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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2010, 56.7 million people, or about 1 in 5 people, have a disability in the United States. While the severity of disabilities varies, about half of these 56.7 million people say their disability is severe. Regardless of the severity of impairment, any disability can make traveling more challenging.
Following is a resource guide created for people with disabilities and designed to provide traveling advice that touches on the unique needs and challenges faced by the disabled population when traveling.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an individual with a disability is defined as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act was established in 1990 and “prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.” While the ADA does not specifically list all the covered impairments by name, these regulations have had a substantial impact on the ease with which individuals with disabilities are able to travel.
This guide provides tips and resources for people with disabilities, including physical disabilities like paralysis, visual and hearing impairment, and neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Multiple sclerosis, and Cerebral Palsy. Regardless of your limitations, enjoyable travel is possible by planning ahead and taking steps to navigate potential challenges that may arise.
Physical disabilities, such as mobility limitations or paralysis, can make traveling more challenging, but your limitations don’t have to preclude you from successful and enjoyable travel. These tips and resources will help you plan for traveling and address any challenges that should arise at your destination.
Choose an accessible location, resort, or cruise, if possible. If you’re planning a trip for pleasure and are able to choose your own destination, select a travel destination that’s accessible. This resource lists several travel destinations and cruise options offering excellent accessibility for disabled travelers.
Work with a travel agent experienced with disabilities. This resource provides a comprehensive listing of travel agents offering specialized services for travelers with disabilities.
Ask for information in advance. Travelers with disabilities must be provided with information about the services and accommodations available to them, including information such as the specific aircraft assigned to a specific flight. This information enables you to prepare in advance any added precautions or preparations. The U.S. Department of Transporation offers a detailed guide on preparing for a flight, rules air liners must follow, and information on preparing for air travel before, during, and after.
Find the right luggage. Look for luggage that’s easy for you to handle or luggage that adequately protects your equipment when handled by airlines personnel. This article offers tips for selecting the right type of luggage, including ways to maximize a wheelchair’s carrying capacity.
Keep the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) helpline number handy. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a helpline number, TSA Cares at 1-855-787-2227, to assist travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. This article has more information on how to use the number both before and during travel, as well as other helpful travel information for people with disabilities.
Make arrangements with the airline prior to the day of travel. Certain accommodations must be planned in advance, such as bringing wheelchairs or other equipment aboard an aircraft that uses wet cell batteries. This article explains the key arrangements to make prior to your trip and what rules and regulations apply.
Research your destination and hotel. Find out what services and accommodations are available where you’re traveling. If you’re traveling outside the U.S., for instance, different regulations may apply regarding accessibility in public locations. This article offers tips and suggestions for researching your destination and hotel in advance of your trip.
Play a game of “What If?” Imagine the many obstacles you might encounter on your trip and devise solutions and plans for addressing them should they arise. For instance, seeking out wheelchair repair shops at your destination will leave you well-prepared should you find yourself in need of a quick repair. As this article suggests, taking a small wheelchair repair kit with you is also a good idea.
Pack essentials in your carry-on in case of lost or delayed luggage. If you’re traveling by air, certain equipment will not count towards your two carry-on bags. That means you can use your carry-on allowance to pack essentials like medications and extra batteries or battery chargers so that you’re prepared in case your luggage is lost or delayed.
Consider a travel companion. Travel companions are an excellent option for disabled persons who wish to travel yet require extra assistance; many companies offer healthcare professionals as companions for travelers who require a higher level of care than family or friends can provide. DisabledTravelers.com offers a list of companies offering travel companion services.
Be sure to pack IDs and insurance cards. Make sure to pack your medical cards, Medicare card (if applicable), discount cards for auto rentals and other services, your passport if needed, credit cards, debit cards, and Traveler’s Checks, if you’ll be using them.
Know your rights. Airlines are required to accommodate passengers with disabilities, without discriminating against disabled passengers. The Defense Travel Management Office provides answers to commonly asked questions as well as links to ADA regulations and other useful resources for air travelers with disabilities.
Wear easy-to-remove shoes. If traveling by air, you will still be required to go through airport security checks. That means you may be required to remove your shoes, so wear shoes that are easy to remove. This is a good idea even if you’re traveling by land, in case you need to or choose to remove your shoes for comfort or another purpose.
