Disabled travelers are not bound to be forever excluded from the thrills of a vacation. Most industrialized nations have instituted legal reforms to ensure the disabled have access to most businesses, venues, and landmarks. With the exception of a few historic locations that might be deemed too delicate to alter for wheelchair accessibility, almost every famous structure or natural formation you can think of has wheelchair accommodations for those visiting. This is especially the case in the United States, where many tourist destinations were constructed with the disabled already in mind.
Problems start to arise when you start to consider the actual travel itself. Anyone who must move around in a wheelchair will tell you that it’s not the confines of their personal vehicle that makes them feel isolated and immobile; it’s the lack of ease in getting into and out of automobiles, airplanes, and other grander modes of transportation that contributes to their sense of restriction. Take the experiences of Ryan B., an Atlanta-based architect and disabled travel enthusiast. He and his wife recently took a European grand tour. “Trains take you to any city, but once you’re there, it’s cabs and car rentals. Coordinating the right vehicle was hard to do in three different languages, even with a wife that speaks German.” The experience affected Ryan and his wife’s plans to take an American road trip this summer.
Unfortunately getting in and out of automobiles is pretty much a requirement for going on vacation, so this presents problems. Not for the loved ones who certainly don’t mind exerting the energy it takes to get someone in a wheelchair in and out of motor vehicles and other craft, but for the disabled themselves who can’t help but feel burdensome at a time when they want their families to be enjoying themselves.
Even if a wheelchair accessible van has been outside your price range of possibility, renting one for a road trip isn’t hard to do. You can browse sites like Mobilityworks to find the right kind of vehicle model that will work best for you and your loved ones, or this Lonely Planet forum for disabled travelers has plenty of information and reviews from first hand experiences. That way you don’t have to worry about being sold on pumped up features by the rental service.
Does this mean that traveling as a disabled individual is a cumbersome task? It might sure have its complications, but they are certainly not surmountable. Meet Walt Balenovich, the guy who traveled to 6 continents, as a backpacker, on a blue wheelchair:
“My favourite question from airline staff prior to boarding is “Can you walk?” … “Uh, no”.”
“When I started backpacking alone I always worried about worst case scenarios, but human nature is great, and people really seem to want to help me out. The wheelchair and a smile really bring out the best in people, and smiles don’t need translation!”
“My first trip alone overseas was to Europe, and I landed in Holland, because it was flat, had the amenities I needed and they spoke English widely. I wanted to build up my confidence.”
“My problem is tree roots and rocks! I fell out of my chair in Zambia and broke my leg. A few blurry X-rays, an Egyptian doctor and a cast later, I was back on the planes for a brief 34 hours to come home. It was an experience.”
“The question I get asked the most is, “Where is your friend?”. Meaning my travel buddy or “handler” as one person asked.”
“Stairs are a big problem, as you can imagine, so I just ask a group of young people if they can help me up/down as needed. People all over the world trip all over themselves to help me out. It is so great and makes you feel that people all over the world are exactly the same… really friendly!”
“I just find a destination. I don’t worry about whether the wheelchair is going to be a problem or not. The world is not built with a ramp.”
“You just never know what adventure will happen next in a blue chair!”
You can read about his adventures in his book “Travels in a Blue Chair: Alaska to Zambia, Ushuaia to Uluru“.
Whether it’s the Grand Canyon or the Grand Cayman Islands no where is off limits if you put your mind to it. Not being able to walk doesn’t mean you have to take immobility sitting down. Enjoy what the world has to offer you because not only are the places themselves accessible but there are plenty of ways to get there. Or do you think otherwise?
Some of the links in this article might be making us some money, however we would not include them if we did not think they can benefit the traveler.
Are you a disabled traveler, or do you know one? What is the most common problem you find? Have these difficulties affected your travel desires? Share your thoughts below!