Travel & Adventure

Travel & AdventureExploring new horizons is among the most basic of human instincts. People who use wheelchairs and other mobility equipment are no exception, but less-than-accessible environments can make travel tougher than it should be.

Doing homework up front can go a long way toward avoiding bumps down the road. Even seasoned travelers can run into problems when visiting new venues or dealing with new hotels.

First-Time Travelers: Study up on the mode of transportation you’ll be using for your trip, and be informed about your rights as a traveler.

Getting Airborne: The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), aka, the security screeners at airports, says a wheelchair user doesn’t have to stand up or transfer from the wheelchair; the screening can be conducted while you sit in your chair. The TSA’s Web site also gives advice and states policies for other mobility-related topics, such as what happens if you’re unable to remove your shoes during an airport screening (other types of screenings, including a pat-down or use of imaging technology, can be used instead), or if you’re accompanied by a service animal (you shouldn’t be separated, and you can go through the metal detector together). Go to tsa.gov/traveler-information/travelers-disabilitiesand-medical-conditions for more detailed information, as well as to download and print a “Notification Card” that you can fill out and hand to a TSA agent if you’d like your medical information to remain more private.

Once you get through your security screening, a whole new set of challenges awaits you on the airplane. Go to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Web site (faa.gov/about/initiatives/cabin_safety/disabilities/) for information on what you should know before boarding. For example, does the airplane have an accessible bathroom? How much storage space is on board for wheelchairs and other mobility aids? How many aisle seats have movable armrests to facilitate transfers from a transport wheelchair into your seat?

Travel & AdventureRiding the Rails: Amtrak says potential travelers can book tickets online (amtrak.com) or via phone at (800) USA-RAIL. If you use the general Amtrak online ticketing system, you need to indicate if you or a member of your party has a disability when choosing your travel dates and destination. You’ll then be asked additional questions, such as whether you’ll need assistance at the stations or whether you’ll need to store a wheelchair on board. In some instances (e.g., when an adult with a disability is traveling with a caregiver/attendant), discounts are available. Go to amtrak.com/making-reservations-for-passengers-with-adisability for more information, such as booking accessible bedrooms on board (which requires written documentation, such as a physician’s letter or Medicare card if under age 65).

The Wheels on the Bus: Greyhound’s Web site (greyhound.com/en/ticketsandtravel/disabledtravelers.aspx) dispenses such information as maximum measurements and weights for wheelchairs, as well as the types of assistance available. Most Greyhound buses cannot accommodate more than two non-folding power wheelchairs at a time, so advanced reservations are the best way to avoid being left off the bus.

Travel & AdventureOver the Bounding Main: In addition to checking out disability pages on individual cruise ship line Web sites, try “Top Ships for Cruisers with Disabilities” (cruisecritic.com/articles.cfm?ID=105). This site has information for not only cruise ship lines, but also makes recommendations for individual ships and classes. The site includes information not just on the basics such as accessible cabins, but also on factors such as distance between accessible cabins and the ship’s major destination points, such as pools, retail shops… and elevators.

The Cruise Critic site incorporates comments from members, and includes a “Caveats” section for each cruise ship listing, so you get to see both the highlights and potential low points.

Frequent Fliers: Official Web sites are a great way for newbie travelers to get started, but frequent travelers often want more than just the typical tourist highlights.

Fortunately, commentaries from seasoned travelers are as close as your Internet connection. Some sites to check out:

  • Rick Steves’ Europe (ricksteves.com/travel-tips/trip-planning/travelers-with-disabilities): Susan Sygalls’ first-hand accounts of traveling in a wheelchair are complemented by information on accessible tours and other resources.
  • Accessible Journeys (disabilitytravel.com) specializes in tours for wheelchair users and their loved ones.
  • Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (sath.org) has a large collection of first-hand travel accounts from members who have journeyed all over the world (and taken the photos to prove it).