Be mindful of cultural differences. As this article suggests, “You may get more, or less, attention in other countries than you would in the United States.” However, it’s possible that you stand out more as a tourist or American than as a person in a wheelchair or a disabled person.
The Federal Aviation Administration offers an up-to-date map showing flight status and delays. Check the status of your flight quickly and easily using this website.
Refer to an ATM locator to quickly locate an ATM if you need to obtain cash on your travels. While this resource locates VISA ATMs, this website offers the same service for locating MasterCard ATMs.
The U.S. Department of Tourism links to the websites for the Departments of Tourism in all 50 U.S. states. States’ Departments of Tourism are useful resources for finding parks and events, locating accessible areas, booking flights, auto rentals, and more, and a multitude of other preparatory and last-minute services for travelers.
Obtain an Access Pass for visiting national parks and recreation areas. The U.S. Geological Survey provides information on obtaining an Access Pass on-site at a participating Federal recreation site or office, including the documentation you’ll need to prove eligibility.
Insist on using your own wheelchair. One of the many helpful tips this author offers is that she always insists on using her own wheelchair up to the airline gate, where she then checks it at the gate. This is especially helpful for navigating tight spaces like bathrooms, as you’re more comfortable transferring with the equipment you’re accustomed to.
Don’t be afraid to rearrange the furniture. This article recommends evaluating your accommodations on arrival and asking for the furniture to be rearranged in a way that maximizes the space for your needs.
Visual impairment poses numerous challenges for travelers, such as difficulties navigating unfamiliar cities and transportation centers. The following tips and resources will help you plan ahead for a successful trip and get the most out of every adventure, regardless of visual impairment.
Learn about the rights and restrictions on flights and other transportation, as well as at your destination, for your guide dog. If you have a guide dog or service animal you’d like to bring with you on your trip, research the rights and restrictions before you go. On cruise lines, for instance, guide dogs may not disembark at all ports, depending on the local rules and requirements. This article also answers frequently asked questions regarding service dogs and when they are permitted to be excluded from entering businesses or attractions.
Review the airline seat map so you can easily locate your seat. This resource provides airline seat maps and other flight information. Being armed with this information can help you prepare in advance, quickly locate your seat, and make the most of your flight.
Learn about the airport’s layout before your trip. This article offers air travel tips for visually impaired travelers, including using sources such as Wikipedia to learn the layout of an unfamiliar airport ahead of time and consulting restaurant guides if you’ll have a layover between flights.
Notify your travel agent at the time of booking. According to this article, “This will ensure that the airline is able to offer you the services you need such as pre-boarding, a guided tour of the aircraft and large type menus for meals.”
Consider using a resource specializing in booking tours for the visually impaired. Mind’s Eye Travel, for instance, offers pricing that includes sight guided assistance.
Take your own laptop, cables, wireless unit, and other Internet-ready supplies. According to this article, Internet Cafes don’t have adequate zoom or speech technology for visually impaired users. Taking your own ensures you’ll stay connected and have ready access to the information you need during your trip.
Find out if TSA Pre is available at the airport. The TSA Pre program is an expedited security screening program allowing pre-approved passengers to leave on their shoes, light outerwear, and belts, and keep laptops and other items in carry-on bags through airport security screening. This article recommends requesting a manual scan with a sensor rather than going through the traditional metal detector with a guide dog. This is because some parts of the dog’s leash, harness, and collar will activate the metal detector and distract your dog from his duties. Additionally, the handler and guide dog should never be separated, and the harness should never be removed from the dog while working.
Ask for a tour of a cruise ship or hotel on arrival during booking. This article recommends insisting on a tour so that you are familiar with your accommodations and can navigate your destination as independently as possible.
Consider a group adventure with an organization for the visually impaired. This group of hikers hiked the Grand Canyon from rim-to-rim, a feat even experienced, sighted hikers are warned against attempting.
Get a collapsible cane, which is more convenient for travel. Airplanes, for instance, have to store rigid canes elsewhere on the plane because they can pose a safety hazard to other passengers in the event of an emergency. A collapsible cane, on the other hand, can be stored easily with carry-on luggage.
