Tips and Advice for Travelers with Disabilities

If you’re a mature traveler or senior who is a slow walker, travel with a disability, mobility limitation, or use an electric wheelchair or handicap scooter, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can to make disabled travel easier. Becoming more informed about disabled travel services and disability travel resources, will lessen the anxiety that often accompanies disabled travelers.

The following Tips and Advice for Travelers with Disabilities will help make trips, tours, holidays and vacations a lot easier.

  • Plan your trip well in advance – order extra supplements, medications or renew prescriptions, have your wheelchair fixed or tuned up.
  • Use specialized travel agents If possible – booking your travel through an agency that specializes in helping people with disabilities can save you some headaches and anxiety. They can offer plenty of tips and a wide range of services for the handicapped traveler. Among other things, they can arrange for a: wheelchair at the airport, wheelchair accessible hotel room, wheelchair rental, lift-equipped accessible van, or any other handicap vehicle.
  • Describe the trip to your doctor – In some cases, your doctor may question the advisability of travel. If your doctor tells you to enjoy your trip, your doctor can often prescribe measures for coping with an unusually long flight, limited medical facilities at your destination, the unavailability of prescription drugs and other pitfalls of traveling.
  • Take a doctor’s note and phone number – Travel with a statement from your doctor, preferably on letterhead, covering your condition, medications, potential complications, special needs and other pertinent information. Be sure you have a number where your doctor (or another medical professional) can be reached in an emergency.
  • Bring extra medication – it is advised that you travel with two complete packages of essential medication in case of emergency. Keep all your medications and other necessary medical supplies in your carry-on bag. Carry medical alert information, preferably in a place that a medical professional or anyone who assists you will find easily (wallet card, necklace, close to your identification).
  • Make rental arrangements for accessible equipment before you leave – If you plan to rent a handicap scooter, wheelchair, electric wheelchair, or handicap van in another city, don’t wait until you get there. Make sure you ask any specifics like, are there tie-downs, ramps, or hoists, etc. Check on what insurance you will need before you go.
  • If you need oxygen – or any other special medical equipment, call airlines and suppliers well in advance of your trip. Start calling them as soon as you know you are going to be traveling or taking a trip. Then double-check with your travel agent and the airline at least three to four days before your flight.
  • Avoid connecting flights if possible – Although wheelchairs are the last items to be checked into the luggage compartments, and thus first to be pulled off, flying direct can save you unnecessary time and hassle. However, if you have trouble maneuvering into airplane lavatories, long flights may become uncomfortable so shorter flights will be a better option. If you do choose to connect, be sure to allow plenty of time between flights (at least 90 minutes, or two hours if you need to go through customs or security) to get from one gate to the next.
  • Arrive early at the airport – It’s better to wait around there than miss your plane. Allow plenty of time before your flight to check in, get through security and transfer to your gate. Arrive at least two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight, more if you’re traveling at a peak time.
  • Check in with your flight attendant – tell the flight attendants when you board, of any medical problem you might encounter on your flight, and before your plane lands, plan for exit. Don’t forget about transportation to and from the airport. If you have a wheelchair, make arrangements in advance to have an accessible vehicle pick you up in your destination city.
  • Make sure to take with you – Any medical cards, Medicare cards, discount cards, car or auto rental discount cards, auto insurance policy numbers and agent’s phone number, passport, airline tickets, etickets, debit cards, credit cards, and driver’s license. Keep photocopies in your luggage and at home by the telephone or someplace where someone has access to it in case you need it.
  • Bring spare parts and tools – Wheelchairs can take tremendous abuse while traveling; assemble a small kit of spare parts and tools for emergency repairs. You may also be required to dismantle a wheelchair for certain flights or activities; make sure you and your traveling companions know how to do this.

Specific problems often encountered by the disabled tourist when trying to book a vacation, scenic tours, and accommodation can include:

  • Lack of well-adapted hotel rooms
  • Lack of accessible airport transfer
  • Lack of wheelchair accessible vehicles
  • Lack of accessible restaurants, bars, etc.
  • Lack of adapted toilets in restaurants and public places
  • Inaccessible streets (cars parking on the sidewalk, etc.)
  • Lack of professional staff capable of informing and advising about accessibility issues
  • Lack of disability equipment (wheelchairs, bath chairs, toilet raisers, electric scooters)
  • Lack of reliable information about a specific attraction’s level of accessibility (church, castle, exhibition, etc.)

Disability Travel Tips

  • Bicycle shops are great places for wheelchair replacement parts.
  • Learn foreign vocabulary that can help you describe your situation and needs.
  • Consider getting travel insurance. Make sure that it covers pre-existing conditions.
  • Bring plenty, even extra, of any medications that you take. Make sure that all medicines are allowed in the country you’re visiting.
  • Look for disability organizations or resources at your destination that can provide you with area-specific information as well as local contacts.
  • If you use an electric wheelchair, look into whether you’ll need a plug adapter and a voltage converter. Or see whether you can rent a battery charger abroad. Have a contingency plan in the event of power outages or voltage drops.
  • Have a backup plan, including your accommodation. In case your reserved accessible room isn’t available, bring along items such as a portable ramp, a shower chair and a tool to grab items that may be beyond arm’s length.
  • Know your rights. This is particularly important for airline travel, at the airport and on the plane. Familiarize yourself with applicable laws and airline regulations. Inform the airline of your situation and make assistance requests in advance.

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