Although physical disabilities can make travel more challenging, they don’t have to keep you from traveling altogether. Read on to see how to plan accordingly and make your travel experience easier and more enjoyable.
Before leaving for your trip
First, prepare for your trip. Before your trip, make sure you choose a resort, hotel, or cruise that provides accessibility. If you can, try to select a location that offers accessibility for physical disabilities. While not a necessity, working with a travel agent who is experienced with disabilities can take a lot of pressure off of you and make traveling much easier and smoother. The website DisabledTravelers.com provides a list of travel agents who offer specialized services for those with disabilities.
Research your destination and hotel. Do your research on the destination and hotel to find out what services and accommodations are available. Different regulations may apply regarding accessibility in public locations when traveling outside of the United States.
Next, create a checklist ahead of time of what to pack. Make a separate checklist for carry-on baggage and one for checked luggage. Make sure that you take any necessary and emergency medical supplies as well as medications with you as a carry-on. If your flight is delayed, you want to have easy access to these items. The limit of one personal bag and one carry-on bag does NOT apply to medical supplies. Find the proper luggage that will be easy for you to handle. Finding luggage that also protects your equipment when handled by airplane personnel is important too.
You can make arrangements with the airline prior to the day of travel. Certain accommodations, such as bringing wheelchairs or other equipment onto the plane, are required to be set up in advance. Airlines are required to have a priority space for at least one folding manual wheelchair on aircraft with 100 or more seats. Request to pre-board the flight to stow your wheelchair in the aircraft cabin. Create a laminated card that you can clip to your manual wheelchair, power wheelchair, or scooter with specific instructions or pictures of how to lift the device, fold the device, take it apart, or if it should not go on its side. The more information you can provide to the people loading your equipment, the less likely it will be damaged.
Once you get your equipment back, do a thorough inspection before you continue on your trip. If anything is damaged in any way, ask to speak to a representative of the airline and file a claim immediately. They are required to fix what they broke. Ask for an empty row (if available) on your flight. Most airline hosts will be happy to accommodate you if the flight isn’t full. Additionally, if you need extra room for medical equipment or ease of transfers, you can request bulkhead seating.
Make sure to keep TSA’s helpline number on hand. Request assistance: Before flying, you can call the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at their helpline (855) 787–2227 with questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) is a law that makes it illegal for airlines to discriminate against passengers because of their disability. The Department of Transportation is responsible for enforcing the ACAA, which applies to all flights to, from, or within the United States.
Some additional questions:
Can I bring my assistive device (crutches, canes, walkers, braces/prosthetics, wheelchairs, Portable Oxygen Concentrators (POCs), and Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines)?
Yes. You may bring your assistive device with you on an airplane and stow it in the passenger compartment in the following locations:
- In an overhead compartment;
- Under the seat in front of you; or
- In a designated stowage area if the device fits and is in accordance with FAA or foreign safety regulations.
If my assistive device cannot be stowed in the passenger cabin as carry-on baggage, do I have to pay a checked bag fee?
No. If this happens, the device can be stowed as cargo at no extra cost.
If my device could not be stowed in the cabin, when and where can I pick it up after the flight?
Your device must be returned to you promptly and as close as possible to the door of the aircraft unless you ask to pick it up in baggage claim. Airlines must check and return your assistive device in the same condition as it was received.
Can I bring my battery-powered wheelchair onboard the seating portion of the aircraft?
No. Airlines are required to transport only manual wheelchairs in the cabin of the aircraft. Most battery-powered wheelchairs are too large and too heavy to be safely stowed in the seating portion of the aircraft. Large and heavy powered wheelchairs are typically stowed in the cargo portion of the aircraft. When your powered wheelchair is stowed in the cargo compartment, the airline must return your assistive device to you promptly and as close as possible to the door of the aircraft, unless you ask to pick it up in baggage claim.
Can I bring my manual collapsible folding wheelchair onboard the seating portion of the aircraft?
