Traveling across your country and the globe is a wonderful experience, and there is no reason why your disability has to keep you or your family at home. The U.S. Department of Transportation states that it is "illegal for airlines to discriminate against passengers because of their disability," and most Western countries have similar legislation.
But there is no denying that every disabled person faces slightly different challenges relating to their circumstances, and the law does not reflect the reality that people and airlines will continue to make things difficult for the disabled whether out of ignorance or apathy.
But while every disabled person's needs are slightly different, there are certain tips to prepare and things to carry. Here are some useful tips to have a productive, fulfilling trip you can enjoy like everyone else.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
If you show up at an airport, hotel, or any service provider in a wheelchair and ask them to accommodate you right then and there, you are going to have a miserable experience. While service providers are obligated to take your needs into account, they will do the best job if they have a day or two in advance to prepare. This means you should contact them in advance.
Make sure to be clear and specific when describing your disability, instead of assuming that the service provider understands what certain medical terms mean or what they should do. Airlines and hotels will sometime send a designated person who can help escort you to wherever you need to go.
In addition to letting service providers know, you should also consult your doctor before taking a trip.
Sometimes, you may need a doctor's note to convince some obstinate worker that you really do require special accommodations. A doctor can also provide special medication to help you cope with long travel, and offer professional advice on how to enjoy your trip. Sometimes, they may caution against taking a trip and you should listen to their advice.
Consider a Travel Agent
Yes, travel agents still exist. In fact, there are specialized travel agents who specialize in arranging tours and accommodations for the disabled.
Using a travel agent makes more sense if you are newly disabled or have little experience with traveling abroad, as there are plenty of details when traveling that you may not consider which they are trained to handle. I would also strongly recommend one if you plan to travel to a country where disability accommodations may be more limited, such as Central America or an African savannah.
Don't worry about paying extra. Many travel agencies earn money not by charging you more, but by booking you with hotels and restaurants who want more business. And even if you do have to pay, it can be worth it to know that someone else is taking care of these difficult challenges.
Know What to Bring
If you use mobility equipment to get around, there can be challenges bringing them around on a plane or traveling in general. Airlines are notorious for destroying wheelchairs on flights, and legislation went into effect last December which mandate airlines to report how many wheelchairs have been damaged or lost.
So what are some things you should bring besides a portable wheelchair? A few things which can help include:
- Spare parts and tools which you can use to make small repairs.
- A portable ramp so that you can access buildings which may not be wheelchair accessible otherwise.
- A small portable battery charger if you use a power wheelchair.
If you use a trained service animal, you must realize that there will be additional challenges. Unfortunately, the public today is more hostile to such animals thanks to nondisabled individuals falsely claiming that their animal is a service or emotional support animal.
If you are traveling with a service dog on a plane, you may be questioned about whether it is a true service dog. While a verbal assurance or a vest will generally be enough, you should carry medical documentation such as a letter from your doctor which states that you need the animal. You should also have a copy of the Air Carrier Access Act on service animals on your person or downloaded on your phone to remind providers that they are legally obligated to accommodate your animal.
In addition, you must consider how your animal will react to flying, especially if they have never done so before. Consider bringing a chew toy, treats, and a poop bag to both ensure your dog is less stressed and that you are ready to handle things if they have an accident.
A Great Vacation
Traveling while disabled is not always easy, and sometimes airlines and other venues will not do enough to accommodate your needs. But that does not mean traveling is impossible nor enjoyable. You may have to prepare more than the average traveler and discuss matters with your doctor, but nondisabled passengers should frankly be doing similar things before they travel anyways.
Times are better for the disabled than ever before, and real progress is being made so that we can live fruitful and enjoyable lives. So get your wheelchair ready and your service animal at your side, because there is a whole world to explore.