According to a study this year by the Pew Research Center, 95% of Americans own a cell phone and 77% own a full-featured smartphone. When the iPhone was introduced in 2007, it changed the game by putting the power of the web in our pockets. Today, smartphones are filled with features and mobile applications that allow us to take photos, play music, locate restaurants, book flights and communicate on social media.
The smartphone has changed the way I travel and, apart from my power wheelchair, it is the most important item in my accessible travel toolbox. In this article, I’d like to highlight 15 apps that are making travel easier and more accessible to people with disabilities. In the comments below, be sure to let me know which apps you use in the course of your own travels!
Flush Toilet Finder
When you’re traveling to an unfamiliar place and need to use the bathroom, where do you go? Rather than awkwardly asking strangers where to find the nearest accessible toilet (as if they will know!), simply boot up your smartphone and use the Flush Toilet Finder app.
Flush is just one among a sea of toilet finding apps, but what sets it apart is its large database of more than 100,000 locations. Many of these are listed as accessible. The free app is available from the Apple iOS App Store (click here) and Google Play (click here).
About once a week, a developer contacts me asking for support to build a map of all the accessible places in the world. There is a lot of interest in putting accessibility information on the web, but few of these projects ever get off the ground.
Of those that do, most are limited in scope to an area surrounding the developer’s hometown. Access information has to be accurate and verified. To map the world, the information must be crowd-sourced from people with disabilities.
Wheelmap is the app in this space that I consider to be the most developed, and it is especially useful for European. I believe there could be many improvements made to the app’s usability, design and the type of information that is collected, but the app is evolving.
Be My Eyes
Be My Eyes is a truly revolutionary app designed for the blind. The app pairs visually impaired users with a sighted volunteer who will relay a description of the image seen through the user’s smartphone camera.
At a conference in August, I watched a demonstration of this app and was amazed. The service is provided free of charge, and the volunteer assistance allows those with limited vision to navigate unfamiliar places and gain a new perspective on their surroundings.
Do you have trouble hearing when making a telephone call? RogerVoice is an app available on iOS and Android smartphones that captions your phone calls in real-time.
The app is free to use and transforms mobile voice calls into a much more accessible text format. The app’s speech recognition software is advanced and can dictate calls in multiple languages. With RogerVoice, deaf and hard of hearing people can once again make use of the telephone!
For more information or to download the app, visit www.rogervoice.com.
When traveling abroad, mobile roaming charges skyrocket. Before you know it, you could rack up charges in the hundreds of dollars. Skype is a great way to cut down on costs while still maintaining the freedom to call when and where you want.
With just a wi-fi connection, the Skype app for iPhone (click here) and Android (click here) allows you to unlock calling to anywhere in the world. Pay as you go, or sign up for a low-cost monthly plan. If your friends use Skype, calling another Skype user is free, no matter where you are. The Skype app also makes video calling possible between iPhone, Android and Windows phone users.
During my trip to Beijing last month, an elevator I needed to use to reach the metro was closed off behind a locked gate. I attempted to find someone to help deliver a message to the station staff (who were underground), but no one spoke English!
After about 5 minutes, I gave up on the hunt for an English speaker, opting to use the Google Translate app on my iPhone. I used the app to translate a message into Chinese and began showing it to people as they entered the metro station.
The message read, “Please ask the staff to open the elevator for my wheelchair.” Not long thereafter, a station attendant came up with the key to the elevator. I was saved, thanks to Google Translate and the good will of a stranger!
The app has a lot of great features, including the ability to translate written text in real time. Just point the phone’s camera at the foreign language text you do not understand, and the app will present an English translation. It’s great!
TravelSmart App by Allianz Insurance
The majority of health insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, do not cover travelers who leave the country. For this reason, I strongly recommend that you buy travel and emergency insurance before taking a trip. The provider I recommend is Allianz Global Assistance, as they provide coverage for travelers with pre-existing conditions.
Their mobile app, TravelSmart, allows subscribers to manage their coverage and file claims. It also has a database of information about healthcare providers and hospitals all around the world and provides local emergency contact numbers for police, fire and ambulance. The app is free to use, and does not require that you have an insurance policy.
If you are a policyholder, TravelSmart contains information and resources for managing and using plan benefits. In addition to emergency medical care, Allianz travel insurance also covers lost or damaged luggage, trip delays, missed connections, airline change fees and trip cancellation.
