Tips for Traveling with a Disability

Published on: August 3, 2018

Foreign travel for the disabledEveryday life for those with a disability can pose a myriad of challenges. For those with wanderlust, it may present another whole new set of them. While some destinations are not going to be as accommodating as others, don’t let disability rule out your desire to see the world. Here are some tips to make your dreams of travel a reality.

Consult with Your Physician

Depending on your disability, this may be your fist step, especially if you’re traveling to a foreign destination. Your physician may be able to help you think of health care needs you may not have even considered. In addition, if your health insurance plan doesn’t include or offer coverage overseas, we recommend supplemental medical insurance and medical evacuation plans. A few other considerations:

  • Carry medical alert information and a letter from your health care provider describing your medical condition, medications, potential complications, and other pertinent medical information. Be sure to have it translated in advance if traveling to a non-English speaking country.
  • Carry sufficient prescription medication to last your entire trip, and keep it in a carry-on bag or personal bag in case luggage gets temporarily lost (bringing some extra in case of travel delay is also a must).
  • Some prescription medications may be illegal in foreign countries; your physician may know, or you may be able to find out online or through Mobility International. If this is determined to be the case, your physician can hopefully recommend a comparable (and legal) prescription.
  • Always carry your prescriptions in their labeled bottles, not in a daily pill planner case. Prescriptions need to be able to be identified if your baggage is searched, and if they're not in their labeled bottle it may raise eyebrows.

Always Plan Ahead

Traveling within the United States is likely to be much less complicated due to The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). U.S hotels, transportation, and cruise ships sailing in U.S. waters are required to be ADA-compliant, but this isn’t true of all foreign destinations, so be sure to call ahead to discuss what accommodations can be made and get the details in writing in case you do experience difficulty. A few other considerations to make:

  • Call the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) helpline for travelers with disabilities and medical conditions at 855-787-2227 or check TSA’s website, TSA Cares. They can answer questions about screening policies, procedures, and the security checkpoints.
  • Check websites such as Mobility International USA to find overseas disability organizations.
  • Work with a travel agency. While it may cost a bit more, they’re generally well-versed in the policies and accommodations of foreign destinations and can help ensure a smooth trip.

Inquire About Assistive Devices

Find out if there are specific policies for devices such as wheelchairs, portable machines, batteries, respirators, and oxygen and research the availability of wheelchair and medical equipment providers. If you use a power wheelchair, you’ll want to know about:

  • Voltage of electricity which can vary in foreign countries
  • Type of electrical plug and outlet (you may need an adapter)
  • Reliability of electrical systems

Traveling with a Service Animal

While service animals can’t be refused in the U.S because they are federally registered, this won’t necessarily be the case out of the country, so be sure to do your homework:

  • Contact the U.S. embassy or consulate of your destination country for information on any restrictions and cultural norms regarding service animals. They can also inform you of any quarantine, vaccination, and documentation requirements.
  • Talk with your vet about tips for traveling with your service animal.
  • Make sure your hotel will accommodate your service animal.

Emotional support animals (ESAs), which are becoming increasingly popular, are a different story (and are the reason for many recent headaches the airline industry has experienced). If you have an ESA, even within the U.S., you’ll want to call about accommodations in advance, and again, if an airline or hotel verbally approves your animal, be sure to get it in writing. Attempting to take an ESA abroad is not recommended,

Do Further Research

The internet is your friend! Just be sure to check the date of publication on any post to be sure you're reading current content (a disabled individual skipped over seeing the Roman Forum because a website said it was inaccessible for wheelchairs, when in fact it had been equipped with an elevator a few years prior).

  • Look for books and blogs by someone with a disability who’s traveled to your desired destination; you’d be surprised what is out there! Sage Traveling is another good resource. Here, John Sage describes things that can go wrong and what you can do about them.
  • Consider time of year, weather conditions, and other events that could affect health. For example, China is prone to smog outbreaks and may not be a good destination for those with breathing issues.
  • Look for discounts. For example, Amtrak offers discounts from 15% up to 50% to wheelchair users and a travel companion with proof of disability. Reduced fares for those with physical limitations are also available on buses like Greyhound and trains here and abroad, including Japan, London, Singapore and more.
  • Look for freebies. The National Park Service Access Pass is free for U.S. citizens with permanent disabilities and grants access to any of the national parks, monuments, historic sites, and more. Museums, zoos, and theme parks are some other attractions that typically offer discounts.

We hope these tips and resources have made you more comfortable with the idea of traveling in the U.S. and abroad, because no one should be denied the wonder of travel. With preparation and planning, you can soon be off on the trip of a lifetime. If you’ve got some tips of your own, let us know if the comments below. Safe travels!


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