Wheelchair Accessible Travel Tips
Wheelchair-accessible travel, whether you utilize a manual wheelchair or power wheelchair, can come with some obstacles and need for assistance. To provide you with optimal access for your next trip, we’ve compiled these vacation tips for wheelchair users – regardless of your destination.
Wheelchair Accessible Travel
There are undoubtedly many worries that come with flying as a wheelchair user, but there are some things that you can do to make the process a bit easier. Here are some of the most important wheelchair-accessible travel tips so that you can hopefully have a smoother experience the next time you fly.
Travel to and from the Airport
If you’re planning to fly, getting to the airport might be tricky due to a lack of space for your wheelchair or mobility aide in the cab or rideshare. We recommended that you try to order a wheelchair-friendly ride such as Lyft or Uber. Lyft and Uber give you the option of picking bigger-sized vehicles. As a wheelchair user, your best option would generally be to choose the XL.
Some cities have readily available transportation that is wheelchair accessible. However, the sad truth is that a lot of cities do not offer as much wheelchair-accessible transportation as they should. By researching online beforehand, you can discover if there are accessible taxis or accessible public transportation. Wait times for accessible taxis can be long, so if you’re able to book in advance, it will likely save you some travel time to your destination.
When you are booking with your air carrier, call the airline and explain to them that you are in a wheelchair and will require some assistance and be sure to request an aisle seat or bulkhead seating if you’d like. Bulkhead is the front row of economy class and these seats are usually more spacious than average economy class seats, which makes it easier to maneuver during the boarding process.
Bulkhead is an extra cost on many airlines, but for wheelchair users it is free. However, be aware that sometimes the armrests on bulkhead seats do not lift up. If this is something you’ll need in order to transfer into the seat, just tell the airline when you are making the reservation and they will know which seat options will work best for you.
Protecting Your Wheelchair Cargo
When flying, your powered wheelchair will go into the cargo space, so there is a chance that it could get damaged during the flight. To hopefully prevent damage, there are a few things that you can do.
Take a spare carry-on bag to store any parts of your wheelchair that can easily come off. The fewer parts of your wheelchair that are in the cargo hold, the less of a chance of damage. Wrap protective cushioning around any parts of your wheelchair that you don’t end up taking in a carry-on bag. You could wrap the armrests, joystick, etc.
Print out a sign with instructions on how to operate your own wheelchair and tape it on the chair itself. The sign should say how to manually push and lock it – and you should even put your phone number on the sign so that if the person loading your wheelchair has any questions, they can call you.
We have travel tips for trains too! Train networks across the world, including Amtrak in the United States, can accommodate those with disabilities, limited mobility, travelers with accessibility needs, and both manual and powered wheelchairs. The best tip for traveling out of comfort zones for those with a disability or in need of mobility aid is to plan ahead.
Due to the gaps between the train and station platform, “bridge plates” and ramps are used to allow wheelchairs to roll smoothly onto the train. Traveling by train is often an adventure.
Early arrival to the train station is important. You’ll need to contact the info desk to announce your arrival at the station. You will be instructed to wait for the assistance staff at the info desk or on the boarding platform. In foreign countries, where traveling by rail is more commonplace, there is great pressure for trains to depart on time. This means that rail operators and their station personnel dedicate extra attention to ensuring that wheelchair passengers are boarded quickly and, many times, before other people.
Many cruise ships and major cruise lines, even vessels sailing under foreign flags, that dock in U.S. ports are required to abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act (the law doesn’t apply to international ports) and provide accessible travel. You’ll find wheelchair-accessible travel cabins, public bathrooms, theaters and restaurants. The newest ships go even further to make more amenities available to passengers with limited mobility and other disabilities.
Accessible features vary from one cruise line to another, and even ships within the same class can be different. When choosing a ship, newer and larger is generally better, but don’t discount older vessels. Many cruise lines use the opportunity to make ships more accessible to travelers when they undergo major renovations and upgrades. While oceangoing vessels tend to be more disability-friendly, some river cruise ships are also able to accommodate passengers with disabilities, but with limitations.
Cruise lines generally require passengers to store their chair (wheelchairs or scooters) in their stateroom. Passengers cannot keep these items in hallways, stairways, or public areas because of safety regulations. Read the cruise line guidelines regarding the acceptable width and weight of mobility aids, including the types of batteries and chargers allowed.
To find a rental car with hand controls, you’ll need to give the rental agency some notice – usually at least 24 hours. Every agency’s inventory of vehicles with hand controls is different at each location, although given enough notice, their technicians can install hand controls on certain vehicles by request.
Typically the cheapest category of sedan you can get with hand controls is a Standard sedan. In most cases, you have to call to rent a vehicle with special accessibility options like hand controls, spinner knobs, and swivel seats. Some agencies will also remove seats in some vehicles to allow for more storage space. The good news is that renting a car with these modifications won’t cost you any extra.
Many travelers with physical disabilities have the need to travel with a larger and heavier motorized wheelchair. If you fall into this category, you may be required to rent an accessible van from a specialty agency and bring someone with you who can do the driving. Some companies may offer vehicles with EZ-Lock or comparable latching mechanisms that your chair may snap into for safe transport.
Standard car rental agencies do not offer accessible vans with lifts or ramps for rent. Fortunately, there are many websites and companies like Wheelchair Getaways and Wheelers Accessible Van Rentals with locations in most major US cities that offer newer model modified vans for short-term and long-term rental.
