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Traveling with a Disability

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Travel among the disabled, also known as “accessible travel,” is increasing. It is estimated that 37.5 million people in the United States have a disability, and each person that travels will likely have slightly different needs. Under the influence of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the increasing numbers of disabled travelers, the travel industry has been responding to the special needs of these travelers with more services and greater accommodations. However, a number of issues exist that disabled travelers face including:

  • Inadequate facilities (well-adapted hotel rooms; accessible restaurants, attractions, toilets, vehicles, airport transfer, etc.)
  • Prejudice
  • Misinformation (staff capable of informing/advising about issues)
  • General hassles (accessible websites)
  • Higher prices


Modes & Accommodations


Airlines such as Delta, United and Southwest are committed to providing accessible air travel through a wide range of services:

  • Meet-and-assist services including wheelchair transfer and airport transportation
  • Pre-board
  • Stowage of assistive devices; wheelchair transport to destination
  • Service Animals
  • Provision of supplemental oxygen
It is suggested that these passengers bring spare parts and tools for wheelchair repairs as well as extra medication in case of delays. Passengers should allow plenty of time before the flight and should advise flight attendants of their needs and disability. Additionally, the TSA offers a TSA Cares hotline for travelers to call in advance to garner screening information relevant to specific disabilities. The TSA will coordinate with a customer service manager at the airport if necessary to assist in clearing disability-related equipment.


Amtrak accommodates passengers who have sensory loss as well as those who utilize wheelchairs by providing device space or transfer accessible seats for wheelchair stowage. A 15% fare discount is also offered.


A small number of national van rental fleets supplemented by a greater number serving specific locales are available if booked early enough. Vans are equipped with electric ramp or power lift entry and hand-controls available upon request.


Wheelchair accessible cruises are available


Most chains offer accessibility and assistance. The parking lot and entrance have ramp access, priority parking, and automated doors. Rooms are equipped with some or all of the following: wide doors, grab bars in bathroom, mid-height light switches and peep hole, Braille labeling, alternate contacting methods, and visual alert devices to help hearing impaired (knock on door, fire alarm, telephone ring). It is important to call ahead to guarantee an accessible room, and discuss what options are available before booking.

Recreational vehicles

Wheelchair accessible features include ramps, lowered countertops and widened doorways


  • Call ahead because providers will need some time to accommodate travelers with special needs. Then call a day or two prior to arrival to confirm that the necessary arrangements have been made
  • Use lay language when describing a disability. Be detailed, specific, and clear about needs and functional ability.
  • Travelers should consult with their physician regarding coping measures for a long flight and/or limited access to healthcare and prescription medications at a destination. Procure a statement from the doctor that discusses condition, special needs, potential complications, medications, and emergency contact info. Also confirm that the travel is advisable.
  • Investigate health care options available at destination.
  • Research international/foreign destinations, as policies and accommodations may vary.
  • Travel companion services are available.

For the deaf and hard of hearing

Commonly referred to as an invisible disability

  • Advise key people of disability at every level of travel; if possible, make arrangements in person for more conscientious service
  • TDD services are available at most hotels and airlines
  • Arrive early and confirm gate when flying (changes are usually announced audibly)
  • Write down name and address of destination
  • Make pre-arrangements for activities to include interpreters or assistive listening devices

Visually impaired

  • Advise key people of disability at every level of travel; cane aids in notification
  • Carry written directions and ask questions
  • Keep necessities on person
  • Pre-board and carry on luggage if possible
  • If using a service animal, contact ahead of time to learn of restrictions, especially at destinations (quarantines)

There are abundant resources with tips and guidelines for disabled travelers. A little research and planning ahead can help ensure a smooth and enjoyable voyage.

References & Helpful Websites