Traveling With a Disability
Everyone deserves the chance to see the world and experience other cultures, including individuals who are living with physical or mental disabilities. While being disabled comes with its added challenges, it doesn’t have to mean resigning yourself to the life of a day-tripper.
Although some countries are more accessible and disability-friendly than others, with enough planning, preparation and positivity, disabled individuals are free to travel nearly anywhere and have any worldly experience they wish. Here are some tips for planning your next vacation as or with a person with a disability.
Consider using a tour company
Many people prefer to travel on their own to avoid being tied to a schedule or bogged down by other travelers who may have different goals than you. It’s perfectly understandable to want to travel solo, but if you’re concerned about having your individual needs met abroad or you’re overwhelmed by the planning and research stages, consider going with a tour group that specializes in travel for people with disabilities. There are numerous agencies and groups that provide services for any and all types of disabilities. Mind’s Eye Travel is a company that specializes in cruises for the visually impaired, offering trips to anywhere from the British Isles to Alaska. New Directions is a non-profit organization that organizes trips for people with brain impairments such as cerebral palsy, Downs Syndrome and autism. For those with difficulty walking, Flying Wheels Travel offers group and individual adventures to a number of destinations around the world.
If you prefer traveling without a group but still want help in planning your vacation, consider booking through a travel agent. You may even be able to find one with experience in booking travel for people with your specific disability.
Plan ahead and do your research
If you do decide to plan your own trip, depending on its length and complexity, it’s a good idea to begin planning several months or even a year in advance. As fun as it is to be spontaneous, the less time you leave to plan out the details of your trip, the more snags you’re likely to run into.
Make a list of the top places or things you’d like to see. Have you always dreamed of seeing the Great Wall of China or would you rather visit the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey? Research your desired destinations and cross reference them with your capabilities. The Great Wall of China recently became wheelchair accessible after the Beijing Olympics in 2008, but Istanbul with its cobblestone streets and sharp inclines is notoriously difficult to navigate if you use a cane, walker or wheelchair.
Make a list of the equipment that you require in your daily life and determine what can be taken with you and what, if anything can be acquired at your destination. Some items such as medicine or assistive devices might be difficult to find in non-westernized cities. Once you have a destination in mind, research what sort of facilities or accommodations are available to you there. How accessible is the public transportation? Is it easy to find wheelchair-friendly cabs or vans there? Do they have a good support system in place for local people who share your disability?
There are plenty of resources written about disabled travel by disabled adventurers who can provide a firsthand account of their own experiences with barrier-free holidays. Nancy Berger of Disabled Travelers Guide is a stroke survivor, a wheelchair user and an avid explorer who hasn’t let her condition stop her from seeing the world. Nancy recounts her trip to Uganda to see the “Gorillas in the Mist” firsthand, saying she began planning her trip over a year in advance. Amazingly and without her knowledge, her future hosts also began to prepare for her visit by constructing a special sedan chair and by cutting a path into the forest to allow her access. Although you can’t assume that everyone will be so accommodating, planning in advance will give your future hosts the chance to update their facilities if it is necessary and if they are willing.
Ask a lot of questions, give a lot of information
It’s best to never assume anything and to ask as many questions as possible, especially when it comes to your accommodations. Does the facility have ramps or lifts at the entrance? Do they offer rooms on the main floor? Are their washrooms built with accessibility in mind?
You should also give as much information about your disability as necessary and let your hosts know what you can and cannot do. Can you walk up a single flight of stairs? Can you climb into a bathtub on your own? The more your hosts know about your specific needs, the more details they can give and the better prepared you’ll be for your trip. Before you arrival, be sure to confirm all the booking details with your hosts.