals. The city’s actually a pretty nice spot for a trip if you know where to go in it—and if you have the ideal way of getting there, of course.