Make a bead map. A bead map uses a string of beads to help visually impaired individuals correctly navigate a route to a destination. This article describes how to make a bead map and how it can be used both on foot and on public transportation services.
Carry your cane. Even if you don’t need it for navigational purposes, your cane helps other people around you know that you are visually impaired. It’s also a good idea to inform travel companions and those around you of your visual limitations.
Ask for help when you need it. This article suggests that many people, such as the crew on airlines or cruise ships, taxi drivers, and others, are often happy to offer assistance. Don’t be shy about asking for help.
Know your rights, and stand up for them. This article is both an incredible story and informative read, touching on the importance of knowing protocols and affirming your rights when necessary.
Make your luggage easy to identify. This article suggests using brightly colored ribbons or tags to help your luggage stand out to a sighted person who may be assisting you, or using a remote luggage locator. A remote attaches to your keys, with a locator attached to your luggage, helping you identify your luggage with an audible sound.
Rely on auditory and tactile cues for foot navigation. This article provides a thorough explanation of the process used by visually impaired persons to cross a street and navigate unfamiliar areas on foot. If you will not have the assistance of a guide dog or sight guide, familiarize yourself with your destination prior to your trip.
If you’re using cash, remember what you’ve spent. As this article points out, the notes in the U.S. are all the same size, which is not the case in all countries. Remembering what you’ve spent and how much you started with is the best way to keep tabs on how much money you have left.
Take advantage of public transportation. Many areas have public transportation services, making it easier for visually impaired individuals to get around in a new city. This article discusses public transportation options, how to navigate these services, and special considerations for the visually impaired.
Advocate for yourself. This article offers tips from a young, visually impaired, frequent traveler who recommends being polite but firm when advocating for yourself. Don’t be afraid to say no when you’re offered assistance that you don’t need, such as a wheelchair.
Make use of mobile apps for the visually impaired. This resource lists several helpful apps, such as a currency reader, a GPS app with talking maps, and more. This article includes a list of accessible GPS devices, as well.
Follow these tips for a positive shopping experience. Many travelers enjoy shopping, but it can be a challenging experience for the visually impaired. This article offers helpful tips, such as how to remember which door you came in and locate it again when you’re ready to leave.
Find local organizations for the visually impaired. This resource includes a massive list of organizations for the visually impaired, including physical addresses, websites, and contact information, organized by state, alphabetically.
Like vision impairment, hearing impairment poses unique challenges to hearing-impaired travelers. Missing important flight or departure announcements in an airport is just one of many examples. The following resources and tips will help travelers with hearing impairment prepare for potential travel obstacles and get the most out of your trip.
Be aware of the potential challenges you face as a hearing impaired traveler. This article outlines the challenges faced by the hearing impaired, such as inability to hear or understand airline boarding and in-flight announcements, inability to hear a hotel room telephone ringing, someone knocking at the door, or smoke alarms, as well as some strategies for overcoming these challenges. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) also provides a summary of what to expect and what accommodations are available for hearing-impaired travelers.
Pack extra batteries and a spare hearing aid. If you wear hearing aids, always back extra batteries and a spare hearing aid, if you have one, in case of a malfunction.
Pack a mini dry aid container. If you’re traveling to a destination with high humidity, the moisture can cause issues with hearing aids. Likewise, even ski trips can lead to moisture issues. This resource offers helpful tips for what to pack to ensure you have adequate backup and the necessary tools to keep your hearing aids in working order during travel.
Call TSA Cares prior to your trip. Call the TSA Cares toll-free hotline before your trip with questions about screening policies, what to expect, and how to prepare for the screening process in advance to reduce last-minute hassles on the day of your trip.
Let the hotel manager know that you are hearing impaired. Hotels can provide accommodations, such as a light-up signal to alert you to a knock on the door, for hearing impaired guests.
Find out if there are FM listening systems or ampetronic loops at attractions and public venues at your destination. This article explains ampetronic loops, also known as audio-frequency induction loops, or AFILs, and how they are becoming more widely used to provide important audible signals for hearing-impaired persons. In the U.S., FM listening systems are more common, while you’ll find AFILs more common in the U.K. and throughout Europe.
