Reprinted from MarketWatch
Written by Bradford Cuthrell
Edited by Tori Addison
Traveling is an enriching experience that can bring a sense of freedom and excitement as you experience the thrill of exploring new cultures, landscapes and foods. However, for individuals with disabilities, this thrill can also be accompanied by distinct challenges.
When traveling with a disability, each new experience requires attention to detail where accessibility, convenience and safety become paramount. This guide provides insights on strategies for traveling the globe with a disability.
To aid you on this journey, we’ve consulted with two experts:
- Dr. Kwangsoo Park, Associate Dean of the College of Business and Director of the White Lodging School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Purdue University Northwest
- Dr. Stefanie Benjamin, Associate Professor of Retail, Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of Tennessee Knoxville
These experts will provide valuable guidance on how to navigate the travel experience for people with disabilities.
Planning Your Trip
Researching your desired destinations and familiarizing yourself with accessibility and disability rights can help you advocate for yourself and enable your needs to be met wherever you decide to go.
“People with disabilities should ensure that their travel destination and accommodations are accessible, taking into account their specific needs. Despite efforts by companies and governments to enforce reasonable accommodations, there are still places that lack adequate facilities for individuals with certain disabilities,” Dr. Park said.
In the planning stages, it can be helpful to look into special protections or services available for individuals with disabilities at airports, such as designated assistance services, to ensure an itinerary that allows you to accomplish your travel goals.
Following these planning steps can help make your trip as accessible and enjoyable as possible.
Plan Your Trip Backward
Before you start planning, it can help to first determine desired activities at your selected destination. By doing so, you can make sure the places you want to visit and the activities you wish to engage in are easily accessible.
When researching, seek out resources specifically dedicated to your unique community for trustworthy information on accessible-friendly guided tours, how to access tourist attractions and other valuable details. By utilizing comprehensive resources, you can plan a trip that caters to your needs and create an enjoyable and inclusive travel experience.
Make Reservations that Ensure Accessibility
After conducting thorough research on the accessibility of your chosen destination, the next step is to make reservations.
“Depending on the disability — lots of planning is involved when traveling. Always consider and understand that not every destination is the same,” Dr. Stefanie Benjamin said.
Take the time to explore and identify accommodations, such as hotels, tours and excursions, that offer specialized accessibility features as this will make your travel experience more seamless. Consider factors such as transportation options, and book airline, bus or train tickets with companies that prioritize and cater to accessibility needs.
Proactively considering these aspects and making reservations with accessibility at the forefront of planning can offer peace of mind in knowing your trip will be free from any last-minute accessibility-related concerns.
Research Protective Measures for Traveling
In the realm of travel, unpredictability will occasionally arise, making it important to consider protective measures for your safety and well-being. One of the most common precautions to consider is obtaining comprehensive travel insurance. This type of insurance covers unforeseen circumstances while traveling, including trip cancellations, unexpected medical emergencies or misplaced luggage, among other incidents. By securing adequate travel insurance, you can rest assured in knowing you have financial protection against potential trip hurdles.
It’s also important to note and be aware of the special protections that airports offer to individuals with disabilities. Airports provide equal access and comfortable travel experiences with accessible parking spaces, restrooms with features like grab bars and trained staff to assist passengers. Other examples include alternative screening procedures and private screenings, the ability to bring medical equipment and mobility aids onboard the plane, and other assistance programs like wheelchair assistance and transportation.
Before you fly, familiarize yourself with the protective resources available at the departure and arrival airports by either contacting each location or checking online for a list of services. These special protections are there to ensure that individuals with disabilities can travel with safety, comfort and dignity.
While packing for your trip, consider items and equipment that will help support your needs while traveling. Airlines are not allowed to charge for transporting mobility equipment like wheelchairs and generally accept service dogs to support accessible travel.
Here is a table outlining several essential items to pack:
|Familiar items can help make you feel more at ease while traveling
|Ensure necessary medical equipment is available
|Collapsible shower chairs
|Assists with accessibility in bathing facilities
|Medications and prescriptions
|Make sure you have an ample supply of necessary medications while you travel
|Collapsible walking aids
|Supports mobility and ease of movement
|Assistive hearing aids
|Allows for full participation in travel engagements
|Provides important medical information in the case of an emergency
By considering these and any other specific items based on your needs, you can be well-prepared for any trip and have the necessary support and comfort throughout your journey.
Navigating the Airport
When traveling by air, navigating the airport can be a challenge, especially for individuals with disabilities or mobility impairments. However, careful planning and preparation can combat the anxieties involved and create a stress-free experience.
Checking Bags and Other Items
Before heading to the airport, familiarize yourself with the policies and procedures for checking bags and other items. Getting to the airport early is always recommended to allow sufficient time for check-in and security screening. “Arriving earlier than told is key,” Benjamin added.
If you require any assistance, such as checking wheelchairs or other assistive devices, it is advisable to call ahead and inform the airline of your specific needs. If you are worried about your bags getting lost during transit, consider buying baggage coverage to protect your belongings.
