A Barrier-free World

By Chelle Cordero

May 23, 2012 5 min read

Preparing for that once-in-a-lifetime trip around the world involves extensive planning, paperwork, immunizations, language lessons, travel and lodging reservations, and well-planned itineraries. Generic trip plans will never be fit for all, and when you are dealing with added mobility issues, you might think your travel days are beyond your reach.

Having to use a wheelchair or having vision deficits or other physical needs aren't a reason to limit yourself when traveling internationally if you plan ahead and do your research.

"Flying and cruising are probably my top choices," says Candy Harrington, accessible travel expert and author of "Barrier-Free Travel: A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers." "Train travel is good in some countries, but you really have to research that carefully. You can hire a specially adapted van with a tour guide in many places, but for the most part, outside of the U.S., bus tours are not a good choice if you can't walk up steps and stow your mobility device below with the baggage. They just don't have wheelchair-accessible buses like we do."

Harrington adds: "Most Second World countries have some kind of access law, but depending on where you travel, it's far different from the Americans With Disabilities Act. Some are better, and some are worse. I'd advise folks to research the access laws in their destination country. You also have to be aware that the language of access differs from region to region. For example, in Europe, if you want a room with a roll-in shower, you need to ask for an adapted room, not an accessible room, as you would in the U.S. In Europe, an accessible room only has pathway access, and it lacks any bathroom-access features."

There are several travel resources and organizations that cater to the needs of mobility-challenged travelers. United Nations Enable has been pursuing advances "to remove barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all." Some travel agencies cater exclusively to senior and/or mobility-challenged travelers to foster the concept of inclusive travel.

When planning your trip, make sure you know what provisions are available at your destination to accommodate your needs. Also find out what you can and cannot travel with in terms of equipment. In some cases, it may be easier to rent equipment such as wheelchairs and scooters rather than dealing with the hassles of transporting your own. Shipping your scooter overseas may expose it to breakage or loss, for example.

U.S. airlines and tour companies may be bound, within reason, to Americans With Disabilities Act rules and regulations, and you are entitled to certain expectations. But non-American connecting airlines, ships and tour groups need only provide courtesies up to the standards of their country of ownership. Look for alternate methods where necessary. For instance, a hotel or attraction without public elevators may still have freight elevators. Make arrangements with a manager for permission to use them during your visit.

Here are a few tips from seasoned travelers who agree they have a right to see the world.

Depending on your level of disability, consider traveling with a more able companion. If you cannot transfer from a wheelchair to a plane seat or toilet by yourself, it may be more comfortable to have someone who can assist you without commotion.

Learn key phrases in the language of the country you are visiting, in case you have to ask for assistance, to save the frustration of miscommunication.

Check with airline and international customs before your trip to know what and how you have to transport any necessary medications.

If you must travel with a service animal, allow time for necessary documents and shots, and know the rules of the country you are visiting.

Also know what your insurance will and will not cover overseas and the locations of medical facilities. The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers provides a directory of English-speaking doctors around the world (716-754-4883, [email protected]). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains health-related information online, including travel preparation and health tips for travel worldwide.

The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange offers several informational fact and tip sheets for travelers. Go to http://www.miusa.org/ncde, or call 541-343-1284.

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