Accessible Travel: The Guide to Traveling When Accessibility Comes First

Accessible Travel: The Guide to Traveling When Accessibility Comes First


2018 study conducted by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics found that 3.6 million disabled Americans don’t leave their homes at all because of their disability. While that is heartbreaking, it’s somewhat understandable. People with disabilities often face inadequate or non-existent accessible facilities, misunderstanding, and even discrimination – and that’s in their own communities.

It’s no surprise that traveling as a disabled person has long been considered near-impossible. Fortunately, the travel industry is waking up to this fact and has taken huge steps toward making accessible travel, well, more accessible.

It can be challenging to plan a trip for someone with a disability, whether that someone is you or another person you’re traveling with, and whether it’s your first trip or your 50th. A great deal of extra thought and planning must go into accessible travel to ensure it’s a success, but it can absolutely be done and it’s well worth it.

man in a mobile chair and women with a cane going for a stroll

Plan ahead

The key to successful accessible travel is planning – starting early and doing lots of it. It may seem like certain attractions or entire cities aren’t accessible and it can be overwhelming coordinating so many things, but knowing exactly what to expect at each stage of your trip is crucial to being able to enjoy it.

Book direct flights when possible to avoid getting on and off planes, especially if you use a wheelchair or other walking aid. If a layover is unavoidable or you have a condition that prevents you from sitting for long stretches, be sure to allow plenty of time to get from one gate to the next. Before flying, you should also review the TSA’s Disabilities and Medical Conditions guidelines.

Depending on your disability, you may also want to visit your regular doctor before your trip. He or she may be able to prescribe extra medication to have in case of an emergency, as well as give you a letter clearly outlining your disability and the special accommodations you need. Your doctor may also have a referral for a physician or hospital at your destination. Ideally, you won’t need any of these things, but as the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Choose hotels carefully and book early

Finding disabled accommodations that are truly accessible is one of the most important, not to mention challenging, parts of travel planning. Consider your trip priorities: Is it visiting a particular attraction, getting some R&R, or having a centrally-located, close-to-everything basecamp? Once you’ve determined that, narrow down the area most conducive to your plans and begin researching accessible hotels.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), guidelines were established to make buildings more accessible. While other countries have since issued their own standards, accessibility simply isn’t universal. You may find one property advertising ADA hotel rooms, while another has stellar disabled accommodations but doesn’t label its accessible rooms. Not all hotels are created equal.

As you’re researching accessible hotels, call directly to inquire about accommodation specifics. Although many properties, like Coast Hotels, regularly update their websites with specific accessibility information, you don’t want to rely on potentially out-of-date or incorrect information. For example, a property may consider itself an ADA hotel because its bathrooms have walk-in showers, but if you’re in a wheelchair, you may need a roll-in shower. Take the name of the person you speak to and regardless of how far in advance you book, follow up one or two days before arriving to confirm that you have an ADA hotel room. It’s also a good idea to find out who the manager will be on the day you check in.

Coast Hotels accessible bathroom

Map it out

It’s not just accessible hotels you need to consider. Your hotel ADA accommodations could be near-perfect, but the surrounding area could be hilly or have lots of stairs. This is exactly why it’s critical to plan as much of the trip ahead of time as possible, from renting a vehicle to booking guided tours.

If you won’t have a rental car, know what your transportation options are. Will there be trains or taxis available that can accommodate wheelchairs? If you’re taking a guided tour but have impaired vision or hearing, what options does the company have to make your experience more enjoyable? Just like when booking accessible hotels, consider calling to speak with someone directly to get all your questions answered.

It’s also important to keep in mind that “accessibility” and “disability” mean something different to everyone. The person you’re speaking to may have never encountered someone asking about disabled accommodations, or may truly not know exactly what it means. Give them the benefit of the doubt and explain what your particular needs are, being clear and specific. The company may need some time to make arrangements, but is likely happy to do so given the opportunity.

Most importantly, keep a positive attitude and be open-minded. You can often find a suitable, more accessible alternative. As an example, if you want to take a boat tour, there may be one company in particular known to be more accessible-friendly.

Selfie in a pub

Crossing the street in a wheelchair

Practice makes perfect

Whether or not you have experience with accessible travel, consider practicing parts of the trip before leaving, particularly if you’re traveling alone. That could include getting on and off public transportation, completing tasks on your own, or using crutches or other walking aids.

Along those same lines, what you use at home doesn’t necessarily have to be what you use on your trip. Some people choose to use their spare glasses or hearing aids for travel. You may use a cane at home, but perhaps a manual, foldable walker makes more sense while traveling. Whatever you choose, your comfort and safety come first, which means practicing with any new or unfamiliar items.

Have a backup plan

Even the most carefully-planned trips can have hiccups, so it’s a good idea to have a Plan B – and maybe C and D, as well. In case something doesn’t go according to plan or you’re simply not comfortable somewhere, consider having alternatives lined up. These should be places and options that you thoroughly researched accessibility on before the trip.

Women in chair in the mountians

It’s completely normal to worry about all the things that can go wrong when it comes to accessible travel, but don’t overlook all the things that can go right. When you’re ready to book, Coast Hotels is an excellent choice for accessible accommodations, with nearly 40 properties throughout Canada and the U.S., and many with ADA hotel rooms.

In the words of Susan Sygall, CEO and co-founder of Mobility International USA, “Don’t accept other people’s notions of what is possible.” Happy (accessible) traveling!