When we take a vacation, we hope to immerse ourselves in the local culture and be consumed by new experiences. With so many distractions, it’s easy to forget to take your medication.
The Medicine Reminders “Pill Reminder” app by MediSafe is the most full-featured medication tracker, reminder and alert app available today. All of the app’s most important features are free, including unlimited schedule reminders, tracking and refill reminders. The app is also a great resource for carers, travel companions and family members who will assist you with managing your care.
The single greatest feature of a smartphone, hands down, is the ability to access maps for directions and local information. Google Maps is my preferred application for that, even though I use an iPhone (which comes with Apple Maps).
Whether you are walking, riding the city bus, using the subway or taking a long-distance train, Google Maps connects you with the information you need. Public transit schedules and stop locations are loaded into the app, and the information is almost always up to date. Information for local businesses, including business hours, addresses and telephone numbers, is easy to locate within the app.
I use Google Maps every day, and I think it is a resource every traveler should have regardless of their physical abilities. Google is working hard to include more accessibility information in Google Maps, with elevation data now included for many cities around the world. In my opinion, Google Maps is more useful to people with disabilities than any other group, and I look forward to seeing more accessibility features rolled out in future updates.
Taking a cross-country road trip? If so, the Roadtrippers app for iPhone (click here) and Android (click here) is one that you must have on your phone. The app takes the hassle out of planning a road trip and keeps you on track during the journey.
A large database of points of interest, attractions, restaurants, hotels and more allows travelers to consider every option. While the app doesn’t report on the wheelchair accessibility of these places, other apps and websites can be used to supplement this one. When visiting a new city, I always check the Roadtrippers app to learn about little-known places that might be worth visiting. In most cases, the best restaurants, museums and activities aren’t the ones that get a lot of attention. After picking out some things to do, I use Google search to find out if my choices are accessible.
After making your final selections, the builds an itinerary that can be easily changed and modified. Completed itineraries can be shared with friends and travel companions.
Public Transit Apps (City Bus, Metro, Trains)
Public transit is not as accessible as it should be in many cities, but there has been progress. Figuring out how to ride public transit, where to buy tickets and which stations/stops are accessible is challenging. This is why a detailed section on public transport accessibility is included in each of my accessible destination guides.
In the past few years, many cities and public transit systems have released mobile applications that allow riders to check schedules and routes, buy tickets and locate stations/elevators.
I’ve picked out seven public transit apps to share with you. I have used each of them recently and each has a different suite of features. From left to right, starting with the first row of app icons pictured above:
- Metro Transit (Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN) — App includes a trip planner, next bus/light rail/train schedule, and the ability to purchase, store and use mobile tickets. Available on the iOS App Store (click here) and Google Play (click here).
- LYNX PawPass (Orlando, FL) — App includes a ticketing feature that allows you to purchase single ride, all-day, weekly and monthly passes. Supports standard, senior/disability and youth fares. Available on the iOS App Store (click here) and Google Play (click here).
- MBTA mTicket (Boston, MA) — Includes Commuter Rail schedules, maps and service alerts. Allows riders to purchase single, round trip, ten-ride or monthly mobile tickets. Available on the iOS App Store (click here) and Google Play (click here).
- GoPass (Dallas, TX) — App includes a real-time trip planner with GPS navigation, ability to save routes, and mobile ticketing for bus and light rail service with DART, Trinity Metro and DCTA. Available on the iOS App Store (click here) and Google Play (click here).
- Transit GO Ticket (Seattle, WA) — Purchase mobile tickets for King County Metro Buses, Sound Transit Light Rail, King County Water Taxi and Seattle Streetcar. Available on the iOS App Store (click here), Google Play (click here) and Microsoft Store (click here).
- Tube Map (London, England) by Mapway — A free third-party app with information on each London Underground station and line, including train schedules and station accessibility information. This app is the only way I can find my way through the city’s metro system. Available on the iOS App Store (click here) and Google Play (click here). Check out the developer’s website with links to apps for other cities.
- Token Transit (Multiple Cities) — Use the same app to buy mobile public transport tickets in nearly 50 cities! TokenTransit has been contracted by transit agencies like Long Beach Transit in Long Beach, CA, StarMetro in Tallahassee, FL and Rock Region Metro in Little Rock, AR. Available on the iOS App Store (click here) and Google Play (click here).