Take clearly printed copies of reservations, dates, and prices. It’s also a good idea to take printed copies of travel itineraries and directions, as well as maps.
Equip yourself with accessible technology. This article offers a wealth of information on the technology devices and services available for hearing-impaired individuals, such as portable infrared systems that work with hotel televisions and radios, cellular phones compatible with hearing aids, and more.
Pack hearing aid equipment in waterproof bags and store it in your carry-on bags. This article offers helpful packing tips for hearing-impaired travelers, including the use of a waterproof bag to prevent damage to your hearing aids and packing these items in your carry-on bags in case your luggage is lost or delayed.
Make pre-printed copies of key phrases and requests to carry with you. This handy checklist provides several valuable tips for preparing for travel with hearing loss, including the use of pre-printed key phrases to help you communicate needs, such as, “"I speak American Sign Language (ASL) and need an ASL interpreter."
Be aware of how your equipment may be affected by security screening devices. This resource outlines the potential risks of passing through metal detectors with hearing aids and other devices, and how to navigate these challenges successfully.
Enlist the help of fellow passengers. This article provides a number of useful tips and suggestions for traveling by plane, car, and bus with hearing impairment, including enlisting the help of fellow passengers to alert you of certain stops and to insert pauses in their conversations when your eyes are on the road, if you’re driving. When traveling by air, sign up for text or email alerts to ensure you don’t miss critical announcements, such as gate changes and flight delays.
Remember that hearing impairment is an invisible disability. It’s not obvious to other travelers, airline crew, or staff at airports, hotels, or transit centers when an individual is deaf or hard-of-hearing. Don’t be afraid to make staff and fellow travelers aware of your hearing limitations so that they can better assist you.
Ask for what you need. Often, letting hotel staff know that you are hard of hearing does not clearly communicate your specific needs. Be clear about what services and accommodations would make your stay more comfortable and functional.
Set vibrating alerts on your phone for departure times. This article offers advice for traveling without incident with hearing impairment, including the use of vibrating alarms and alerts on your mobile device, as well as enlisting the help of fellow travelers to ensure you don’t miss a departure.
Continually check information boards at terminals and stations. Most public transportation services now visually display departure times and other pertinent information on television screens or large, visual display boards. You should also ask an attendant to notify you in person when departure time or boarding time arrives.
Carry a notepad and pen to communicate in noisy settings. When traveling, it’s not uncommon to encounter noisy restaurants, bus and air terminals, and other public places. This article suggests traveling with paper and pen to ensure you can communicate even with substantial background noise.
Many airlines and transportation services offer Telecommunication Device for the Deaf (TDD) service. This resource lists contact numbers for toll-free TDD service from the major transportation companies offering the service.
AARP provides a valuable resource for communicating with individuals with hearing loss. This resource is an excellent guide to provide to travel companions, family, and friends to make group and interpersonal communications better for everyone.
Your smartphone can help you communicate. Carry a smartphone with you when you travel, making it possible to text fellow travelers and access public resources.
Neurological impairments include disorders that affect the central nervous system, including brain and spinal cord, such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, Tourette’s syndrome, and other disorders. These travel tips and resources will help you prepare for traveling and successfully navigating the challenges individuals with neurological impairment face while traveling.
Get clearance from your doctor to travel. First and foremost, some neurological disorders make certain types of travel more dangerous. If you are prone to seizures, for instance, air travel can lower the seizure threshold in some individuals. It’s best to discuss your travel plans with your physician and find out if it’s safe to travel and what precautions you can take medically to avoid unwanted symptoms.
Provide your travel agent with ample information about your disability or your traveling companion’s disability. This resource offers a helpful checklist outlining the information you should convey to your travel agent so that they can ensure you have appropriate and accessible accommodations for an enjoyable trip.
Make a list of everything you need so you don’t forget essentials. Forgetting important items can lead to stress, worsening the symptoms of many neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease. This resource offers tips for planning ahead and packing efficiently so you’re prepared for anything that arises while you travel.
Request a handicapped-accessible room. If you’re staying in a hotel, ask for a handicapped-accessible room when you make reservations. These rooms include accommodations such as grab bars in the shower and bathroom and wide spaces for wheelchair navigation, making it easier for you to navigate your room if you have an unsteady gait or use mobility aids.
