Ultimate Guide to Traveling with Disabilities

About 56.7 million United States citizens are living with a disability, according to the most recent national census. While traveling can be a lot of fun with new memories made, it is important to make sure wherever you travel to can accommodate if you have a disability. Luckily, there are several options available so that those who do have a disability are able to travel comfortably and safely.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Explained

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was founded in 1990 and defines disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.

The ADA “prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.” The ADA doesn’t list all impairments that are covered under this act, but these regulations have made it easier for those with disabilities to be able to travel.

Enjoyable travel is possible by planning ahead and making sure you take steps to mitigate any potential challenges. This guide will provide tips for those with mobility, cognitive, and hearing disabilities. We’ll also list tips and resources for senior citizens and children with disabilities.

General Travel Tips for Individuals with Physical Disabilities

Physical disabilities are those that limit one’s ability to move, making travel more challenging. Physical limitations don’t have to keep you from traveling altogether. These tips and resources will help you plan for your travel and overcome challenges that may arise.

  • Make sure before your trip, you choose a resort, hotel or cruise that provides accessibility. If you are able to choose your own destination, select a location that provides accessibility for physical disabilities. If you aren’t able to choose your own destination, find out if there will be accessibility accommodations at the location. Flying Wheels Travel lists several destinations and cruise options that offer accessibility for individuals with physical disabilities.
  • Working with a travel agent who is experienced with disabilities can take a lot of pressure off of you and make traveling much easier and smoother. This website, DisabledTravelers.com provides a list of travel agents who offer specialized services for those with disabilities.
  • Research your destination and hotel. Whether you picked it out yourself or a family member or friend chose the location, do your research on the destination and hotel to find out what services and accommodations are available. Different regulations may apply regarding accessibility in public locations when traveling outside of the United States. This article provides tips and information from 23 major airlines on what to do for travelers who need extra support.
  • Find the proper luggage that will be easy for you to handle. Finding luggage that also protects your equipment when handled by airplane personnel is important too. This article from MIUSA.org offers tips for choosing the right type of luggage.
  • Always make sure you pack your medical cards, Medicare card if you have one, discount cards, passport, debit and credit cards, and Traveler’s Checks.
  • You can make arrangements with the airline prior to the day of travel. Certain accommodations, such as bringing wheelchairs or other equipment onto the plane, require to be planned in advance.
  • Make sure to keep TSA’s helpline number on hand. Their helpline can be reached at 1-855-787-2227 in order to assist travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. 

Tips & Resources for Individuals Traveling with Cognitive Disabilities

Cognition disabilities include Autism, Asperger’s, Alzheimer’s, etc. While traveling can become more challenging for those with cognitive disabilities, it is still possible to enjoy traveling safely and comfortably. The following are tips for those with cognitive disabilities.

  • Make a list of everything you need to make sure you don’t forget anything important. It can be stressful if you forget important items for a trip. PDF.org offers tips for how you can plan ahead and pack efficiently.
  • If you have a travel agent, provide them with plenty of information about your disability so they can accommodate you appropriately.
  • If you have medications, pack two sets of them; one in your carry on and one in your checked luggage. Doubling up on medications makes it so that you are not left without essential medication in case luggage gets lost or delayed. 
  • Make sure if you are traveling with someone with Alzheimer’s, or a different cognition disability, that they are wearing an identification bracelet. This is especially important for seniors and children who many wander and get lost. Alzheimers.net provides detailed tips for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.

Tips & Resources for Individuals Traveling with a Hearing Impairment

Having a hearing impairment poses unique challenges when traveling. The following tips and resources will help travelers with hearing impairment prepare for their travel and overcome travel challenges.

  • Pack extra batteries and a spare hearing aid if you wear them.
  • Let the hotel manager know you are hearing impaired so they can provide accommodations appropriately. Hotel rooms for those who are hearing impaired can have amenities, such as a light-up signal alerting you that someone is knocking on the door.
  • Inform yourself on the potential challenges you may face during your travel. Not being able to hear or understand airline boarding and in-flight announcements can feel stressful; knowing what to do in this type of a situation will make your traveling smoother. 
  • Call the TSA toll-free hotline at 1-855-787-2227 before your trip to get information about screening policies, what you can expect and how you can prepare for the screening process in advance.
  • Continually check information boards at terminals and stations to ensure you never miss any updates.
  • Be aware of how your equipment may be affected by security screening devices. This website goes over the potential risks of passing through metal detectors with hearing aids.

