Tag Archives: travel

Wheelchair Accessible Tourism & International Travel Tips

The support structures and community awareness for wheelchair accessible tourism & international travel across Europe are gaining in strength every year. In many ways Europe is quite advanced in its catering for travellers with a disability. Most buses in London have ramps that come out to the footpath and have special areas inside for wheelchairs,

London city has a great booklet available called ‘Accessing London’, written by people with disabilities (usually available at the local tourism office) in any city you visit.

Travel by train is straightforward with a special area available for wheelchair travelers and child prices for the wheelchair user and their carer. In Belgium, the locals are helpful with accommodating visitors in wheelchair to their National Parks. If travelling by car make sure you take your disability parking permit, as designated parking is available at most places and is often invaluable. An international disability plate (the wheelchair symbol) is also essential.

The MS Society of the United Kingdom was quite helpful and suggested a disabled tourism site on the internet. Disabled toilets varied widely, where they were available. Most tourist sites in the UK have them available, in France they are a little less common, but Germany is well-endowed. Like here, you often have to wait for the quite able-bodied to vacate them. Many toilets have attendants sitting outside, whom you pay. As a person with a disability however, you are not expected to pay; which in some cases was just as well.

The top tips for traveling in Europe, plan ahead, plan ahead and plan ahead. There will always be some accessibility challenges, the truth is that the more research you do, the more accessible your trip will be. For instance, avoiding bridges in Venice and hills in Paris is entirely possible. The Herculaneum’s ruins are nearly identical to Pompeii’s, and are wheelchair-friendly. Cruise passengers with disabilities don’t have to take the “donkey path” up the cliffs when visiting the Greek island of Santorini, such a vacation doesn’t need to be a struggle — do your homework and your trip can be filled with fully accessible hotel accommodations, accessible routes between accessible tourist attractions, and wonderful accessible travel experiences.

Book hotels far in advance. It is almost always cheaper to book your accessible hotel accommodation far in advance. Many hotels in European city CBD have only one or two accessible rooms. The best ones get booked very early. For travel in the summer, make your reservations in December.

Carefully plan your route. If you know what you’re getting into before you arrive in Europe, you’ll have a much easier time on your trip. There’ll likely be numerous ways to get to the tourist attractions you’re so eager to see. Some routes will have wheelchair ramps, smooth pavement, and flat terrain; others may have steep hills, bothersome (and even dangerous) cobblestones, and flights of stairs. Research the accessibility of sidewalks, bus routes, subway stations, and the location of accessible building entrances before your trip.

Stay in the most accessible parts of town. This is one of the hardest parts of planning your trip. You may have found a great accessible hotel, but what will you find when you walk/roll out the front door? Are there hills and stairs in all directions? Will you have to roll over cobblestones? Are there accessible restaurants nearby? It’s REALLY crucial to research the hotel’s neighborhood.

Most of all have a backup plan. Even on the most perfectly planned accessible vacation, something can go wrong. If it does, how will you deal with it? If you prepare for all the possible issues, travel with someone who can help you during your trip, and remain flexible, unexpected events won’t turn into potential trip-ruining problems. What will you do if a part on your wheelchair breaks? If a train strike occurs in Italy, how will you get from Florence to Rome? With backup plans (such as packing vital spare parts for your wheelchair), you won’t have to put your vacation on hold. A company that specializes in accessibility will lead you on the flattest, smoothest, shortest tour routes.

In addition, before you take a tour or hire a guide, ask these questions:

Is the tour guide a licensed professional?

How much training has the guide received and what tests have they passed?

What route will the guide use? Does it involve curbs, steps, steep hills, or cobblestones?

Where are the accessible bathrooms located? Will the guide physically assist you if needed (i.e., push a manual wheelchair)?

Is this a private tour, or will you be with other travelers? Are you expected to keep up with able-bodied tour members?

How many people with disabilities have they guided in the past year? (If it’s been a long time, the guide may not be aware of the latest regulations or updates regarding accessibility.

Finally, enjoy your trip. You’ve done as much planning as you can. You’ve relied on the experience of other travellers with disabilities and you’re prepared for the unexpected. Now it’s time to reap the rewards. Majestic cities, priceless art, wonderful architecture, ancient history, exquisite food and truly life affirming experiences await.