Traveling with a Mobility Impairment

It may be surprising for those who don’t already know that traveling with a disability can be very difficult, but is not often impossible. For those of us with mobility issues, we have to think about accessibility laws where we’re going if we’re unfamiliar, how we will physically get there (trains, buses, cars, and planes all have their own specific drawbacks and advantages), and we have to assure that once we get to where we’re going, the hotel or lodgings are fully accessible to us. This added work and, at times, cost can be a big deterrent to traveling with a major disability. And that’s just with a mobility impairment. People who are blind or deaf or have other disabilities deal with a set of separate, but equally important issues.

Despite the difficulty, I’m a big advocate for traveling. I have been to both Italy and Greece on school trips and have been to quite a few different states for various reasons throughout my life. Traveling is very difficult for me because I use a power wheelchair and have a few medical needs, so I’m writing this blog post in order to tell you what I’ve done, what has worked for me, and to let you know of a few resources that I wish I knew about before now.

The Importance of Planning Ahead

This is my number one piece of advice when I know someone who is thinking of traveling with any kind of disability. It is so, so important to gather as much information as you possibly can ahead of time. If I’m planning to drive to a different state, for example, I will call the hotels that I booked along the way before we even leave and make sure that we have a fully accessible room that will meet my needs. I even usually ask about electrical outlets being close to the bed, which is something that’s easy to overlook, but can lead to a lot of headache and difficulty. Travel can be exhausting in any situation, so it’s best to save yourself an unnecessary stressor when you’re already on-the-go.

If you are in need of some accommodations and you’re traveling stateside, the government has website detailing what ADA compliance means in specific situations. If you’re traveling abroad, there is a different resource that tells you what you can expect when traveling to other countries. While these tools are nice and helpful, it’s still best to call or email and actually talk to a real person who can see with their own eyes how the accommodations may fit your needs.

Lost in Translation

One of my biggest fears when travelling abroad is usually the language barrier. If I cannot be verbally understood, my stress level goes through the roof throughout the entire process of visiting a foreign country. I use speech to express my needs to people who don’t know me or my abilities, so losing the ability to effectively communicate is pretty scary.

When I went to Italy, I stuck pretty close to my tour group, and we were only there for 10 days so I truthfully didn’t struggle with language much. On the other hand, going to Greece forced me to stretch my ability to pantomime. I can’t move my arms or hands much, but I do have a very expressive face, so that was the tool I used the most. I knew certain words (“anavathmída” means “wheelchair ramp”), and I smiled and thanked people a lot (which, if I’m being honest, I do in English too). Most people who owned businesses saw me smiling and approaching their establishment and all I had to say was “Anavathmída?” They usually then either brought a ramp out from the depths of their store or started bringing merchandise out to me. It was surprisingly kind and accommodating. And this was in a country that had buildings that were around for multiple centuries and still in use. They still saw the importance of accommodating those with disabilities.

Finding Your Limits

I know my situation is different than some people’s, and I’m sure everyone has their own disability-specific tips and tricks that make traveling a breeze. For me, traveling is tiring. Sometimes it’s not worth it. Admittedly, I’ve been very privileged to have a family member or significant other who is physically able to help me with most, if not all, physical tasks, and who is both willing and able to accompany me on my travels. So it’s easy for me to say “Just go traveling! It’s totally worth whatever effort you have to make! It’s not that hard!” But I know better. Sometimes traveling with a disability is about knowing your limits. And everyone’s limits are different, so me saying “here’s when and where you should travel, here’s what to avoid” is really just a waste of everyone’s time.

What I will advise, if I may be so bold, is to really check and see if something is impossible before writing it off. I am very guilty of seeing an opportunity and thinking “Nah, it’s too much effort, I probably can’t go there.” But honestly, I’m often wrong. I tend to confuse difficulty with impossibility and I’m quick to give up when I’m unsure of things. Luckily, when I’ve taken the risk and visited somewhere unfamiliar, it’s changed my life for the better. Being somewhere new, experiencing a different culture, a different life – I wish everyone could be so lucky. Here are some links to help you get started or provide more information about traveling with a disability:

Tips for Travelers with Disabilities – Rick Steves

Traveling with a Disability – U.S. Department of Transportation

Disabled Travel – Smarter Travel

Six Simple Tips for Smooth Travel With a Disability – New York Times

Happy travels!

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4 thoughts on “Traveling with a Mobility Impairment

  1. Pingback: My Trip to Greece | The Girl Who Sits

  2. Pingback: Access to Education | The Girl Who Sits

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