travelTravel Tips for the Handicapped

The information provided here is of a general nature. You are solely responsible for the way that this information is perceived and utilized and do so at your own risk.

Picking a travel agent

Always seek out a travel agent who is aware of airline services for the disabled, door widths on bathroom doors, accessibility to cruise ships, special hand controls on rental cars, etc. This will save you a lot of grief and heartache! Everyone should experience the thrill of travel!.

You can still find good travel agents and you should seek them out. The key is to ask if they charge service charges or booking fees (we DO NOT) and to do a little research on your own. When you find a good agent, they can be your best resource. You can still find travel agents who love what they do, and are willing to help you find a real bargain. I assist my clients in finding bargains just like I try to find for myself. Even though I don't get commission from some of the smaller lodging options, etc. I still recommend these to my clients since they will come to me for airline tickets, tours, rail tickets, etc., which is how we make our money. Finding a good travel agent is like finding a good friend, and I consider my clients my good friends. Also remember, a travel agent is a friend that is there when you need them for emergencies, changes, or just to chat and share photos. Can you do that with a book or the internet?

 If you plan the trip yourself:

Be sure your reservation is confirmed, otherwise you may not have a reservation at all. Especially now that everything is so instant with the Internet, it's very possible that you could call or email an establishment about availability, send in your information, dates, etc. only to check back to find your room, or suite was booked to someone else. If you don't make up your mind on the spot, the lodging establishment is NOT obligated to book the reservation with you. Just because you called or sent an email indicating you want to place a reservation does not mean you HAVE a reservation. Someone else could call or email 10 seconds later and book the vacancy with a CONFIRMATION (while you're still on the fence, or just delayed in your response).

The Better Business Bureau acknowledges that lodging establishments are within their right to book a room or suite to someone else, if in the meantime you are undecided or have not yet responded with all the appropriate information. If the lodging establishment did not transact a payment (cash or credit) with you, then there is no binding agreement.

This position by lodging owners is understandable, since there are thousands of non-returned calls and 'blow-offs' where people never bother to follow through on a tentative reservation. Therefore lodging establishments have developed the "confirmation" as a way of verifying to you that your reservation cannot be booked to someone else, and if for some reason it is, then they are obligated to provide you with alternate arrangements. Many lodging establishments will not hold a room or a suite for the same reasons: Many times people just never call back. Meanwhile the lodging owner would be sitting with a vacancy on an empty promise. So do yourself a favor and don't insult the lodging owner by asking them to "hold" a room for you.

If part of the reason you are undecided is because of timing with other people's plans, or because you are still 'comparison' shopping, then it's best to hold off on actually placing a reservation until you have the those planning details ironed out. Place your reservation when you've made up your mind, and when everyone can agree on the time and place. The reservation process will go much more quickly, and you will have a CONFIRMATION that secures your getaway spot.

 Pre-Travel Planning

If you are worried about your house not looking lived in while you go, it is very simple and inexpensive to change that. Firstly, redirect your mail to a friend or family member's home (make sure you check with them first!) and secondly, you can purchase - quite cheaply from any major department store - lamps and radios that have timers on them. You can set them to turn on at times in the evening so from the outside it looks like there is someone home. (Don't forget to set the radio to a talk back show so it's more talk than music - makes it more real). This is definitely a cheaper way to take care of things than installing new wiring for expensive timers on the household lights.

 Traveling with wheelchairs

Special tip for airports: Many airlines will allow the disabled traveler to use the executive lounges for layovers. These areas often have better seating and restroom accommodations. This courtesy is especially nice for the person with a spinal cord injury or for others who are w/c dependent.

Normally you can use your own wheelchair as far as the boarding point of the aircraft, where you will transfer to a special aisle chair. If you are able to walk a short distance, you should request a seat near the entrance doors. Your wheelchair will then be stored conveniently for immediate availability on arrival. The airline will probably want to pre-board you, so be early at the airport. You, however, have the choice not to pre-board.

Wheelchairs fall into three classes:

  1. normal hand-propelled chairs;
  2. electric wheelchairs, including scooters, with wet acid batteries;
  3. electric wheelchairs, including scooters, with dry cell or sealed gel batteries.

Those who have Type 2 wheelchairs should check with the airline, as a leaking battery in-flight can be dangerous. It will be necessary for baggage handlers to remove the battery and place it in a special container. This requires the passenger to be at the airport at least 3 hours before departure.

Most modern power-operated wheelchairs have some form of safety battery so that they can be carried without risk of damage to the aircraft. However, it will be necessary for baggage handlers to disconnect the leads from the terminal and to cap them to avoid shorting. This may take some time, so you will have to preboard. It may be necessary to transfer you to a special aisle wheelchair in the air terminal, and there may equally be a delay on arrival before your chair is available.

The airlines are responsible for ensuring that your battery is reconnected and that your chair is working on arrival at your destination. Electric scooters can also be transported without problems; their battery requirements are the same as for wheelchairs.

As a precaution against loss or damage, always remove all detachable parts before your wheelchair is stored, and label the chair with your name and address and destination airport.