Getting Through Security, Boarding and Deplaning
Security procedures can be quite daunting, but there are several ways to make the process easier. Similar to checking bags, it is advisable to inform the airport and TSA in advance of any accommodations or assistance you require. TSA Cares is a program designed to assist travelers with disabilities or medical conditions when it comes to getting through security, boarding and deplaning. Additionally, traveling with a companion can provide that extra layer of support throughout your journey.
To expedite the security screening processes, consider applying for TSA Precheck to evade long lines and wait times. Looking ahead at airport maps can help you locate accessible restrooms and food options that meet your dietary restrictions and know what to expect. When it comes to getting to your gate, you can file a ride request from airport staff to save you time and energy. Lastly, contacting your airline in advance to arrange for assistance during boarding and deplaning can help facilitate the assistance you need.
Safety Tips While Traveling at the Airport
Navigating the airport can be a manageable process if you plan ahead and are aware of the available resources and accommodations. While traveling, it is important to prioritize safety and to be aware of your rights and accessibility laws.
Mobility-impaired individuals are often targeted by thieves, so it is crucial to keep your bags close at all times. “While this situation can occur for anyone, it’s advisable to keep important documents and valuables secure. I would strongly recommend that people with disabilities carry a list of emergency contacts, including local authorities and embassy/consulate information,” Park said.
If necessary, consider using a money belt or travel wallet to hide your valuables on your person. By taking these simple precautions, you can minimize the risk of becoming a victim of theft.
Enjoying Your Destination
Traveling to new destinations can be an exciting and fulfilling experience. It allows you to immerse yourself in different cultures, explore new sights and create lasting memories. However, while enjoying your travels, it is important to prioritize your safety and remain aware of your surroundings. By empowering yourself with knowledge and taking certain precautions, you can make the most of your travel while ensuring a safe and enjoyable journey.
How To Make the Most of Your Travel
Making the most of your travel may require you to embrace certain strategies, such as researching and planning ahead for accessible destinations. To maximize your experience, it is recommended to replicate your home routine as much as possible to maintain familiarity and comfort. When it comes to outings and adventures, pace yourself and allow for relaxation to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Since additional amenities can enhance your overall travel experience, see if you can take advantage of perks and benefits from memberships or credit cards, such as access to airport lounges and travel upgrades.
Safety Tips While At Your Destination
By implementing these strategies, you can enhance your travel experience, ensure your safety and navigate your destination more effectively. A major safety tip to protect yourself financially in the event of unforeseen medical emergencies is to obtain comprehensive travel medical insurance. Next, to enjoy the trip experience, it’s a good idea to learn basic local phrases to facilitate communication and ask for help when needed. Additionally, carry an accessibility card to effectively communicate your specific needs if possible.
Organizations that Help People with Disabilities While Traveling
There are several organizations dedicated to supporting individuals with disabilities while traveling. Here are a few examples:
- The Disabled Travelers Guide offers comprehensive resources and information for travelers with disabilities. Its website provides guides on accessible destinations, travel tips, and a forum where users can share their experiences and advice.
- The Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality (SATH) is an organization working to promote accessibility and inclusivity in the travel and hospitality industry. It provides resources, training and advocacy for individuals with disabilities, ensuring they have equal access to travel opportunities.
- Accessible Travel Solutions specializes in providing accessible travel planning services for individuals with disabilities. It offers customized itineraries, accommodations research and transportation arrangements tailored to specific accessibility needs.
- The National Center on Disability and Access to Education (NCDAE) focuses on ensuring equal access to education for individuals with disabilities. While its primary focus is education, its website provides valuable information on accessible technology, accommodations and beneficial resources for disabled travelers.
These organizations are dedicated to empowering individuals with disabilities to explore the world with confidence. Each offers valuable resources and advocacy to enhance the travel experience for disabled individuals.
While traveling with disabilities can present its own set of challenges, there are ways to keep those challenges from interfering with your trip. With proactive trip research, good planning and resource utilization, individuals with disabilities can experience inclusive travel opportunities to create lasting trip memories
- Dr. Kwangsoo Park holds the position of Associate Dean in the College of Business and is the Director of the White Lodging School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Purdue University Northwest. His research focuses on enhancing services for people with disabilities and their families in the hospitality and tourism sector. Dr. Park’s primary goal is to reduce biases associated with disabilities and improve service quality for all consumers, irrespective of their disability status.
- Dr. Stefanie Benjamin serves as an Associate Professor of Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Management at the University of Tennessee Knoxville. Her research interests revolve around social equity and critical tourism scholarship, with a specific focus on the experiences and narratives of marginalized populations. She is committed to promoting social advocacy and amplifying underrepresented voices in the tourism field through research, education and practice. As a certified qualitative researcher, she employs various methodologies, such as collective storytelling and ethnography, to explore these areas. Dr. Benjamin is also involved in content tourism research and offers improvisational theater workshops to enhance empathetic listening and creative skill development.