There are hundreds of public transit apps for cities all around the world and I encourage you to browse the App Store for one that will serve you on your upcoming trips.
Taxi Apps for WAVs
While not all wheelchair taxi apps allow booking wheelchair accessible vehicles, many do. When an app will accommodate wheelchair taxis, it is much more convenient than calling the dispatcher.
The wheelchair accessible UberWAV and Lyft Access services are available in a select group of cities in the United States and abroad. I have ridden with UberWAV and Lyft in a number of cities, including Boston, Houston, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
zTrip provides wheelchair taxis through the app in many cities around the country. The Curb app is currently only available for wheelchair taxi bookings in New York City.
If you’d like to take these apps for a spin, consider using my sign-up/offer codes, and we’ll each score a credit towards our next ride. Here is a list of promo codes I have to share:
- Uber — Sign-up with promo code johnm82489ue and you’ll get your first ride free (maximum value amount varies by location).
- Lyft — Get $5 in free ride credit when you use promo code JOHN96055.
- Curb — Use promo code F09J51 and get $5 towards your first ride.
There are apps beyond those that I have listed here, and it is always a good idea to see if booking wheelchair transportation via a mobile app is possible in the city you are visiting.
These days, nearly every airline has a mobile app available. Many airline apps allow travelers to book flights, monitor flight delays, check-in for a flight and collect mobile boarding passes.
Some airlines even make it possible to request wheelchair and disability assistance through the app. I have more than 25 airline apps on my phone, and use them frequently. Having the information about my journey at my fingertips is extremely useful. I don’t have to interact with anyone to print my boarding pass, check my gate or find out if my flight will be on time. Some apps can even let me track my bags, ensuring that they made my flight.
Before your next trip, be sure to check your App Store and download your airline’s mobile app. They are free to use, and will make travel easier.
Like airlines, hotels are in the app business too. While I still prefer booking rooms via the hotel website, the hotel mobile apps let me research prices quickly and easily.
Some hotels are adding an exciting new feature to their apps – the mobile key. With a mobile key, you can open your hotel room door with a tap of your smartphone, rather than by inserting a key card into the slot. This makes travel easier and more accessible for people with disabilities, and I can’t wait until it is the norm.
My favorite feature is the ability to manage my hotel reservations on the go. The app contains a lot of useful information about my booking and about the hotel I am staying at. The hotel’s phone number and address is easy to locate, and this is especially great when my taxi driver asks for the address off where I’m going.
Nearly all hotel chains have a smartphone app and they are free to download and use. Download the app before your next trip and check out all the benefits it provides.
Food Delivery Apps
Although Uber’s transportation service is still not accessible in most places, UberEATS has been accessible from the start.
If you’ve had a long day exploring a new city or meeting with clients, you may opt for a room service dinner. But hotel menus are bland and run-of-the-mill. Now, a number of mobile apps are making delivery possible from all of the best restaurants.
UberEATS is the largest, but I have also used Seamless, GrubHub, DoorDash and Postmates. Whether you want top-quality Italian food, frozen yogurt or just a BigMac from McDonald’s, these apps make delivery to your door or hotel room an option.
If you’d like to give it a try, consider using my referral code/link and we’ll each score a credit towards our next food order. Here is a list of promo codes I have to share:
- UberEATS — Sign-up with promo code eats-johnm82489ue and you’ll get $5 off your first delivery.
- DoorDash — Get $7 off your first order by clicking here.
- GrubHub — Contact me for $10 off your first order (the referral must be e-mailed to you).
- Postmates — Sign-up with referral code X8ZGV and get $100 in delivery fee credits!
- Seamless — Contact me for $10 off your first order (the referral must be e-mailed to you).
Bonus: WheelchairTravel.org Shortcut
I don’t have an app for WheelchairTravel.org because they are really costly to create. But the website is optimized for mobile phones and I’d love for you to add a website link to your home screen. To learn how to do this on your iPhone, click here. To learn how to do this on your Android phone, click here. As always, thank you for reading!
Which apps do you use when you travel?
What is my list of top apps for disabled travelers missing?
Let me know in the comments below!