Travelling is often stressful for everyone, but travelling with mobility issues presents its own set of challenges. Fortunately for travellers with mobility issues — more commonly called “accessible tourism” or “disabled travel” — accessible accommodations are more plentiful than ever, but there is still work we need to do.
According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, an estimated 25.5 Americans have reported potentially travel-limiting disabilities. While the Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees equal treatment under the law, many travellers with disabilities still face prejudices, price hikes, and accommodations with inadequate accessibility.
What Problems Do Travelers with Mobility Issues Face?
Those with interest in catering to disabled travellers aim to guarantee that all travel destinations and services are accessible to all people despite their limited physical capabilities, disabilities, or advanced age. Some of the difficulties disabled travellers may face include the following:
- Inaccessible hotel rooms
- No accessible toilets or showers found in hotel rooms as well as public locations
- Limited an inaccessible destinations such as castles, museums, restaurants, bars, churches, shopping venues, and wellness spas
- Difficult to navigate streets and sidewalks
- A lack of wheelchair attendants in airports
- A lack of accessibility equipment including electric folding wheelchairs, lightweight folding wheelchairs, power wheelchairs, or foldable wheelchairs in both airports and destinations
- Limited or lack of educated staff members capable of recommending accessible locations
- A lack of up-to-date information about a given location’s accessibility
- No storage space for disability equipment in rental cars and hotel rooms
- Inability to travel with oxygen tanks on airlines
- Increased airline fees for travelling with a portable oxygen concentrator
- Required paperwork and prescriptions for some disability equipment
15 Tips for Disabled Travellers
In an ideal world, all travellers would receive equal treatment. Due to widely varying accessibility regulations in foreign countries, cramped airline seats, microscopic rental cars, and cookie-cutter hotel rooms, the already-frenzied travel experience can become a challenge for those with mobility issues.
Here are a few tips that can help disabled travellers reduce some of the hassles they may face en route to their destination of choice.
1. If you’re travelling by air, look into the TSA’s PreCheck program, as those with disabilities may qualify for expedited screening. If you are approved, you will not have to remove your shoes, belt, or a lightweight jacket. Additionally, you won’t have to unpack your laptop, and you are permitted to carry three TSA-approved liquids.
2. Arrange for accessible transportation to and from the airport in advance. Having prior accommodations will save you from rushing around at the last minute.
3. Call in advance. Since many locations are required by law to make accommodations for those with mobility issues, call at least 48 hours before arrival to allow them time to meet your needs adequately.
4. Book direct flights when at all possible. Disabled travellers frequently have to wait up to a half-hour for a wheelchair attendant to arrive, so rushing to meet a connecting flight leaves too much to chance.
5. The exception to the tip above is if you are unable to use airplane bathrooms, making a direct flight impossible. If that is the case, allow for a minimum of two hours between connecting flights to get through customs or security.
6. Carry any medical alert information in an easily accessible location such as a card tucked into the same slot as your identification or on a lanyard worn around your neck.
7. Plan an itinerary. Knowing where you would like to eat and go sightseeing before arrival allows time to call each location in advance to ask about accessibility status.
8. Consider an electric folding wheelchair. In addition to being push-free and allowing for more independence, these wheelchairs are durable, frequently lightweight, and, once folded, small enough to fit in the trunk of a rental car.
9. If you travel abroad with an electric folding wheelchair, make sure you have any necessary adapters or voltage converters. You may also want to pack spare batteries in your checked bags. Always be prepared for a power outage or a battery leak.
10. Speak to hotel staff about an accessible room. Many hotels reserve rooms for those with disabilities, so it’s always a good idea to connect with a staff member over the phone rather than booking a room online sight unseen.
11. Familiarize yourself with your rights in your travel destination of choice.
12. Carry extra medication. Bring two bottles of each essential medication in case of emergencies. Keep one in your checked luggage and one in a medicine bag you carry with you on the flight.
13. Make sure you have written documentation from your doctor, preferably typed up on a professional letterhead, describing your disability in detail, as well as listing the medications you are required to take.
14. Carry replacement parts and tools for your electric folding wheelchair. Even the most reliable equipment can get damaged during travel, and the last thing you want to do is have to race around an unfamiliar location in search of replacement parts.
15. Consider working with a specialized travel agent. Someone educated on travelers with mobility issues may be your best bet in meeting all of your requirements
Travelling with mobility issues is undoubtedly challenging, but there are ways to make things easier. Always do your research ahead of time. Many websites provide a list of accessible tourist-friendly locations as well as easy ways to search for convenient accommodations and car rentals in your chosen destination. The AARP has additional resources you may find valuable.
If you are travelling with an electric folding wheelchair, make sure you and any travel companions know how to replace the batteries and use any necessary adapters. Make sure you travel with any other equipment you may need, such as a shower chair, a support railing for the toilet, or an extendable showerhead.
The days when having a disability made travel impossible are in the past, and it is still not without difficulties. Be aware of your rights as a disabled traveller, and, most of all, have fun.