UPDATED: Oct 19, 2019
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Travel is an amazing experience that everyone should experience. However, for people with limited mobility or other disabilities, travel can require some extra planning. Many places are behind on accessibility for the disabled. However, with some planning and an understanding of the resources available for disabled travelers, travel can be accessible, fun, and a great experience for everyone!
According to the Department of Transportation, 49.5 million Americans, or 19% of the population, have at least one type of disability. Worldwide, approximately 15% of the global population is disabled.
Even with this sizable part of the population identifying as disabled, travel can still be challenging and accessibility can be limited. In the United States, for example, most public places are required to have handicapped parking spots, ramps, doors with low thresholds, and to allow service animals. However, many tourist attractions, particularly historic places or outdoor attractions, are subject to less stringent rules.
Throughout the world, accessibility can also be uneven, particularly when visiting historical sites or traveling in developing countries.
To learn more, go to:
- United States Department of Transportation: Data analysis
- Cornell University: Disability statistics
- World Health Organization: World report on disability
Travel Tips for the Disabled
The United States Passports and International Travel Department, a part of the state department, notes that planning and research are particularly important for disabled people who will be traveling.
Here are some helpful tips for traveling that anyone, disabled or not, can benefit from:
- Ask questions! Ask questions of your hotel, your travel company (if using one), and fellow or experienced travelers. You never know when you’re going to find good information, so casting your net wide is key!
- Research public transportation. This can save money on private transportation and it can also be a great way to see other locations!
- Need special equipment to travel? Check out more mobile options and how to access replacements while traveling.
- Build in extra time in case you have to travel farther for accessible options. Also, try to arrive for travel early if possible. This also helps with any equipment you’ll need to take, especially on an airplane!
- Plan ahead! Knowledge is power and can reduce surprises and anxiety.
For more information, go to:
- American Association of Retired Persons: Mobility challenged travel tips
- Mobility International: Air travel tips for people with disabilities
Planning ahead is definitely the most important part of travel, and something anyone can benefit from! Here are some tips about how to plan ahead for travel when disabled:
- Contact your travel companies, including airlines, before your travel.
- Discuss with your doctor any travel needs, travel safety, and whether you should travel. This can result in some great information and maybe even useful tips!
- Create medical alert information and carry it with you.
- Most attractions have websites now, so check them out or email them prior to your travel to see what accommodations they offer.
For more ideas, visit:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Traveling with a disability
- ALS Association: Traveling with a disability
Airplane travel is fast, safe, and accessible for almost everyone. It can present challenges for disabled travelers, but luckily airlines are regulated to create accessible conditions.
One of the best ways to prepare for airplane travel when disabled is to notify the airline ahead of time. When buying the tickets, when arriving at the gate, and when boarding the plane, it’s a good idea to let the airline and agents know if you need any special accommodations.
You should also know your rights as an air traveler. Airlines have to make reasonable accommodations for travelers with disabilities. However, if you find that you don’t need or want an accommodation, remember that you are under no legal obligation to accept it. Also remember that a medical certificate is generally not required, and you should know when it can be asked for.
To learn more, visit:
- Delta Airlines: Travelers with disabilities
- Transportation Security Administration: Disabilities and medical conditions
On the Street
Travel is great from any angle, but sometimes seeing a new place from the street level can give you a great view of the world. However, when disabled, traveling as a pedestrian can be challenging.
It’s important when walking to be aware of your surroundings. If you’re using any kind of mobility assistance such as a walker, crutches, or cane, it’s even more important, both for your safety and for the flow of pedestrian traffic.
Using a Wheelchair or Scooter
When using a wheelchair or a scooter, chances are you can move faster than most pedestrians. This can be a blessing and curse. As an operator a vehicle, albeit a small one, you have to watch out for pedestrians. It is important to fully assess and understand your surroundings, including curbs, rough terrain, and weather conditions.
For more information, visit:
- NWGA Center for Independent Living: Pedestrian safety and drivers’ responsibilities
- National Conference of State Legislatures: Bicycle and pedestrian safety
- Pedsafe: Background and trends
Cars and Buses
Traveling via car or bus can also be a great way to experience travel, and with some planning, can be a great way for disabled people to travel. Buses can be intimidating when mobility issues are present but they can also be a great way to get around!
In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires that most public transportation have reasonable accommodations. Keep in mind that these accommodations can be loosely interpreted. Also, throughout the world, laws may or may not exist or be enforced. Researching ahead of time may help you know what to expect.
For more ideas and information, visit the following websites:
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Transportation patterns and problems of people with disabilities
- RideMetro: METRO Accessibility
Subways and Trains
Subways and trains, like buses, can be regulated, but regulation and accommodation can be spotty. However, most major cities with public transportation have websites that allow for pre-trip research and planning. Looking at these websites can help you understand what is available, but also if there are any challenges.
To learn more, go to:
A boat tour is a great way to see many sites, plus, boat travel is just fun! Boats can be great for disabled travelers, provided ingress and egress are easy and accessible, and that proper planning is undertaken prior to travel. When on a boat, making sure any extra medications, equipment, or devices are easily available.
To learn more about travel by boat, go to:
- City of San Diego: Disability accessible travel in San Diego
- Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation: Traveling with your wheelchair
There are many ways to make traveling while disabled easier and more enjoyable. There are many ways to travel, and many of these are easy to access for everyone with some planning and preparation.
The Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality list a variety of websites worth checking out: Disability travel websites.
The Washington Post has a great article on travel: Disability travel.