Accessible travel for the differently-abled is on the rise and has only become easier as time has gone by. The travel industry is now well aware and hence, provides special assistance and care to the travellers who are differently-abled.
What is Accessible Tourism or Travel for the Disabled?
Accessible tourism is an initiative to make travel and tourism convenient for people with disabilities and access needs, including older and less mobile people. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities dictates that governments, tourism boards, and all stakeholders take measures to make tourism easier for people with such needs – this includes making tourists sites access-friendly, having wheelchair-friendly ramps and toilets, buttons with Braille, transport options, staff trained to help such tourists, and many more.
While accessible tourism is practised very efficiently in the United States, Europe, Australia, South Korea, and Japan, it is still catching on in other parts of the world. Many tour packages also cater exclusively to accessible travel, providing special transport and sightseeing options to help mobility needs. Accessible safaris, cruises, and boat trips are in vogue today to give all tourists unique and exciting vacations, regardless of physical state.
Tips for Travelers with Disabilities
Meanwhile, here are some tips which can be kept in mind to assure smooth travel if you have a disability or have a disabled family member travelling with you.
1. Describe Your Disability Clearly
While booking tickets and accommodation, it is of paramount importance to describe your disability perfectly. This helps caregivers determine safety and clearance measures to ensure a comfortable journey. Get a doctor’s note and medical certificate to avail assistance. This also helps you breeze through security without much of a hassle, especially if you need to carry special medical equipment like a pacemaker or a walker. Ensure that your medical supplies are labelled clearly. Reach the airport ahead of time to prepare for additional security screenings in case your medication is flagged.
2. Ask Your Airline for AssistanceAsking your airline for help at the time of booking by letting them know that you will require a wheelchair (or any other assistance) will save you time at the airport and also make your airport experience smoother. Many airlines designate an employee to help you board your flight right from the moment you enter the airport. The employee will take care of your luggage and guide you through the security check as well. This service is generally free by all airlines.
Further, select an aisle seat in the front row or the row with bigger legroom near the washroom (you will have to pay extra for this). People on wheelchair deboard the plane after everyone else. This can be time-consuming, so make sure you plan accordingly. There will be a designated employee after you land who will help you with your check-in luggage and escort you out of the airport.
While booking, make sure that your flight is a direct one. Connecting flights would make you get off one plane and board another, and would only create more discomfort.
3. Avoid Connecting Flights
It is best to book flights that have the fewest connecting options. Crossing immigration and customs between airports and transporting luggage between airlines can be a hassle while travelling abroad. Navigating between the terminals can be difficult too. In case of flight delays or very little time between the two flights, finding a place to rest and rushing between terminals can prove quite daunting. In that light, consider booking non-stop flights to your destination. This minimizes the time spent in uncomfortable airports and long layovers. In case connecting flights must be booked, make sure to have enough time between the two flights so you can comfortably make your way to the terminal.
4. Transportation To and From the Airport
Taxis are the most conventional way to reach and leave the airport, although they may take a toll on your wallet. Most international airports also have special local trains that are wheelchair and service animal-friendly – these are much cheaper than taxis. Make sure to leave much ahead of time if planning to use public transport. Accessible buses and coaches are available at most airports, so make use of these facilities to move between terminals. If travelling with a lot of luggage, engage a porter to ease your worry.
5. Pick the Right Accommodation
It will be helpful to get arrangements for the bathroom door and space under the bed in case you are travelling with your own wheelchair. Most of the hotels will be happy to provide you with all this information
6. Choose a Special Travel PlanThe itineraries created by travel agencies generally aren't created keeping in mind the travel for the disabled. However, there are agencies who will make a special itinerary and also book all the flights, hotels, restaurants, and attractions for you. They will make sure that the bookings meet the required necessities for a hassle-free trip and a comfortable stay. Travel agencies won't charge anything extra for planning the trip. Although the charges asked by the respective airline, hotels, or restaurants for providing accessible services will apply. In such cases, it is advisable to book the whole tour and go as per the itinerary to assure a smooth trip. It will be disappointing and troubling if you book at the last minute and fail to get accessibility services.
7. Ask for the Right GuidesGuides who have prior experience with handling people with a disability are the ones you should book so that they help you in the best possible way. The guides will have an idea about the places you might have difficulty going to and places where you can easily traverse in the city. If it's a hearing disability, then the guide should be well versed with sign language to ensure hassle-free communication. You can book a guide through your travel agent, your hotel, or look for them online.
8. Visit the Right Attraction at the Right TimeIf you know the place that you want to visit can get crowded, avoid going there at peak time and choose to visit the attraction when there is a fewer crowd. Many attractions such as museums have special tours for the disabled. You can check with them and book a slot when you plan your trip. These tours are generally free of cost.
9. Check the Availability and the Best Doctors Beforehand
While travelling to new locations, it is best to take your doctor’s advice on the type of professionals to approach in case of emergencies – get the information and availability of relevant doctors at your destination beforehand, and send them a copy of your medical records (as necessary).
10. Carry the EssentialsExtra medicines, prescriptions, doctor's emergency contact number, and other essential items should be at your dispersal at all times. You never know when you might need them.
11. Buy Medical InsuranceTravelling with a good travel insurance plan is a must. You must make sure that the insurance also includes medical bills. In case you require to see a doctor in another city, of another country chances are you will be charged twice or thrice the usual price. To avoid this, your travel insurance should cover a certain amount of medical claims as well.
12. Know Your Rights
Familiarize yourself with your rights as an accessible tourist. Each country’s airports have different clauses and rights for disabled travel – go through the rules and laws based on your destination. In general, flight attendants cannot discriminate based on a disability and cannot ban you from the flight unless they deem you as a threat to other passengers – this can be contested in court if found unfair and discriminatory. You can take up complaints with the Complaints Resolution Desk, the HR personnel, or Airport Assistance in case of problems.
13. Have a Backup Plan
While it is encouraged to have a positive attitude and be excited about a trip, it is necessary to have a backup plan in case things go wrong, especially when it comes to disabled travel. Carry a full set of medication with you in case of unprecedented delays. Speak to your doctor about medical eventualities and get the contact information of a medical professional at the destination beforehand. Carry extra clothes and first-aid equipment. Have a copy of medical records on hand in case of emergencies, and list your emergency contacts clearly.
14. Plan Your Route
Chose convenient routes while planning your travel. This ranges from the most comfortable, accessible airports for connecting flights and local transport at the destination. Well-staffed, highly rated airports are the best option to find connecting flights. Leave ample time between connecting flights to find your way to terminals. Do your research for local travel options and utility of public transportation.
Best Disabled Travel Websiteswww.wheelchairtraveling.com: This directory has complete itineraries, accommodation options, and accessible guided tours for popular vacation destinations around the world. This is one of the most popular options to plan accessible travel.
www.accessatlast.com: This website has a vast directory of accommodation and property listings across 16 American, European, and Asian countries. Mobility assistance can also be arranged.
www.ablemagazine.co.uk: This is a great guide to finding your way across accessible travel and discovering new options and travel destinations.
www.tourismforall.org.uk: This website provides comprehensive information on planning an accessible trip to anywhere in the UK.
With a little more planning and efforts, travelling with disabilities would become the same as travelling without any!