Traveling to RootsTech 2019 While Disabled

RootsTech 2019 took place in Salt Lake City, Utah from 27 February to 2 March. The Family History Fanatics attended with great enthusiasm but first, we had to travel. I have an injured leg which complicated matters.

Challenges Traveling With a Leg Injury

Traveling to Salt Lake City this year had a few challenges, namely two suitcases, a heavy portable studio, a personal wheelchair, and my limited ability to walk long passages or climb stairs.

For those who don’t know. I had cancer removed from my tibia and femur. My treatment will not involve chemo or radiation. Instead, I had bone reconstruction surgery and had to rediscover how to walk. I still can’t walk long distances or climb stairs, but I’m close to that goal.

We didn’t use the airport courtesy wheelchair service as I wanted to have the “Devon-mover” while in Salt Lake City. Thankfully, checking the wheelchair didn’t involve additional costs.

The challenge throughout my trip involved Andy having to push me in the wheelchair and manage our luggage. I pushed a suitcase, he dragged one on the handle of the wheelchair and then carried our heavy portable studio on his back. I should have taken more pictures!

Andy Lee Traveling to RootsTech

Andy Lee, all smiles at the beginning of a week of pushing me and our bags around Salt Lake City.

A Touching Moment of Compassion

Perhaps this is too much information, but I have to share a moment of human compassion that occurred when I attempted to find a bathroom prior to boarding the plane. The restroom near the gate in Houston was closed for repair. The next closest option was up a steep incline and I had to self-propel up the ramp.

Andy remained at the gate to man our luggage and keep tabs on the flight delays and gate changes. That ramp made my heart sink as I lacked the ability to push myself up ramps. What should I do?

I noticed a group of airport employees chatting and asked if one of them wouldn’t mind pushing me up the incline. I insisted that I could manage from there but this group wouldn’t have it. They jumped into action wearing huge smiles on their faces. A woman named Sarah had a better idea. The Admiral’s Club was closer and she had admittance privileges!

Y’all that bathroom was A-MA-ZING! However, the compassion the American Airlines employees shared with me started the waterworks in my eyes. I believe generally want the opportunity to do good for others, given the chance. This event added more evidence of my theory.

I thanked the assistant profusely and I returned to the gate refreshed and with renewed faith in humanity.

Leaving Houston with Cloudy Skies

Leaving Houston with Cloudy Skies

Upon reuniting with Andy, I learned that our airplane could not meet its schedule due to repairs that began the night before. With the assistance of the gate personnel, Andy booked us a new flight which would just barely make our connection in Dallas.

Check this out! Sarah, the woman who pushed me to the bathroom, was our boarding gate assistant. How cool is that!?!

Comforts While Flying

While traveling to Salt Lake City, I had two comfortable pieces that clearly identified us as a genealogist.

First, this neck pillow from RootsTech 2017 from MyHeritage.

MyHeritage neck pillow and Ancestry blanket.

Travel necessities with a genealogy spin

Second, a soft blanket labeled Ancestry. This blanket arrived in Texas around the time of my surgery, though I don’t know if the staff knew that when they shipped it.

American Airlines to the Rescue

Once we landed in Utah, we had a HUGE problem. We had lost our wallet with my identification! How could we pay for our on-site expenses? How would I fly home without an ID?

Thankfully, we traveled with our personal and business credit cards in separate locations. We could make purchases (food, hotel, and Trax tickets). Sadly, our business credit card was MIA which would complicate accounting post-conference. Yet, we sighed a relief for having something.

Landing in Salt Lake City

While landing in Salt Lake City, Andy couldn’t be torn away from his movie for a smile!

That still left the no ID problem to resolve. Andy went to the American Airlines counter and I prayed. When I checked my phone, I saw a text message from a strange number. I peaked at the message and screamed, “Andy!!!”

Apparently, we dropped our business wallet at the gate in Dallas and an American Airline attendant found it. They wanted to know where to overnight it. I wanted to doubt the attendant but an inner voice said, go with it. This is an answered prayer. The unnamed attendant and I made arrangements for the wallet to come to Salt Lake City before our flight home.

Boarding the UTA Trax in a Wheelchair

After resolving the wallet situation, Andy and I boarded the Trax to the Courthouse stop. The UTA Trax provides a ride from the airport to downtown for an economical charge. Once in downtown, the area around Temple Square, the Salt Palace, and the Family History Library is free (with a few additional stops).

Thus, we disembark at Courthouse and walk two blocks to the Comfort Inn Suites – Downtown. The Trax is a great value for the RootsTech conference and enables attendees to stay at cheaper hotels if they can manage a little extra walking.

Boarding the Trax while in a wheelchair proved difficult as we had yet to discover the handicapped accessible gates. Later, we discovered one line has an elevated ramp that provides direct wheelchair access onto the Trax. The Trax attendant will lower the ramp and help you get on and off. The other line has a street-level access point but you have to look for the wheelchair symbols. A little ramp can be extended manually and you’re on your way.

We didn’t know this initially and I had to step on and off, which is still challenging as I’m unable to climb stairs. The great thing about SLC is the people. Folks helped ups onto and off of the Trax with all of our things. Well done city folks!

Attending RootsTech with a Disability

The Salt Palace is a massive entity. When you’re using a wheelchair, walker, crutches, or cane, it can limit your options. Thankfully, elevators operated smoothly at several points in the building.

RootsCrew providing rides

The RootsCrew offered rides to those who needed help. They also wanted to push me a bit in my own wheelchair.

I forgot to take a photo, but the Salt Palace had scooters for rent. Many scooters lined the hall near the Business Center on the Second Floor of the Salt Palace with reserved signs for folks to use. If you need a little extra help, plan ahead for 2020 to reserve a scooter.

Getting around RootsTech’s massive venue can tire out those with disabilities. Plan ahead and know your personal limits.

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