Accessible travel — travel by people with disabilities — is an adventure enjoyed on a global scale. Yet too often this adventure is sidelined or delayed by inadequate facilities, higher prices and general hassles other travelers do not face. In spite of this, travelers with disabilities are boarding cruise ships and planes in record numbers to explore the four corners of the Earth.
There are as many disabilities as there are disabled people, so each traveler’s needs are different. Thankfully, the travel community is generating more and more solutions to these needs, creating a growing network of travel options for disabled people worldwide and broadening the access of accessible travel.
To travel around the world without barriers, check out these tips from the American Society of Travel Agents. Some of the most travel-wise people in the world, ASTA members know travelers with disabilities do not ask for charity or discountsâ€”only an equal opportunity to see the world.
Choosing a Destination – Play it Smart Before You Depart
Many countries accommodate disabled citizens and travelers competently, from creating the proper infrastructure for wheelchair and scooter access to having a wide selection of hotels and restaurants that allow service dogs. Unfortunately some countries do not support disabled travelers to the same extent.
The lesson here is simpleâ€”thoroughly study the country you’re traveling to before boarding the plane or ship. World of mouth from other disabled travelers is a great resource, and the Internet can provide some details, but no source is more valuable than a travel agent, especially one who specializes in disabled travel.
Ask a travel agent detailed questions about the customs of the country and the services provided at each destination you plan to visit. Your travel agent should also provide you with information on transfers while advising you of types of terrain you can expect to encounter, for cobblestone streets, while very picturesque, do not mix well with wheelchairs.
Preparation – Not Laughter – is the Best Medicine
Your health should be the number one priority wherever you travel. Talk to your physician about the trip you have planned and immunizations you’ll need. Be specific when describing the trip to your doctor, including all ports your cruise ship will stop in and all means of transportation you’ll encounter. Your doctor can provide tips and medicines for coping with long flights, along with advice on medical facilities at your destination and how you can obtain prescription drugs in case of an emergency.
Be sure to take enough prescribed medication to last the duration of the trip, including extra medicine and a copy of your prescription just in case. Pack all medication in your carry-on bag, for checked baggage occasionally travels east while you’re heading west. Also, carry your prescriptions in their labeled containers, for many countries have strict drug-trafficking laws and might be suspicious of pills in unlabeled bottles. In fact, it’s wise to travel with a signed letter from your doctor detailing your condition, medications, potential complications and, if you’re diabetic, your requirement to carry needles.
Puppy Love – Keeping Service Dogs Happy
Some countries have restrictions on service dogs arriving or simply traveling through their countries, so check with your travel agent first. If service dogs are permitted, discover if any quarantine or vaccination requirements will apply. Be sure to have your dog’s rabies shots and other vaccinations up-to-date, and bring all paperwork to prove it.
Ask your travel agent if your hotels will allow your service dog entrance, if there will be an adequate area for the dog to relieve itself and if the airline you plan to use has any animal restrictions. Some airlines, such as United and Northwest, impose summer restrictions when the temperatures soar higher than the planes.
Several cruise ships have designated areasâ€”such as individual boxes filled with wood chips or crumpled newspaperâ€”designed for your dog. Check with your travel agent to ensure your cruise ship supplies these, and if so, practice with your dog in a similar container before you go. And since some ports do not allow dogs to enter without proper quarantine time, be sure to have a back-up plan or a friend handy in order to disembark and enjoy.
Wherever your plan to explore with your guide dog, be sure to research where the closest vet and emergency pet hospitals are located. Hopefully you will not need to use this information, but having it close may be vital.
Wheelchairs and Scooters
Some large planes have a space to put a manual wheelchair in the cabin, though most wheelchairs and scooters are placed in cargo. They are the last items loaded and the first to come out. Have your travel agent try to book a non-stop flight if possible to alleviate the hassle of getting your chair out of cargo. Use gel-cell batteries if traveling in a power-driven wheelchair, for many airlines refuse to carry wet-cell batteries for security reasons.
No matter what type of wheelchair or scooter your ride, have it serviced before a trip. It may be difficult to find a repair shop while on safari in Botswana. Be sure to bring spare parts and tools, and you or someone you’re traveling with should know how to dismantle your scooter or wheelchair just in case something goes wrong.
The Art of Travel
With so many factors to organize at once, planning a trip can be wonderfully chaotic. So all travelersâ€”disabled or otherwiseâ€” benefit from advanced planning, which can save you a lot of time and effort. It’s far easier to make reservations and deal with problems from home than from a castle in Germany where you may have to deal with language barriers. Yet no matter how much you plan your next vacation, unexpected problems still arise.
When a problem arises, especially when you’re in another country, a travel agent is a good thing to have on your side. Before, during and after your trip, you can ask your travel agent about what special assistance you can expect from the hotel, tour group or transportation company; whether your special dietary needs will be met at certain hotels; or where the nearest accessible hotel is in Amsterdam if your reservation is accidentally lost. Also, some travel agents specialize in different types of accessible travel, from hearing-impaired to wheelchair tour groups. In short, travel agents make the world more accessible.
Contact a travel agent that specializes in Disabled/Accessible Travel today through our Find a Travel Agent search feature. For additional information, visit the Society for Accessible Travel& Hospitality at www.sath.org.
To help ensure safe and secure transportation for persons with disabilities in the event of a disaster or emergency, please check out the Department of Transportation’s new Web site:http://www.dot.gov/emergency. The site focuses on emergency preparedness, transportation accessibility and evacuation methods for different modes of transportation, such as rail and transit systems.