The experiences that I write about on this blog are shaped by my own abilities and limitations — a perspective that is unique to me. While I try to anticipate the needs of all of my readers, I realize that it can’t be done perfectly. To expand the perspective of this website, I routinely feature the experiences of my readers in the form of guest posts (share your story!).
In an effort to create an article that is useful to ALL of us, I reached out a handful of other disability advocates and wheelchair travel bloggers. They kindly provided the accessible travel tips below — each one coming from a different perspective.
1. Study your equal access rights.
People with disabilities have a right to equal access, and this tip from Melanie of Little Miss Turtle is critically important — it’s one of the things I frequently encourage readers to do.
In my experience, knowing your rights as a wheelchair user often comes very handy when it comes to air travel. Depending on where you travel to, you should make yourself familiar with the U.S. Air Carrier Access Act as well as the European rights for travelers with reduced mobility. I always have PDF versions in my phone just in case. At the check-in counter, you should insist on staying in your own wheelchair until the airplane door. Also, make sure to let the cabin crew purser know shortly before landing that you need your wheelchair delivered to the aircraft upon arrival. Most of the time, this technique helps to ensure your wheelchair’s return once the mobility service gets you off the plane. Throughout all my years of traveling, it has been useful to know my rights as a person with a disability. This can contribute to making your accessible travel experience a great one.
Equal access to air travel is a civil right, and it’s one that I hold especially dear. Familiarizing yourself with these rights will give you the confidence to advocate for yourself when or if things go wrong.
2. Take a leap of faith.
This tip, shared by Cory of Curb Free With Cory Lee, is the first step in becoming not just a wheelchair user, but a wheelchair traveler. We have to take a leap of faith and decide to seize the world:
Many wheelchair users that I’ve talked to in the past are scared to travel because they think that something will go wrong; their chair will be damaged by the airline, the transportation won’t be fully accessible, or the hotel won’t be as accessible as they hoped. My tip is to take the risk and go for it anyway! I know that things can go wrong, and they frequently do for me, but I know that everything will work out in the end and it will be worth the hassle. If the airline damages your chair, they’ll fix it. If one mode of transportation isn’t accessible, another one probably is. If the hotel accidentally books you in a non-accessible room, make them change it or move you to a different hotel at their cost. So, break out of your comfort zone and start rolling around the world!
It is normal to be anxious about taking your first trip in a wheelchair, but overcoming your fears will pay off — you’ll get to see the sights of the world, meet great people and work to fulfill your bucket list.
3. Planning ahead reduces the chance of surprises.
In college and before my car accident, I used to jet off on a whim, at the drop of a hat. Traveling isn’t that simple anymore, and proper planning helps to prevent the big surprises that could derail my vacation. Emma Muldoon of Simply Emma provided the following tips for proper planning:
When travelling with a disability it is so important to plan ahead. If possible, try book your trip a few months in advance so you have lots of time to research accessibility in and around the city. Travelling can be stressful for anyone whether you have a disability or not, but I believe the more organised and prepared you are for your trip, the less stressful it will be because you’ll know what to expect. Having a plan B ready to be put into action if need be.
Book flights over the phone rather than online as it’s much easier to explain what assistance you require when speaking to an agent.
Turn your dream destinations into a reality. Don’t be discouraged by the extra research and planning that’s involved when travelling with a disability because it will be completely worth it once you arrive at your destination.
The importance of planning cannot be overstated. The best information on wheelchair accessibility comes from the people who have done it before you. Read the information on my website, the websites of the contributors in this article, and from the resources you find on Google.
4. Travel in your own unique, individual way.
This tip comes from Kirsten of curiousKester. She lives in Denmark and has visited more than 70 countries in her wheelchair. The tip she sent me is just a sentence, but it is important:
BE CREATIVE – we are all different people, with or without a disability. So you have to think individuality.
Traveling should be tailored specifically to our interests and abilities. If you’d like to read more about Kirsten’s take on that, she’s written an excellent blog post on being curious and traveling in a wheelchair. It is definitely worth your time.
