When planning travel with a wheelchair or disability, don’t be left behind (or leave anyone else behind.) Overcome physical or special needs with these mobility travel tips and ensure that everyone or every ability can be part of the fun.
It’s always more fun and more memorable when every member of the family participates in an out-of-town wedding, family celebration, reunion or multi-generational cruise. There are an estimated 61 million persons in the U.S. with special needs, so that many must travel with a wheelchair or disability. This number doesn’t even include grandparents who may have trouble walking or who get out of breath easily — who still want, and often need, to travel.
If you or a family member has ever cancelled a trip because of bad knees or other mobility impairment or avoided cruises and family events requiring travel for fear of needing oxygen mid-trip, relax. Today’s world is more accessible than ever before, especially welcome news to the many COVID-19 survivors who still have trouble breathing.
For anyone with special requirements for traveling, there’s a world of information and help waiting for you. Here are some trip-planning tips for those traveling with a wheelchair, disability, oxygen needs or other mobility impairment.
Outline Your Mobility Needs: Travel with a Wheelchair or Disability
Take time to evaluate the logistics of the trip in relationship to your ability to keep pace. What modes of transportation will you be using — airplane, motor coach, train, ship, transit vans for ground transfers? Make a list and refer to relevant brochures, your trip organizer or travel agent to make sure you include everything.
Now, make a list of your specific requirements. Be honest. What types of special needs equipment do you depend on at home? Ask yourself:
- What do you use or need (or wish you had!) when shopping or sightseeing locally?
- Use a wheelchair for dining out or going to the movies, attending concerts or the theatre?
- Prefer to skip day trips to street fairs or sporting events with stairs?
- Can you hear and see clearly without special auditory equipment or visual aides?
- How far can you walk without a rest break?
- Can you get in and out of the tub or shower at home without handgrips or other assistance?
Plan Ahead to Help Those Who Can’t
Travel, whether solo or in a group, is full of challenges. This is no time for being a martyr or trying to “tough it out.” If a wheelchair, scooter or portable oxygen will make your trip easier, place that item on your list. Many people who do not use wheelchairs or walkers at home feel more comfortable using these mobility aides for tour and excursions. In fact, most of the Special Needs Group wheelchair and scooter rentals are to individuals who only use such aides when traveling.
If you already own a scooter, or portable oxygen, it’s important to know the policy and procedures for bringing that equipment onboard all the transport vehicles, from planes to taxis to ferry boats included in your itinerary. Does that transport have a way to stow your scooter or wheelchair?
For getaways to the beach or pool, those with limited mobility should consider using a beach wheelchair available for rent from the Special Needs Group. Designed in Italy, the lightweight wheelchair is specifically meant for the beach and sand. The Joy on the Beach has air-filled balloon tires that roll easily along the sand and into the water or pool for swimming.
If You Need Supplemental Oxygen for Successful Travels
If you need oxygen, is oxygen allowed on board your flight? The FAA prohibits passengers from carrying most oxygen cylinders but patients with a doctor’s letter can use an FAA approved POC (battery-powered portable oxygen concentrator) inflight. Airlines operate under strict rules, so there may be packing procedures to follow if they do allow the equipment. Keep in mind that most airlines need at least 48 hours notice to make special arrangements, and be prepared to fill out forms.
Overall, cruise ships are more lenient in allowing oxygen, but some disallow certain types. All require that the oxygen be delivered to the ship, and that you have enough for the entire voyage. Oxygen may never be brought aboard in your luggage. Requirements vary, so check your cruise line for proper instructions. Again, documentation and paper work are required.
Whether you are headed for a cruise ship, hotel or all-inclusive resort, double check for wheelchair access at that venue, plus any venues you will be visiting on the trip. Confirm that accessible hotel rooms, resort accommodations or ship staterooms are available for your travel dates. The earlier you book, the better your chances of securing fully accessible accommodations. And early booking increases your chances of securing a ground floor hotel room or cruise stateroom near the elevator, if these issues are important.
Ask Questions about Your Destination’s Disability Resources
Next, check on the access to public rooms, restaurants, bars, toilets, the swimming pool, hot tub, beach area and other amenities. Are there TDD phone devices for the hearing impaired? How will you get in and out of the shower or bathtub? Are there flashing lights to accommodate hearing? Braille room numbers? Knowing in advance the scope of your needs gives you time to arrange advance rentals of any necessary equipment, scheduled to arrive when you do. Everything from scooters, lifts, ramps, TDD kits and special mattresses, including special needs cribs, is available for rental.
Will road travel or car excursions be part of the trip? Many car rental companies, such as Avis Access, have vehicles that are modified for drivers or passengers with mobility limitations. Check ahead to make sure a suitable vehicle will be available for your travel dates. If you will be hiring a car or van, make sure the company is aware of your special needs.
When traveling with a limitation or disability, full travel insurance for medical coverage abroad and trip cancellation insurance are even more important and strongly advised.
Ask Questions about Travel with a Wheelchair or Disability
When making the final bookings, be sure you ask the right questions, even if the accommodations or cruise stateroom are categorized as “accessible”. For example:
- Are doorways wide enough for the largest wheelchairs? Do the doors open outwards or into the room?
- Are all the public areas of the hotel, resort or ship accessible?
- Do you need to make special arrangements in the dining room to accommodate the wheelchair or scooter?
- Will the bathroom facilities truly fit your need? Is there a roll-in shower? Grab-bars?
- Are there facilities for companion/assistance animals?
- Are there shopping and entertainment facilities close by if you are staying at a hotel or resort?
- On shore excursions or tours, does the van have a lift and method for transporting wheelchairs and scooters?
Simply stated, don’t take anything for granted. It’s easy to arrange for almost every situation, and the world is wonderfully accessible. Just be sure you know what’s needed, what’s available and how to find the necessary equipment for travel with a wheelchair or disability.
Andrew Garnett is the founder and CEO of Special Needs at Sea/Special Needs Group., Inc. He is passionate about dissolving barriers and dedicated to helping persons with disabilities travel the world. For more details, visit Special Needs Group.
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