Top Tips for Travelling with a DisabilityMay 23, 2018
Travelling can be stressful and difficult at the best of times - Having to navigate busy airports full of people rushing around paying no attention to anything but their goal of making it to their gate on time.
Now take that hectic experience and imagine having to navigate a busy airport in a wheelchair, or with a visual impairment, suddenly it becomes a whole lot tougher.
While it might be tough, that hasn't stopped the trend of accessible travel from rising in recent years, with more and more disabled travellers looking to get out and explore the world, so we decided to speak with a few people who have first hand experience travelling the world with a disability and asked them for their top travel tips for anyone looking to get out there and see the world regardless of their disability.
"What 'travel tips' would you recommend to anybody looking to travel with a disability?"
"My biggest tip is to choose your holiday based on your dreams. Not where there is a wide doorway or wetroom shower. Then once you are excited about going somewhere awesome, you can get practical.
Write down your 'must haves' and your 'like to haves'. This gives you the parameters for your research. When researching you can go simple, but with more cost. Or save a bit of money, but prepare for lots of grunt work. There are plenty of good accessible travel agencies from a quick Internet search. Equally you can use social media channels for peer advice, and contact individual suppliers yourself. Eventually, after wanting to quit you'll find the right place. Right in style. Right in accessibility offerings. Your persistence has paid off.
You might have to compromise some of the 'like to haves'. That's fine. It's on a short time. Then it's all about having the time of your life and making memories forever. My trips to Australia, USA, Japan, and all over Europe will stay with me for eternity."
"When you travel with a disability, planning is essential. Make sure you're travelling with everything you need to make your journey as smooth as possible.
Organise your travel and book everything well in advance, especially if you require assistance. I always take the essentials like my guide dog travel essentials, my medical kit and a charger to ensure I can access my phone which has a lot of apps I use to make my journey easier. I have a preliminary list saved of everything I need when I travel including things to pack, phone numbers and things I need to organise before making any journey."
"In order to travel successfully as a disabled person, it is strongly recommended to research the country/city in question.
I use speech software on my laptop called JAWS, so that I can explore the internet. I go onto wikitravel, type in the country or city I am interested in visiting and read up about the country - How to get into that country, what visa I may need, and any inoculations or malaria tablets I may need etc. I also research what currency I will need and how much things may cost.
Then I like to read up on the public transport within the country, its accessibility, buses, trains, and underground/metro. Are there lifts on the train and metro stations? After this, I go onto hostelz.com and find out about hostels and low budget accommodation. I can read about the hostels in a particular city and find out if they are centrally located within a city and discover if they have lifts in their buildings or only stairs.
Doing research and gaining knowledge of a destination is the key. I get all the information I want on places to visit, museums with audio guides, public statues and monuments I can touch, plus information on how to get from the airport or train station to my accommodation by taxi or public transport.
I put all this info in a document on my laptop or digital recording device called Victor Stream Reader and then I'm ready to go. I also book assistance with the airline and ensure I will be met at the check-in desk and taken through the airport and security, to the gate and onto my flight. I am then met upon landing and taken through immigration, passport control and out of the airport to a taxi or public transport.
I use the local public to help me find places like restaurants and interesting tourist attractions. If i'm in a foreign country, I get the staff at my accommodation to write down directions to the place I want to visit in the local language. I also try to learn a few words of the local language such as: 'please', thank you', 'toilet' etc.
I would suggest to anyone disabled and new to the idea of travelling, first visit towns/cities in their own country. Maybe go with a friend and get use to travelling. Try to pack light and take only one bag, preferably a backpack. It will be slightly different for every person's disability.
"My number one tip for travelling with a disability is forget you have a disability. What I mean by that is this; first and foremost, travel is about enjoyment and broadening your mind. If you are so bogged down with the difficulties of travelling with a disability, you'll forget to enjoy yourself.
Secondly, and you'll have heard this a thousand times, be prepared for the unexpected. Disability or not, things go wrong and there is little you can do about it. Obviously, eliminate as much risk as you can during the planning and booking stages, after that, just go with it.
And finally, don't let your disability define your travels. The world is becoming a much more accessible place and its there to explore. Whether you want a relaxing beach holiday, an adventure fuelled thrill fest or a trek across the desert on a Camel, it’s all available.
In 2018, travel is limited only by your own imagination; don't let disability hold you back."
"For someone like myself who is fluidly able, travelling means being prepared for a variety of issues I may face. It can be a pain to travel like this, especially if it's only a quick trip. My husband and I recently went on a road trip. To prepare, I brought my wheelchair and cane in addition to walking sticks. I had everything for several days of migraines, joint pain, muscle aches, and more. Instead of fighting desperately to appear more abled and avoid stares, I prepared for the worst and took care of myself as needed. It made this one of the best trips we've taken in a really long time!"
First things first – you need to pick a destination. Give some thought to how accessible the environment, terrain and local area will be; it’s wise not to choose somewhere with steep hills or very rough terrain if you’re using a manual wheelchair. Weather is an important factor too – if you struggle in very hot or cold temperatures, be sure to consider this before booking your getaway.
Once you’ve settled on the perfect destination, it’s time to consider your choice of accommodation. Do some thorough research to establish whether your chosen hotel (or equivalent) can accommodate everything you need – ensure there are lifts, flat walkways and available aids and assistance to make your stay much more comfortable. There’s simply no way you should travel without insurance. When heading abroad with a disability there’s a few more things that could go wrong, and without insurance you could be facing some hefty costs if you need to repair mobility equipment or access healthcare. When packing for your trip, be sure to bring the things that’ll make the journey there much more comfortable.