Special note for those taking electric wheelchairs:

Make sure that you talk to an aircraft loading supervisor prior to letting them have your wheelchair to load on the plane.  Have them inspect it for damage and get an inspection tag from them.  Also this is the critical part, make sure that if your chair has any special lifting/loading requirements that you have the loading supervisor or crew contact the offloading destination supervisor prior to landing and have them come up to the speak with you about the special handling procedures before offloading your wheelchair from the plane. I cannot stress this enough because loading crews know nothing about how to handle a electric wheelchair and can cause serious damage to it.  I know this first hand.  I have taken my electric wheelchair on a plane 3 times and the first 2 times they have done major damage to it, The last time I flew with it I followed this procedure and it came through the flight ok.

So long as your condition is stable, you are entitled to the protection of the Air Carriers Access Act of 1986, and the airline cannot make limiting regulations.

In the event of a problem with airport or in-flight personnel, you should require them to contact the Complaints Resolution Officer (CRO), who must always be available and willing to deal with your grievance. They cannot refuse. However, to avoid problems, make sure that you let the airline know your needs as early as possible. Also, make sure you have adequate insurance to cover damage to or loss of your wheelchair or scooter as well as personal injury.

If you travel in a wheelchair, book through a travel agent. If you purchase tickets on a non-stop or direct flight but the airline does a schedule change to a connecting flight, your travel agent can explore other options, and can even get you a refund on a non-refundable ticket. When you make your reservation, volunteer information on the type of wheelchair (i.e. manual; electric; wet or dry cell). Also, explain exactly how much assistance you will need. If the reservations agent is unfamiliar with special needs clients, (s)he may not ask - which could result in delays or frustration at the airport.




 Additional Resources

The following publications are available free from the Federal Government.

Access Travel:

Airports (#580Y) provides details on handicapped facilities and services at 533 airports worldwide. New Horizons for the Air Traveler with a Disability, a 33-page booklet from the Department of Transportation, explains the Air Carriers Access Act regulations that came into effect in March, 1990, as well as the changes resulting from the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Topics include accessibility of airports and aircraft; requirements for advance notice, attendants and medical certificates; handling of mobility aids and assistive devices; and much more, including how to file a complaint.

Federal publications are listed in the Consumer Information Catalog and can be ordered from S. James, Consumer Information Center - 2D, P.O. Box 100 Pueblo, CO 81002. A $1.00 service fee is charged, for which one can order up to 25 free booklets.

A growing number of American airlines also publish travel information for handicapped passengers.  For example:

Delta/Northwest Airlines offers a 13-page brochure entitled Air Travel For People With Disabilities. It is available in a standard print format, as well as in Braille with large print and on audio cassette with Braille labeling. For free copies, call (800) 358-3100.

Traveling with Mobility impairments

Today the wheelchair symbol is probably the best known international accessibility symbol; however, not all those with a problem in moving around use a wheelchair all or even part of the time.

Whether you have a problem walking and use a cane or crutches or have a medical condition which makes walking difficult, you should have no problem in traveling today. In almost every country, transportation operators, whether bus, train, or air, expect to assist you. Find out in advance how you can best get to the boarding point and also ask the company to reserve suitable seating for you.

Under the provisions of the Americas With Disabilities Act (ADA), private bus companies must provide boarding assistance to passengers with mobility problems and must transport wheelchairs. Very few at present, however, have lift-equipped long-distance buses. This includes Greyhound Lines. Inc., the sole remaining nationwide intercity bus company in the U.S. For a copy of their brochure for handicapped clients, Greyhound Travel Policies, call (800) 752-4841 or (800) 345-3109 (TDD). Greyhound asks that handicapped travelers call them 48 hours prior to departure in order to arrange assistance. If no travel companion is required, call the above numbers. If one does require a companion (who travels free of charge), call (800) 231-2222.

With regard to public buses, most cities in the U.S. and Canada currently have accessible local service. In Europe, some tour and line buses are accessible.

Information on accessible train travel can be obtained from Amtrak, which runs most of the intercity passenger trains in U.S. These are normally accessible and have special facilities for both those with walking impairments and those using a wheelchair. Amtrak publishes a booklet for handicapped travelers, Access Amtrak, available by calling (800) USA-RAIL or (800) 872-7245. They will also advise you concerning the accessibility of your stations of departure and arrival and what assistance you will need. A growing number of subway and other local train services in the U.S. are also wheelchair accessible.

Air travel for both the ambulatory and the wheelchair traveler has become much easier as a result of new regulations which provide, among other things, for the education of both ground and in-flight personnel. Those who are able to walk short distances should request assistance and, if necessary, a wheelchair between the point of arrival and the airplane and vice versa on landing at the time they book their flight. Don't forget to repeat this information if you need to change your flight for any reason. (Code SSR). Canes and crutches may have to be stored during take-off and landing but will be returned to you on request during the flight.

 parksDisability benefits at U.S. National Parks

Persons who are blind or permanently disabled can obtain a Golden Access Passport, which is a free lifetime entrance pass to all U.S. national parks. To obtain this passport, go to any National Park Service facility that charges an entrance fee and show proof of medically determined disability and eligibility for receiving benefits under federal law. You will receive your Golden Access Passport, free of charge. The Passport admits the pass holder and any accompanying passengers in a private vehicle. Where entry is not by private vehicle, the Passport admits the pass holder, spouse, children, and parents. The Passport also provides a 50% discount on federal use fees charged for facilities and services such as fees for camping, swimming, parking, boat launching, and cave tours.