According to a recent study, 98% of public buses in the US are wheelchair accessible. Because of this, nearly anyone who can access a bus stop can use the regular bus routes. Most public buses serve a set area, such as a metropolitan area or city are drivers must give you time to get on and get off.
Depending on the type of public transport used, you may be required to transfer from your chair or there may be a space to continue to use the chair you’re already sitting in.
Subway stations have elevators to help you access the appropriate floor for boarding and disembarking, however, navigating to those elevators can be difficult.
Because the ADA went into effect in 1990, many stations were built before then and were not required to make their transportation accessible to travelers with disabilities. In Manhattan, for example, only 36 of 147 stations are wheelchair accessible, with some of those being only partly accessible.
Where the ADA Falls Short
Making laws is one thing, yet having the funding to ensure that everything is compliant with the law is another. While mandating change, the ADA does not provide funding to help transportation providers meet its standards.
The ADA recognizes this challenge and sets the expectation that transportation providers will comply “to the maximum possible extent.” In other words, if the provider doesn’t have the money or accommodations simply are not possible, then they will not be forced to comply with all of the provisions of the ADA.
For example, sometimes the physical layout of a train station is such that there is no possible way to make it wheelchair accessible. In that case, the operator of the train service will not be forced to rebuild the station to make it wheelchair accessible.
It’s important to recognize that the intent of the ADA is to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to the same services as the rest of the population.
Paratransit services are defined as transport services that do not follow a fixed route or schedule. Typically, they use modified vans to accommodate disabled passengers. In some areas, paratransit services have been known by other names such as Dial-a-Ride. Some paratransit programs will even offer door-to-door services.
In most areas, there is some kind of application process to prove why you can’t use the regular bus or other options. You can’t just decide you would prefer the paratransit service because the fixed route service is inconvenient.
You can bring travel companions, and the attendant rides for free.
While any public entity that offers fixed-route transportation is required to offer paratransit services, lack of funding means these services are often very limited.
Wheelchair User Friendly Hotels
A small fraction of hotel rooms is designed for guests who have disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that hotels with 151 to 200 guest rooms have six accessible rooms, and only two must include a roll-in shower (a shower that is typically larger with a zero barrier threshold, a handheld shower sprayer, and a bench so the wheelchair user can transfer and sit while bathing). Hotels with 50 or fewer rooms are not required to have a roll-in shower hotel room.
Finding specific information about a hotel’s wheelchair-accessibility features is time-consuming. Unfortunately, most hotels do not post photos of their actual accessible guest rooms and bathrooms online.
If you have questions, call the hotel directly, get the name and e-mail address of the person you need to talk to, and take the time to patiently explain your specific needs. For example, some wheelchair users need open space under a bed for a Hoyer lift or assistance with luggage. Expect to do some research to find the destinations with the best accommodation for your disability needs.
Many hotels will offer agent services to supply you with extra tips for your trip, including your hotel stay, luggage handling, and help you be aware of accessible vacation opportunities for trips you may not have uncovered in your research.
If you’re traveling internationally, always be sure to check the voltage for charging your mobile device or medical equipment at your destination before going. In America, outlets are 110 volts, but most other countries in the world are 220+ volts. If you use a powered wheelchair and need to charge it in a foreign country, a converter and an adapter might work.
However, wheelchair battery chargers are often so strong that they can’t properly convert. To prevent an outlet blowout, consider purchasing a 220-240 volt wheelchair charger before your trip. Your local wheelchair repair shop can help you find the right one. It may be quite expensive to purchase (around $250), but it could make wheelchair traveling easier for years to come.
Manual Wheelchair vs Power Wheelchair
It can be difficult to plan trips, with destinations, airlines, and above all accessibility in mind. However, a motorized wheelchair makes many of these obstacles smaller.
Going from your hotel down the streets of Paris to the Eiffel Tower, for example, becomes much more doable as an independent traveler if you’re not physically having to propel yourself. Many wheelchairs are built with accessibility and security checks in mind with a narrower width, making getting through any airport, into your flight, and onto your vacation much easier.
Redman Power Chair
With a Redman Power Chair, over 35 years of technological advancements including multiple proprietary and patented designs, our custom-tailored wheelchair allows for uncompromised mobility and accessibility to interact more fully with the world around you, experience independent travel, and be in the front seat for your next traveling experience.
The Redman Standing Power Chair is a clever choice in motorized wheelchair technology with a full-body positioning system. Originally designed for the high-quadriplegic, the Redman Chief 107-ZRx is a complex rehabilitation chair. Specifically, it is a Multi-Option Group 3 Power Chair and it is the very best in its class. Rehab chairs augment or replace function while providing support surfaces… this can help build and maintain muscle strength and elasticity along with a variety of other clinical health benefits
Our full-body positioning chair provides a variety of positions that no other chair on the market can offer. The Redman Chief 107-ZRx is the only mid-wheel standing chair that elevates, tilts, stands, and reclines. It also has the narrowest footprint amongst all competitors.
The Redman Power Chair gives mobility back to the men, women, and children who need it most. To help you stand, recline, tilt, and stretch like you deserve to, our in-house team works directly with your medical providers and insurance companies to find the most cost-effective point possible.
Start traveling in style and make your next trip the best one yet. Get your FREE demo now to learn more about what a Redman Power Chair could bring to your life.
Related Article: Can You Take a Wheelchair on a Plane?