Traveling away from home was, for many years, seen as among the most difficult obstacles for individuals with disabilities. And yet, for so many it could be a critical hurdle to staying connected with family, for job opportunities and for some of the greatest pleasures they had known.
Fortunately, the travel industry, especially in the US, has embraced ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and ADA-like guidelines (albeit grudgingly, in some cases) to make disability travel smoother each year. There are quite a few sites and agencies now catering to travelers with disabilities in the US and internationally.
If planning is key to seamless travel for anyone, it is 10 times more true for those of us with disabilities. But by using good information sources, by asking a lot of questions, by confirming and reconfirming every reservation and expecting that there may be some, hopefully minor, glitches, wonderful trips are very possible.
One “disclaimer” – Our personal experiences are largely in the US. While we have read a number of blogs speaking about international disability travel, we can’t directly endorse any of them yet.
Trains in the US generally rely on older infrastructure, so handicapped access feels a little “jury- rigged”. But despite this, it seems the systems still work acceptably. Older stations have stairs to train platforms, but conductors and “red-caps” will guide travelers to elevators as needed. Trains have designated seating for disabled passengers.
Most cruise lines (except for side-trips and “River Cruises”) also have handicapped accessible accommodations. Many disabled travelers like the predictability of cruise ships. As with any travel, it is critical to confirm what is needed and check how it matches what they provide!
Hotels Newer locations of the major chains are typically very good (For example: Courtyard by Marriott, Hampton Inn by Hilton ). But older and secondary brands can have significant problems (For example: older Best Westerns, Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham). Independent properties can be a little less consistent. Some are excellent while others – not so much. We haven’t found a fool-proof way to ensure, in advance, that the room we’ve booked will always meet our requirements. But checking and re-checking helps. In addition, we have found that spending more money and booking directly with the property helps. Here in the US, we have found that mentioning ADA compliance often improves hotels’ interest in satisfying our needs. A side tid-bit of information: If a hotel offers “Free airport shuttle” service, they must also provide that to wheelchair users. If their own vans are not accessible, they must contract, at their own expense, outside wheelchair van service.
Rental vehicles Predictably, the major rental car agencies do not have wheelchair accessible vehicles. And, wheelchair van rental companies are often small, independent operators that are unique by city. Renting a wheelchair van is typically twice as expensive as any other vehicle rental. There is no substitute for doing research on the internet, calling everyone for quotes and then re-confirming several times.