5. Ask LOTS of questions about hotel accessibility.
Our understanding of what qualifies as “wheelchair accessible” isn’t always shared by the able-bodied. Many hotel reservations staff do not understand that a roll-in shower is not the same as a walk-in shower! Jeri Murphy of the Anything Is Possible Travel blog knows this all too well, and shares the following:
If you want to know the specifics about the accessibility of a shower (i.e., is there a lip on the floor of the shower; can the shower controls be reached while sitting on the shower bench, etc.) ask housekeeping. Since they clean the room, they will likely be more familiar with the accessibility.
Also know the width of your wheelchair – from wheel to wheel – and make sure the bathroom entrance is wide enough for the chair to get through. Sometimes the door needs to be removed (by maintenance) in order for the chair to fit into the bathroom.
I would also add – be sure to ask if a shower chair is available! Many hotels do not provide shower chairs, and figuring out how to find one once you arrive is a headache you won’t want to deal with.
6. Learn how to use public transportation before you travel.
Public transportation is personally my saving grace. In many cities, wheelchair accessible taxis are often unreliable or completely unavailable. Jay from Jay on Life pointed to the value of public transportation in her top travel tip:
Taking taxis or renting out vehicles can become very expensive. Find out what the public transportation situation is like before you travel. Are you able to get around the city easily? Can you use ALL modes of transportation? Not just buses, as those can take forever, and you may not have that much time in a certain place.
For the reasons Jay mentioned, I have included detailed reviews of public transportation in each of the wheelchair accessible travel guides on this website. For more than 30 cities around the world, the work has already been done for you!
7. Anticipate your mobility equipment needs.
Jeanne Allen of incredibleACCESSIBLE is one of the most well-respected figures in the disability travel blogging world, and she highlights the importance of equipping yourself with the tools you’ll need for an incredible, accessible trip:
Come prepared with the right mobility equipment! At home you may use a cane, but when you travel a walker might make more sense. Or perhaps you need to upgrade your walker to a scooter or wheelchair. When you’re sightseeing it’s going to be a whole lot more fun if you can keep up with your travel companions and you don’t wear yourself out trying to. So many people with mobility challenges are reluctant to be seen using a cane, a walker, a scooter, a wheelchair when they’re not accustomed to it. Traveling is a great time to try out new mobility equipment among strangers and get started on your mental adjustment.
Mobility is the most important piece of the travel puzzle. Don’t miss out on great experiences – assistive devices can make travel more comfortable, improving your confidence and boosting your ability to experience all your destination has to offer!
8. Adapt: Be flexible and stay positive!
Rob and Bridget of The Bimblers are my go-to source for U.K. accessible tour information, and they’ve provided a critically important tip about adapting to the challenges of travel:
There are many practical tips we can offer. But, for us, the most important tips are, expect the unexpected, be flexible and stay positive.
When you travel with a disability, things go wrong, they just do. Worse still, problems will be amplified because you are away from home and out of your comfort zone. When these things inevitably happen, don’t let them ruin your trip. Stay positive and know there are very few things that can’t be fixed, even on the road.
Don’t waste your precious energy on anger or frustration, use that energy to find solutions. Be flexible and adapt to your situation. Don’t be afraid or too proud to ask for help, and remember, problems are simply roadblocks, take a detour and don’t let them be the end of the road.
My travels in a wheelchair have allowed me to recognize, with greater certainty, that people are beautiful. There will always be someone there to help catch you if you fall. That time my power wheelchair’s battery died in Beijing, and a total stranger pushed me back to my hotel is a perfect example.
I am extremely grateful to all of the travel bloggers who submitted these excellent tips for planning and managing and accessible trip or vacation. The world is a big, beautiful place, and there is so much to explore. It is my hope that with these tips, and the information found on this website, you’ll be encouraged to follow your dreams and #OpenYourWorld.
Featured image courtesy Jeanne Allen/Incredible Accessible.