Tips for Traveling with a Disability

Traveling with a disability is not fun.  Whether it be for work or for fun, there’s a lot that goes into making sure the trip is as hassle-free as possible.  There’s so much to consider that many people don’t think about. What if the restrooms at the pit stop aren’t accessible?  How do I address a medical emergency if I’m hours away from my normal medical staff? What things can I expect from a hotel room?  Hopefully, these questions will be answered in this article.  

Again, I want to place the caveat that just because these things might work for me does not mean they will work for everyone, as every disability is different.  But, hopefully this article will at least give you a starting off point for planning an accessible trip.

When Traveling By Car

Car travel is how I’ve done most of my traveling.  I’ve done multiple multi-day trips by van with my family, ever since I can remember.  Throughout the years, as my disability has changed, so has the way I’ve tackled long car rides.

One of the biggest things I can suggest for your long car rides, especially if you are a wheelchair user like me, are pillows.  My body gets extra tired from the bumping of the road, that after a few hours it’s all I can do to sit up straight. Using pillows to prop up my body has made my aches and pains the next day more bearable.  If you are like me, your neck might be the first thing that gets tired. The best thing to help with this is a neck brace or neck pillow to keep your head from falling over.

Another thing to be aware of is food.  If you’re eating in the car, I recommend a tray table of some sort, especially if you have strength issues.  This can also be used to hold your phone or tablet up for long periods of time if you’re in charge of music.

Pit stops

We can’t talk about car rides without the fun of pit-stops.  At some point, your traveling companions (and you if you’re ambulatory) are going to need to get out and stretch, and you all will probably need to go to the bathroom.  This is where things get tricky, because finding accessible bathrooms in a new, foreign area is hit or miss. In my hometown, I know pretty well where public restrooms are that I can use, so I try and find similar locations.  I like to seek out, if possible, larger-populated areas, and find a grocery store or chain fast-food place. I’ve found Wendy’s and Starbucks have the largest restrooms, which work well for me. But your mileage may vary.

When Traveling By Plane

I must admit, I do not travel by plane, as how I sit does not allow for me to sit in a regular seat.  However, from what I have gathered from friends and colleagues, the biggest issue with traveling by plane is wheelchair equipment getting lost or broken.  If something on your chair can be detached and put in a carryon bag, do so. This will ensure your joystick or other important bits don’t get crushed. Also, take pictures of your chair ahead of time, so you can note any damages.  As for other equipment and medications, check out this page from the TSA on what to do with your medical equipment.

I would also advise getting to the airport extra early for check-in.  You never know if something’s going to happen, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Finding the Right Hotel

You know where you’re going, you know how you’re going to get there, now you’ve got to find a place to stay.  It’s probably no surprise, but just because the person on the phone or the website says a hotel is accessible, it doesn’t mean it actually is.  I’ve been in plenty of hotel rooms where “accessible” simply meant grab bars for the bathroom and nothing else. This might be fine for some people, but not for me.

Asking specific questions is important.  I always ask what “accessible” means when noted on their website.  A few things I would like to have in an accessible room are:

  • Larger area to maneuver my wheelchair
  • Bigger bathroom
  • Walk-in shower (removable showerhead a plus)

These are only a few things, but ones not everyone thinks about.

Dining Out

You don’t need to travel to go out to eat, but you probably already know which of your local restaurants are accessible.  Chain restaurants are largely the same from location to location, but if you’re wanting to experience local places, it’s a good idea to keep some things in mind.

My biggest concern with any new restaurant is actually getting into the building.  Are their ramps? If it’s an older building, it may be difficult to get into. Once I’m in, there’s also the factor of seating.  Are the tables too close together to get my wheelchair through? Can a server (if it’s a sit-down restaurant) get around with my chair at the table?  

Sight-Seeing and Activities

One thing I love about going to new places is experiencing new things.  Going to museums and visiting historical landmarks are always something I enjoy doing, when I can.  A lot of these places, because they are older, are not accessible. Without sounding like a broken record, call ahead.  Even with things like water-skiing or zip-lining, the place may (emphasis on may) have accommodations for you.

In Case of Emergency 

Lastly, always prepare for the worst.  If you get sick two days in, your wheelchair breaks, or something happens to your accessible van, know where you can go locally to get help.

I’ve been on vacation 13 hours from home and my wheelchair suddenly stopped working.  I didn’t plan ahead, and spent three hours frantically searching for repair places. Ever since then, I do research ahead of time so I don’t have to stress if it happens.  Always have a plan, and hopefully you don’t need it.

What tips do you have for someone who is traveling with a disability?  How do these match up to what you do? Let us know in the comments below!

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