Plane journeys aren’t always the most fun even for non-disabled passengers, and with the extra considerations you may require, you could be in more of a predicament. Don’t be scared to simply ask others for help if you’re in need. More often than not, regardless of where you are in the world, the locals are friendly and willing to assist you as much as possible. Look in advance to see just how to get around in your destination. Are there dedicated methods of accessible transport? Buses and trains are usually good options, as are trams – but make sure it’s easy to get around with the challenge of different terrain or obstacles that could make it difficult.
If you go to an area that you have never been before, you don’t know what is accessible or not. When you go to a big city, the main attractions are usually accessible, but if you want to go to the local bar, then it might be tricky to know where to go, but there is a new app for cell phones. This app allows a person to know if a place is accessible or not. The app is called Access Now. If people don’t write a review for an establishment, then this app is not really helpful. If you use this app, please make sure you leave a review for the place so that the next time someone who wants to go there will see your review.
Travelling with a disability is not easy to do but it can happen if you plan it out. Everybody deserves a vacation once in awhile. By knowing what helps, it will make your vacation a success. If you have other ideas of what is helpful, please leave them in the comments below this post. I will add them to this post.
Laura C Robb
When travelling with a physical disability, I research certain details as I plan a trip. I use a power wheelchair, so I first check on accessibility at the hotel. Does the room have the accessible features I need? Before I leave home, I also look into public transportation options and specific places I would like to visit. Sometimes the metro or bus system is an easier way to get around, if I'm not "driving" my chair down the sidewalks. The main thing is, can I explore and go where I want to go in my wheelchair? If yes, I plan ahead to make the trip more enjoyable.
The best advice I can give other travellers with disability is research, research, research! Read disability travel blogs, contact attractions to ask about access and read travel reviews before visiting a destination. There are so many times when an attraction seems inaccessible, but there’s actually a ramp or elevator if you know where to look. Sometimes the accessible entrance can be hidden around the back of a building, through a gate, or even via a neighbouring building. And a lot of the time there’s no obvious signage to point out the accessible entrance, so knowing where to go beforehand has saved me a lot of time.
I also recommend deciding what attractions you want to visit before booking your accommodation. I always try to stay in hotels that are near the attractions I want to visit. It’s great being able to return to the hotel in the middle of the day for a rest or to use the bathroom (accessible bathrooms can be hard to find in some cities).
Autism Family Travel
My best travel tip would be to take the time to research your destination so you know what will and won't be provided. For families travelling with kids on the autism spectrum, you need to be sure the destination is secure (especially for kids who tend to escape), sensory friendly (limit loud noises, strong smells, etc.) and provides the ability to self-cater (to manage dietary and sensory feeding requirements). It's also important to prepare your kids before you leave so you give them as much reassurance as possible. Sharing social stories, visual itineraries, maps, photos, calendars and videos of the destination before departure will help reduce anxiety and prepare them for the holiday to come.
Anything Is Possible Travel
My step-daughter has Multiple Sclerosis and uses a wheelchair for mobility, and one of her greatest travel challenges is finding accessible toilets.
When reserving a hotel room we ask on-site personnel - either the property manager or someone from housekeeping - to describe in detail the "accessible" room. If they can provide photos or a video of the bathroom, that's even better as it allows us to confirm whether or not the room meets her needs.
While travelling long distances by car we have found that roadside rest areas, many larger truck stops, and fast food chain restaurants generally have restrooms with appropriately-placed grab bars and room for the wheelchair to manoeuvre.
Of course, U.S. airport restrooms are almost always fully accessible, but we have not yet found an accessible toilet on an airplane.
The Americans with Disabilities Act is comprehensive but the laws can be liberally interpreted so we are vigilant in doing our research prior to going on a trip. We find this helps diminish the challenges that come with travelling with limited mobility.
Travelling can be stressful for anyone with or without a disability and things can go wrong. So if you want to travel but concerned to take that leap on the off-chance something may not go to plan, I say go for it anyway. There will always be a way of working it out. It will also be completely worth it in the end. If plan A doesn’t work out it's always a good idea to have a plan B that you can quickly put into action if required. That is also when planning ahead is important. I often book trips months in advance as it gives me plenty of time to research the accessibility of the destination including public transportation, attractions and accommodation. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy every minute.
As a deaf person, it was understandable I was nervous about my round the world trip lasting a year. But luckily, I was able to garner enough travel tips about travelling with a disability to ensure I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I still continue to travel after 40 countries and counting! Here are my tips:
- Relax and smile - if something happens, relax. It’s better to laugh then cry about it
- Make sure you have enough equipment with you for the duration of the trip e.g. weekly batteries for my hearing aid.
- Don’t hide your disability. It will show that you are not comfortable to others. Celebrate it!
Thinking Out Loud
Do your homework on a destination: It can be a challenge to travel with a disability so it is important that you check the country you are travelling to will not end up in a lot of time spent in frustration. Heading to somewhere that is not designed with disabled people in mind will probably end up in you having a ruined trip.
Look for accessible accommodation: Not everywhere will be as accommodating as home, so make sure you find a place to stay that will provide you with adequate access both into the hotel and also your room.
Consider where it is you are going and what the climate is going to be like: Pack according to the weather and the activities you think you will be doing. Look at the medication you require, check whether there might be a problem taking it through an airport and get a written note from your doctor to allow you to bring it onto the plane: always pack extra medication in case of delays or lost luggage.