Traveling with Visual Impairments

Visual impairment poses a number of unique challenges for travelers. Challenges such as having difficulty navigating an unfamiliar city while transportation centers can become stressful and intimidating. These tips and resources will help those with visual impairment better plan for their trip so it can be as smooth as possible.

  • Review the airline seat map so you can locate your seat more easily. Most airlines provide the seat map online, but SeatGuru also gives seat map information for all major airlines.
  • Consider taking a trip with a group through an organization for the visually impaired, the American Council for the Blind has more information on those.
  • Purchase a collapsible cane for your convenience while you are on the plane. Collapsible canes are more easily stowed away than those that don’t collapse.
  • If you have a guide dog, make sure you learn about any restrictions on flights and other transportation. Here’s American Airlines rules on bringing service animals aboard (see all disability airline guides below)
  • A bead map is the use of a string of beads to help visually impaired individuals navigate safely. This article describes how to make one.
  • Use mobile apps that are for the visually impaired. AppAdvice lists several apps that you can use to help with your travel.

Traveling with Senior Citizens

Whether you are senior citizen yourself or you are traveling with a senior citizen, traveling doesn’t have to be complicated or slow down with age. These tips and resources will help your traveling go smoothly:

  • If you are a senior citizen traveling alone, make sure to tell family members and others who may need to know that you are leaving, such as your caregiver, immediate family or close friends. Make sure to let them know when you are expected to be back as well. They may even want to join you, if possible!
  • Choose the right disability options during the booking process. Some airlines, such as Southwest, will allow their passengers to select disability options at the time of booking. In fact all airlines have something similar. You’ll likely get a better seat, in a more convenient location if you need it. Just don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. You also may be entitled to a senior discount.
  • Consider going on a cruise. Cruises can be enjoyed by children, adults, and senior citizens and it requires less effort, but you can still see plenty of sights.
  • Ask for information in advance. The U.S. Department of Transportation provides a detailed guide on preparing for a flight and information on preparing for air travel.
  • All of the above and below sections of this guide may apply to you so read those as well (hard of hearing, visual impairments, mobility and cognitive disabilities etc)

Tips and Resources for Traveling with Children with Disabilities

Traveling with a child with a disability doesn’t have to be stressful and complicated. These tips and resources will help your traveling with children with disabilities be as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

  • Ask yourself “what if?” Imagine all of the situations you may encounter and how you will address them. This way you will be well-prepared during your travels. Some things will go awry. Do not panic, parents! Staying calm is one of the keys to traveling with children (particularly airline travel with toddlers and infants).
  • Ask for an empty row (if available) on your flight. You’ll need more room for small children with car seats, blankets, toys etc. Most airline hosts will be happy to accommodate you if the flight isn’t full.
  • Don’t be afraid to rearrange things in your hotel room. If you need to rearrange some furniture to better accommodate your needs, then do so. Ask the front desk what they offer for children such as toys, access to a crib in the room, special movies or events at the hotel etc.
  • Bring as many adults to help you as you can. One parent or adult per child is ideal, if possible.
  • Get an Access Pass if you are visiting national parks. This website provides you with all the information you need to obtain one. This gives you access to a ton of great monuments and museums around the country.
  • All of the above sections may apply to you and your children as well (mobility issues, cognitive disabilities etc).

When it comes to traveling with a disability, planning ahead and having plenty of resources is key to having successful and smooth travel. All major airlines provide their own tips and resources for those who want to travel and have a disability. Air flight is usually the most intimidating and complicated part of a big trip so below are guides from each of the major airlines:

Traveling with disabilities isn’t something to avoid, it should be just as pleasurable!  Many individuals with disabilities travel more often than those without. With protective laws such as the ADA disabled folks are able to travel with impunity for the most part. It is completely possible to have an enjoyable trip, it just requires some planning, thinking ahead, and knowing you have the resources to get you through any obstacles that may challenge you.

Additional Web Resources:

ADA.gov – Americans with Disabilities Act Information

AARP.org – Travel Tips for Seniors

ACB.org – Traveling While Blind

AutismSpeaks.org – Traveling with Autism

TSA.gov – General Disability Travel Security Information

NAD.org – Travel Tips for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing