A man in a powered wheelchair is relaxing and being fanned by Vegas showgirl feather fans and offered a plate of nachos while his dog wearing sunglasses lays in a bed next to him

That One Time in Vegas

Not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, especially when it comes to sharing stories. Like how I got upgraded to a suite, free admission to the casino pool party, and a poolside cabana with wait service and security all at no charge.

Now I know you’re wondering who I know or how to get treated like VIPs. The secret: your disability. Being disabled comes with all kinds of untapped privileges, not just good parking.

A few years ago, when I was still a student at the University of Arizona, I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Vegas for a career field that I was interested in learning more about and networking.

Planning ahead to go on a trip with a disability

Tickets were pretty cheap and any able-bodied person my age probably would have booked their trip without a second thought. Being disabled and going on a trip, even a professional weekend trip, takes a lot of planning.

How would I get there? Who do I need to bring? Does the hotel have wheelchair-accessible rooms?

Getting there was the easy part. Tucson to Vegas is about a six-hour drive which is nothing for someone who was driven cross-country seven times. At that time, it was just my mom and me, living in Arizona, and the two of us traveling alone isn’t doable. So, next came the question of who to bring.

Who should I bring to help me on this trip?

It needed to be someone who wouldn’t mind driving, as well as be able to lift me out of my wheelchair to put me in bed or transfer me to the shower chair I use while traveling.

Although I do have a Hoyer lift, it can still be very cumbersome and difficult to move for one person. Not to mention most hotel beds, even in an accessible room, are solid underneath and don’t provide enough space to fit a lift.

It was decided that we’d invite my older brother to help. He loves Vegas and had just graduated college so he was free. But, wait, what about my nurse? She was scheduled to work that weekend.

I also didn’t like the idea of my mom following me around at a young professional's networking event and I wanted her to have a vacation while I was at the conference. So, we decided to invite my nurse who would fit in better and she’d work her normal day shift and then be “off duty” in the evenings.

The logistics of travel and needing help

A trip that would normally be for one person had now just quadrupled because of my disability and the logistics of my life. And because of that, I’d also need to reserve an accessible room with two beds which is oddly difficult.

For some reason, a lot of hotels assume people with disabilities only travel with a spouse or someone they wouldn’t mind sharing a bed with. That is not the case for many of us.

Access to a lift at the pool

Now down to the fun part! We decided to arrive at the casino a day early to have a mini-vacation and explore Vegas since I’d never been there before. If you don’t know, Vegas is actually a very accessible city with wheelchair taxis waiting in line at every casino.

The problem ended up being with our casino. Since it was the middle of summer we decided to go for a swim. This particular casino had two pools: a family pool and a 21-and-older pool.

I was only 18 years old so I obviously had to use the family area. Unfortunately, we would learn that pool did not have a lift for me to get in. The only pool lift was at the age-restricted pool.

Like any good mom, fighting for her disabled son, mine quickly jumped into action. She nicely mentioned our problem to the hotel front desk who called over a manager. Nobody could explain why there was only one pool lift and, if they only purchased one, why wasn’t it at least at the family pool.

Help from others when accessibility is an issue

It’s important to not get angry in these situations because it makes the people who can help you not want to help you. A few minutes later, the manager continued to apologize and handed us tickets to the age-restricted pool so that security would know the situation and we would be the first to get in. He also mentioned a cabana but we had no idea what that meant.

The next day we went down to the pool and were escorted to a cabana fit with sofas, AC to stay cool, a flat-screen TV, and waitress service. We spent the afternoon there, later finding out the cabana would normally cost $10,000-$15,000 to rent. All we had to do was pay for the nachos we ordered.

The point is the world might not be accessible, but there are good people who want to make it right. I mean, the hotel even gave us a free upgrade to a suite so we had two beds plus a living room with a pull-out sofa.

Oh, yeah, did I mention my dog also came? It definitely was one hell of a time in Vegas.

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