Talk with your doctor about obtaining an emergency steroid prescription in case of exacerbation. If you have a condition like Multiple Sclerosis (MS), many of the situations and stressors that arise during travel can lead to an exacerbation. This resource recommends talking with your doctor prior to your trip to inquire about taking a 12-week supply of oral prednisone in case you experience exacerbation. Regardless of your specific neurological impairment, it’s a good idea to discuss ways you can be prepared in the event of an emergency or exacerbation of symptoms while you’re traveling.
Add a rest day to your trip. Planning ahead is key for successful travel with neurological disorders, and incorporating a rest day into your travel plans can reduce stress and help you keep your medication schedule on-track.
Consider the best mode of travel for your circumstances. Some neurological disorders can lead to sudden onset of symptoms, such as fatigue, and some require medications which must be refrigerated. Plan ahead and consider the mode of transportation that’s most adaptable to your needs. In this article, the author describes how he and his wife decided to purchase an RV for traveling, allowing for easy access to rest, a personal kitchen to meet dietary requirements, and a refrigerator for keeping medications at the appropriate temperature.
Pack two sets of medications – one in your carry-on bags, and one in your checked luggage. This article recommends doubling up on your medications so that you’re not left without essential medication should some of your luggage get lost or delayed during travel. This resource also includes a useful travel checklist with tips such as wearing a Medic Alert bracelet or necklace, carrying registration cards to your equipment (such as a Vagus Nerve Stimulation or VNS device), and more.
Make sure your companion, if traveling with others, knows how to recognize seizures and other complications. This article offers a number of tips for traveling with neurological disorders such as epilepsy, including knowing how to recognize seizures and other symptoms and how to properly administer first aid and medications.
Know your rights. This resource summarizes key laws and regulations surrounding accessibility for disabled persons in public places, including travel and transportation.
Pack enough supplies for a few extra days. This article offers valuable tips based on the author’s experience traveling with his child who has CP, including packing enough supplies for a few extra days to account for unexpected changes in plans or delays.
Visit accessible parks and recreational opportunities. The National MS Society offers a resource listing accessible parks and nature trails throughout the U.S.
Use a motorized scooter or wheelchair for day outings. This article recommends not expending all your energy just getting from place to place. Using a mobility aid, such as a wheelchair or scooter, helps conserve your energy so you can enjoy the sights and sounds.
Pack medications for easy access. This resource offers several tips and suggestions for traveling with neurological disorders like MS, including packing medications in an easily accessible location, such as carry-on bags or day bags for day outings.
The US State Department Consular Information sheets and Travel Advisories provides information on the types of medical services and care available in locations throughout the world.
Keep helpful resources on-hand during your trip. Websites such as DisabledTravelers.com offer a multitude of resources and links to organizations’ websites, allowing you to quickly locate and contact local and national organizations and resources for disabled travelers.
Find accessible places to go and things to do. This resource offers reviews of places, accommodations, and activities in terms of how accessible and accommodating they are for disabled travelers.
Carry a wet/dry bag. This article, in addition to many other tips and resources for traveling with a disability, suggests carrying a wet/dry bag so you have a convenient location to store wet items without soiling dry clothing and other supplies.
Wear two watches with your current time zone and time at home to stay on-track with medication dosage. This resource from the National Parkinson Foundation provides a helpful checklist for traveling with Parkinson’s disease and similar neurological disorders, including staying on the same time intervals for medication dosage with the aid of two watches or time pieces.
Don’t rush yourself. This article recommends pacing yourself and realistically planning activities and events based on how much energy you’ll have and how much time it will take to prepare for the day and get from place to place. Trying to see and do everything can wear you out, making the rest of your trip less enjoyable.
Take time to rest and stretch. One of the challenges associated with traveling for individuals with neurological disorders is the tendency of muscles to tighten from inactivity. This resource offers a number of tips for avoiding these symptoms, including asking for an aisle seat on planes or buses and taking breaks to stretch and rest if traveling by car.
Traveling with a disability isn’t impossible; in fact, many disabled individuals travel frequently, some even travel the world. It’s possible to have a stress-free and enjoyable trip with a little preparation and the confidence to know that you’re prepared for any hiccups you may encounter.