Maybe. Individuals with a collapsible or break-down wheelchair may stow their device in overhead compartments, under seats, or in the designated wheelchair stowage area if the device fits and is in accordance with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety regulations. Airlines are required to accept for transport at least one manual wheelchair in aircraft with 100 or more seats.If your wheelchair does not fit in the cabin of the aircraft, airline personnel are required to stow it in the cargo portion of the aircraft free of charge.
Can I use my portable oxygen concentrator (POC) onboard the aircraft?
Yes. The airline must allow you to bring your POC onboard the aircraft as long as it meets FAA requirements.
Do any special requirements apply to my use of a POC onboard the airplane?
Yes. Airlines can require you to:
- Provide up to 48-hours advance notice that you will use your POC on board;
- Provide a medical certificate for the use of your POC on board;
- Bring a supply of fully charged batteries to power your device for no less than 150% of the duration of the flight; or
- Check-in one hour before the regular check-in time for the flight.
If I bring an assistive device onboard the aircraft, does it count towards my baggage limit?
No. Assistive devices do not count toward your baggage limit. However, if your bag also contains personal items, the airline can count your bag toward a baggage limit and it may be subject to a baggage fee.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) established a series of accessible design requirements for the construction of hotels and other lodging facilities that apply to the design of ADA hotel rooms. Most of these regulations remain today, while a few were updated in 2010 to promote greater accessibility.
The 1991 standards apply to all hotels that began construction before March 15, 2012, provided that no alterations to guest rooms have taken place since that date. For all hotels built or which have undergone modifications to accessible guest rooms on or after March 15, 2012, the 2010 standards apply. The ADA regulations were developed to protect people of all abilities, not just wheelchair users. As a result, the requirements for accessible hotel design cater to a diverse array of disabilities. Three primary features—bathtubs with grab bars and a seat, roll-in showers with a seat and communication equipment for the hearing and sight-impaired—should be distributed across ADA guest rooms in every hotel. Don’t be afraid to rearrange things in your hotel room. If you need to rearrange some furniture to accommodate your needs better, do so. Ask the front desk if there is anything you need during your stay. If you are using a home rental service, make sure that you do your research. Most websites will list which are ADA accessible, have ramps, or other accommodations and which ones do not. Don’t assume that all places are accessible. Call whenever possible to confirm accessibility.
UberWav stands for Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle. UberWav cars are vans/SUVs that have ramps for motorized or non-folding wheelchairs and scooters. The cost of an Uber Wav is the same as the UberX cost for that city plus a $2 fee (fee might differ slightly across markets). UberWav is only available in select markets. Additionally, Uber also has UberAssist, which is a service designed to provide additional support to seniors and those with disabilities. UberAssist vehicles cannot accommodate motorized or non-folding wheelchairs, but they can accommodate folding wheelchairs, folding scooters, and walkers. UberAssist is the same cost as UberX and is also only currently in select markets.
At Lyft, there are also accommodations for individuals with wheelchairs and other physical disabilities. In the Lyft app, passengers can enable a service called “Access Mode.” When the Lyft app is in access mode, an accessible vehicle will be sent to the passenger instead of a standard Lyft vehicle. This service is not available in all Lyft markets; however, in those areas, Lyft provides information about other local services that may be of assistance.
If you are disabled, you may be qualified to receive a free national parks entry pass. The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass is a lifetime pass offered to U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are permanently disabled, including children. Disabilities can include physical, mental, or sensory impairment. If you are partially disabled, however, you may not qualify. To receive a free access pass, the disability must be permanent and limit one or more major life activities.
The access pass offers the same benefits as a regular annual pass. It also may provide a discount on some amenity fees (e.g., camping, swimming, boat launching, and specialized interpretive services). The pass admits the pass owner plus any passengers traveling in the same vehicle. It can be used at more than 2,000 federal recreation sites including national parks, national wildlife refuges, and national forests.
When it comes to traveling with a disability, careful planning, and access to resources is key to successful and smooth travel. It is completely possible to have an enjoyable trip. It just requires some planning, thinking ahead, and knowing you have the resources to get you through any obstacles that may challenge you.