From the Eiffel Tower to China’s Forbidden City, exploring the world can be one of life’s biggest adventures. Widening your horizons through international travel offers opportunities not just for cultural immersion, but personal growth, making new friends and furthering your education.
Using a wheelchair, having a vision impairment or living with another disability are not barriers to enjoying international travel. Your trip will just take more advance planning and flexibility. And while some countries don’t offer as many accommodations for persons with disabilities as the U.S., many sites you want to visit may be very readily accessible.
Before You Go First, determine what healthcare needs you will have while traveling. If you regularly take medication, make sure you are prescribed enough to see you through your trip—as well some extra in case of emergencies such as travel delays or theft. You should also check with your home country’s embassy or consulate in the country you’re traveling to make sure your medications are legal there. Purchasing travel insurance is also a good idea, both to get refunds if you aren’t able to make the trip due to health reasons at the last minute or need medical assistance while you’re traveling.
As you plan your trip, keep in mind that each country has its own standards of accessibility for persons with disabilities. Many countries don’t have legal requirements to accommodate people with disabilities, unlike the United States.
To get a better understanding of what you might encounter, the U.S. State Department’s website for travelers with disabilities can help. The Special Laws & Circumstances section provides information for mobility-impaired travelers on various countries and areas. If you use a service animal, learn about restrictions for them at your destination. Due to some countries’ quarantine policies, it may not be possible to take your dog or another service companion abroad.
Getting on Your Way Narrow down your destination ideas by checking out the wealth of websites that help travelers with disabilities. Cruising overseas can be one way to see the world, and many ships are accessible. The Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality’s website includes dozens of stories from travelers with disabilities on their experiences. Rolling Without Limits offers numerous articles on travel for wheelchair users.
U.S. airlines and flights to or from the U.S. on another country’s airline must follow the rules of the Americans With Disabilities Act. This means all travelers must be provided the same possibilities, no matter the level of mobility unless any of the accommodations would endanger the health and safety of others such as the flight crew or the rest of the passengers. These accommodations include free and clear access to the aircraft, such as an aisle seat with a removable armrest, and airplanes with more than 60 seats must provide an on-board wheelchair. If the airplane is considered a wide-body craft with two or more aisles, it must have wheelchair-accessible bathrooms. If you are flying on foreign carriers, however, between non-US countries, these accommodations are not likely to apply.
Before you leave on your trip, also research ground transportation services you plan to use to ensure they can accommodate your needs.
Working with a travel agency that specializes in travelers with disabilities can offer options you may not be aware of. Some can find groups that lead tours or cruises for people with disabilities, while others help plan your trip with their expert knowledge about conditions and barriers at your destination. Wheelchair Escapes, for example, takes travelers to Scotland, Ireland, and other countries and even arranges bungee jumping and zip-lining for wheelchair users. Accessible Journeys lead wheelchair tours as far abroad as Antarctica and India.
Accessible Destination Ideas The world is pretty much your oyster as travelers with disabilities are finding more and more international destinations becoming easier to navigate.
In St. Petersburg, Russia, for example, the ornate Hermitage, which contains millions of items and is the second-largest museum in the world, is accessible to wheelchairs. For 2020, one of the city’s goals is to have all buses replaced with ones that more easily accommodate passengers with disabilities.
The European Union hosts an annual Access City Award for Europe’s most accessible cities. Warsaw, Poland, won the 2020 prize by making substantial improvements to ease of access. Recent winners also include Berlin, Germany and Milan, Italy.
Destinations outside Europe are also becoming easier to visit. In the Caribbean, Barbados’s new Fully Accessible Barbados program has a goal of making all tourist attractions open to everyone, and hotels are getting on board, with some offering beach wheelchairs that allow visitors to enjoy the sand and turquoise water. Sydney, Australia, is also often cited as a city that is very accessible, with flat entryways to many restaurants and stores. The Sydney Opera House is accessible—and offers special tours for people with disabilities.
With increasing ease of access to sightseeing around the world, more travelers with disabilities are discovering ways to explore dozens of destinations abroad. Advance planning is a must, but after some careful forethought, it’s time to say bon voyage and enjoy the trip.
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