Times have changed for travelers who use wheelchairs or have any other disabilities. Traveling is no more impossible!
‘Accessible travel’ or ‘Disabled Travel’ is on the rise, and the travel industry is now catering to the needs of differently-abled with specialized assistance, more services, and better accommodation. Even though The Americans with Disabilities Act provides equal treatment to travelers with disabilities, but it isn’t always the case in other parts of the world where regulations may vary.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that government, tourism boards must take measures to make tourism for differently-abled easier. They should include access-friendly sightseeing, special transport, wheelchair-accessible toilets and rooms, the information in Braille, trained staff to help differently-abled tourists, and much more.
Accessible safaris, cruises, or sightseeing is in vogue today, irrespective of the physical state. Here are some tips for traveling smoothly with disabilities:
Communicate the disability clearly
While booking tickets or accommodations, it is of paramount importance to describe your disability clearly. Be specific about your needs and make it a rule of thumb to assume that people don’t understand the medical terminologies and implications of particular limitations, therefore give every minute detail like what you can and can’t do and explain the seriousness of the disability. This will help service providers to make necessary arrangements to ensure a comfortable journey. Travel with prescription and statement from your doctor, preferably on a letterhead covering your condition, complications, medical history, and special needs. Ensure that doctor or any medical professional is available in case of emergency.
Pack all your essential medical supplies in your carry-on bag and bring extra medication as you don’t know if you will find it in a foreign land.
Ask your Airline for Help
Ask your airline for help at the time of booking by letting them know your requirements, will save you time and make airport experience smoother. Arrive at least 2-3 hours before your flight check-in, security checks, and transfer to the gate.
Many airlines will designate an employee to help you the moment you arrive or at check-in with power scooters or wheelchairs (owned or borrowed), guide you through security, and take care of your luggage. Select a seat with bigger legroom and near to washrooms (extra cost may incur for this).
People on power scooters or wheelchairs usually deboard the plane last, so plan accordingly. Avoid taking connecting flights as it would create more discomfort for you to get off one plane and board another.
Many airlines allow guide dogs (free of charge) for visually impaired passengers, but you will need to make a reservation 48 hours before your flight. Mobility International USA has helpful resources on charging power scooter batteries and taking a service animal abroad.
Most hotels have facilities for differently-abled travelers; however, you have to be specific with your requirements while booking your hotel. For example, check these in advance- pick and drop facility with an accessibility vehicle, bathrooms with grab bars, or if the front and guest door are appropriate for your power scooter.
If you are visually impaired and find buffet or breakfast bars challenging to access, you can request the hotel staff to deliver at your room. Many hotels will be happy to share information to make your stay smooth and convenient.
Make sure to follow up 24-48 hours before your arrival so that all arrangements are in place. Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program by the U.S Department of State – a free service that allows you to share trip information with the local U.S Embassy or Consulate of your destination. This can be helpful in case of an emergency.
Hire a Specialized Travel Agent
Planning a trip is a time-consuming and tedious task. However, some agents specialize in accessible tourism and can craft a unique itinerary, arrange private transportation, verify convenient hotels, and make the flight bookings. Some of these agents don’t charge planning fees but make money in hotel and other reservations.
Choose destinations that are efficient in accessible tourism like Japan, Turkey, Russia, Europe, Australia, or Asian countries like Bali and India. Many tour packages cater exclusively to accessible traveling.
Ask for the right guides from the travel agent who has prior experience in handling differently-abled people. Such guides can provide hassle-free time because they know the sights and restaurants you can and can’t access.
They are well versed with sign language for hearing-impaired and will take visible and invisible disabilities into account while planning the activities. Since the requirements for varied travelers can be extremely different, it is helpful if they understand the particulars of the situation. A right guide can make your experience joyful in the destination.
Don’t Forget the Travel Insurance
Some insurances only cover financial losses. Invest in a good travel insurance plan, which includes medical evacuation or medevac in case of emergency. If in a situation that you have to visit a local doctor of your destination, the chances are that he might charge twice or thrice the usual price. To avoid this, choose a plan which covers your medical claims as well.
Do your research as well. You need to have before-hand information about the accessibility at your destination and learn about the difficulties that you might have to face on the trip. With the help of the internet, you can do a lot of research on wheelchair or power scooter accessibility and feasibility and whether to take your own or a rented one.
There are many first-hand experiences and reviews shared by travelers on blogs and forums that can be a great insight into the destination. For example, the Eiffel Tower in France has elevators to accommodate differently-abled people. This will help you to plan your visit. Check the official tourism sites of the destinations to know their regulations and accessible-friendly places.
Traveling helps you to be resourceful and adapt to your physical environment. With meticulous planning and preparation, you can make any trip as imagined. The most important thing to remember is to research the destination and accommodations suitable for your needs and wants. Be patient as you will be going to a new place and meet new people who might take some time to understand your situation. Plan the trip keeping the caregiver and yourself in mind and explore the beautiful and unique places.