Travel tips for people with disabilities

Eight travel planning tips for people with disabilities

Eight travel-planning tips for people with disabilities

Travel can pose a unique set of challenges for people with disabilities, but with planning and preparation, it can be a great way to enrich your life. These helpful tips focus on making travel planning a little bit easier so you can explore the world your way.

Know your rights

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects your rights and details what accommodations should be made for people with disabilities. This applies to hotels, cruises, transportation, etc. The US Air Carrier Access Act provides protections specific to air travel.

Make sure you review and understand your rights. It’s worth keeping relevant sections on your phone or mobile device in case you run into any complications while on the road.  

It’s also important to understand that while the ADA protects you in the US, the same rules and standards may not apply if you’re travelling overseas. Make sure you review the rules and regulations of any country you’re travelling to.   

Plan ahead

The earlier you start planning, the better. If possible, you should book your trip a few months in advance. This will give you plenty of time to research your destination. It also helps to ensure you have access to the widest range of hotel and transportation options.

A quick Google search will produce an array of resources to help you plan. It’s also worth looking up travel bloggers with disabilities who provide first-hand advice. They often cultivate an online community of fellow travelers who can also provide tips and information.

Some specific things to think about when planning include:

  • public transportation
  • language and communication barriers
  • accessible hotels, restaurants and attractions
  • long lines and big crowds in popular areas
  • environmental conditions at your destination (weather, sidewalks, curb ramps, cobbled streets, etc)

Ask a lot of questions when booking hotels

In general, it’s better to make bookings over the phone directly with hotel staff. This provides the opportunity to speak directly with a person at the hotel about your accessibility needs.

Don’t be afraid to ask lots of specific questions to ensure your needs will be met upon arrival. Some things you may want to clarify include:

  • room accessibility, including door measurements and room dimensions
  • property accessibility, including accessible parking and elevator access
  • accessible shuttle to/from hotel
  • availability of sensory-friendly rooms
  • service animal accommodations

This is especially important if you’re travelling outside the US. Room sizes and standards can be very different in other countries.

Make flight arrangements ahead of time

As with booking your hotel, it’s best to book any flights over the phone. Be specific and clear about what accommodations you need. Again, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions to minimize any surprises.

For example, if you’re travelling with a wheelchair, mention this to the booking agent. Review the airline’s policies together so you know what to expect when you arrive. Discuss accommodations and arrangements. Confirm your arrangements 48 hours before your flight. When you arrive at the airport, let your check-in agent know you need boarding assistance.

Review the TSA Guidelines for Special Procedures for more information about the different rules and regulations that may apply to you. This can include travelling with medications, service animals, mobility devices, respiratory equipment and more.

Check in with your doctor

Everyone, including people with disabilities, should check in with their doctor before travelling. It’s an opportunity to discuss any questions or concerns you may have about your health in relation to travelling. You can also:

  • Arrange medications or supplies for your trip
  • Get a health check or vaccine for a visa
  • Get a medical statement outlining your medical needs

Note that airlines may require a medical statement for safety and security reasons. For example, travelling with oxygen or a metal implant. Make sure you discuss this with your doctor well before your trip.                

Look into travel insurance

If you’re travelling overseas, you may want to purchase travel insurance. It can cover you in unexpected situations such as lost luggage or personal items, cancelled flights and even medical emergencies.

Note that it’s important to do your research here to get a policy that fits your needs. For example, not all policies offer medical coverage.

It’s also important to tell your chosen provider about your disability before your purchase. They can help you find a policy that fits your needs. It also protects you if you need to make any claims.   

Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

Another tip for those planning an overseas trip – make sure you enroll in the STEP program.

This free service lets your enroll your trip with the US Embassy or Consulate closest to your destination. You will then be able to receive important safety alerts about your destination while travelling. It also helps the Embassy or Consulate contact you in an emergency such as a natural disaster, civil unrest or family emergency.

For more information, check out the STEP website.

Expect the unexpected

When you’re leaving the comfort and familiarity of home behind, hiccups are common and should be expected. Understand that even the best laid plans go awry from time to time. Have a plan B ready to go, just in case. And don’t be afraid to ask for help whenever you need it.

Know that most things can be fixed with a little bit of time and positivity – even when you’re miles from home. Just focus on travelling your way while embracing the thrill of exploration. Don’t let the bumps slow down your enthusiasm for discovering new places and adventures.

Helpful resources