I’m delighted that Alicia Searcy from Spashionista has graciously consented to contribute to this series of travel-related posts. I asked her to share her experience and wisdom about travel logistics with physical disabilities, and she’s offered some great information and resources here. She’s been covering Nashville Fashion Week on her blog, so please do go visit!
Travel and all of its logistics require thorough research and planning if you have a disability. Physical and sensory limitations, especially those that require adaptive equipment or special accommodations are best not left to chance. As romantic as the idea of a spontaneous journey may be making arrangements ahead of time will give you peace of mind and eliminate the stress of uncertainty.
Here are a few things to consider if you’re a physically disabled traveler, whether you’re going across town or halfway around the world.
- Budgeting Your Time and Money: How early do you need to arrive at your transportation site? How much is it going to cost you to get where you’re going, secure a comfortable, accessible place to stay, and maneuver your itinerary? Don’t forget to factor in the cost of meals (especially if you have dietary restrictions), transportation to points of interest, and any supplies related to your disability that are easier to purchase after you arrive than they are to transport.
Remember to arrive at the airport, train, or bus station early enough to go through security and pre-boarding, and allow extra time if you’re in an electric chair. If you’re flying TSA suggests you arrange for a Passenger Support Specialist at least 72 hours prior to departure. Amtrak offers a 15% discount for disabled travelers with documentation. Some hotel rooms come with mini-bars and microwaves which allow you to store and prepare your own meals.
- Lodging: What kind of accommodations do you need?
Travelocity can search for hotel rooms based on a variety of accessible criteria, including accessibility for the hearing impaired, accessible bathroom – with or without roll-in-shower, in-room accessibility, braille signage, and accessible path of travel. It’s best to be certain that your accessibility needs will be met, even if it means calling or e-mailing a prospective hotel to answer any questions you may have. If you’re travelling outside the US you’ll need to ask for adapted accommodations.
- Navigating Towns and Venues: How are you going to get from your hotel to the places you want to visit? How do you know if a venue is accessible?
If you’re unable to drive Google the town or city you’re visiting for detailed information on accessible bus routes, trains, and taxis. You’ll also find ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft, which are less expensive than taxis, although not available everywhere. Be warned that they will only transport manual wheelchairs that can be broken down or folded to fit in the vehicle. They aren’t 100% reliable, either. I have a friend with Cerebral Palsy who was left stranded by an Uber driver when he refused to load her chair into his car.
Yelp often has information about any given establishment’s accessibility. There is also an app called AXSMap that only rates and reviews a venue’s handicapped accommodations. If all else fails, try the venue in question’s website and be prepared to call and ask. The front desk and concierge at your hotel is also a wealth of information about the local resources and attractions available to you.
Although travelling with a disability seems daunting with a little foresight and research you can have as good a time as anyone else; maybe even better.
Good advice from Alicia – the Paralympics in London transformed people’s attitudes towards disability and yet the transport system in the city is still a complete, inaccessible nightmare
I would like to put in a plea for patience as well. My daughter has a disability that is not easily visible (fibromyalgia) and we are just slow. Also being shoved and banged by suitcases and backpacks causes her extreme pain. Really, common courtesy and a small degree of thoughtfulness on the part of other travelers would make a huge difference.
What a pity about the taxis. Here in Montréal, we have specific taxis that can transport a wheelchair, even a heavy electric one, and drivers who can help disabled people. My neighbour has an “orphan disease” akin to MS and he uses these to go to the swimming pool early each morning. (He is retired on disability). Montréal residents with disabilities that require such transport can use them anywhere on Montréal island for the same fare as public transport, or with a transport pass.
On the other hand, we are behind with installing lifts in the métro stations. The new stations have them, but only a few of the older ones have been retrofitted. Those are useful for many people with reduced mobility, not just wheelchair users.
There is a non-profit agency here, Kéroul, to promote travel for people with disabilities and the adaptation of existing hotels, restaurants and tourist destinations. It was founded back in 1979.
https://www.keroul.qc.ca/ and in English, but may not contain all French content: https://www.keroul.qc.ca/en/home.html of course you can ask any questions.
As you can see on the English-language site, in October of this year the Destinations for All summit will be in Montréal this year, in October.
My brother has Cerebral Palsy and is wheelchair bound.
He holidayed on the Gold coast last year with friends. Hired a little car with a hoist and researched and found some great accommodation.
He and his friends had a ball.
Very wheelchair friendly city 🙂
Nice article and very nice to see this topic treated! The availability of the internet has made such a difference here, you can really research ahead of time much more easily and thoroughly.
re: invisible disabilities. Danielle, i have neuropathy and all i can say is ‘from your mouth to god’s ears’. I had to use a cane for a couple of years, even then people were largely oblivious and obnoxious.
At the same time, I do have to say i met a number of very kind and considerate people who made my day! In my own travels, some of my best times have come from talking to and helping out other people on the road. Politeness and thoughtfulness always take first place in my suitcase 🙂
Bon Voyage All!! steph
Alicia I wasn’t aware of “passenger support specialists” at all. Next year my husband and I will be doing a long haul: Australia to Canada and, whilst he’s a reasonably active and fairly mobile 60, he does have severe arthritis especially in the hips and knees. We naively assumed he had to grit his teeth and bear it on the flight but perhaps we can get some assistance or advice to ease his way. Thank you.