It’s impossible to predict every situation that might arise when traveling, but for wheelchair users, it’s especially important to be ahead of the game. We recently spoke with Alysia Kezerian, a wheelchair user who continues to adventure abroad, even after a recent spinal cord injury paralyzed her from the waist down. As Kezerian learned on her first trip abroad in her wheelchair, you can’t predict the obstacles you might face traveling with a disability—but you can be prepared for them. Kezerian and the experienced staff at Craig Hospital who assisted in her recovery gave us their most useful travel advice for wheelchair users. Here’s what we learned:
1. “Wheelchair accessible” accommodation doesn’t mean the same thing everywhere
Surprisingly, accessibility laws aren’t a universal standard. “What’s listed as wheelchair accessible might not necessarily adhere to the same standards everywhere—especially internationally,” says Sarah Harrison, an occupational therapist at Craig Hospital’s Spinal Cord Rehabilitation Center. “A wheelchair-accessible bathroom won’t always have a roll-in shower, a grab bar, and a removable showerhead, so it’s important to ask about things like that. Whether you’re staying at a hotel or an Airbnb, ask ahead about door width and height, and clarify details about stairways and restrooms.”
Wheelchairs come in many shapes and sizes, so you want to be sure that the passageways and facilities of the places you’re staying will accommodate yours. “If you’re planning to stay in an Airbnb,” Kezerian notes, “have your host send you pictures of the space before you travel. Ask him or her to measure doorways, send pictures of the bathroom, and really give you details. These might be things they’ve never paid attention to until you ask.”
There are plenty of helpful websites that make accessible holiday accommodations easy to book. Handiscover, an Airbnb-like website, filters listings based on a traveler’s mobility, and i-escape is a curated selection of hideaways with over 300 properties with disabled access across Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, and more (just search “Disabled Access” under the website’s “Must-Have” section).
2. You’ll get used to planning in advance—even if it’s only for travel arrangements
Be sure to call your airline with at least 48 hours’ notice to submit and approve any special assistance travel requests. Most airlines offer preboarding, as well as deplaning and airport assistance, for wheelchair users, and the more time you have to arrange a plan, the better. “It’s possible to arrange for an airline attendant to assist you from the second you’re dropped off at the airport until you’re through security and on the airplane,” Harrison says. Arranging this ahead of time will ensure that your airport and in-flight experience goes as smoothly as possible.
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