How to Plan an Accessible Family Trip: Planning a Vacation With a Disability

Planning a family trip is exciting, and a relaxing vacation is something everyone should be able to look forward to. When there are travelers with disabilities in your family, it might take longer to plan out an accessible trip, but it will be well worth your efforts. 

It’s not uncommon for people with disabilities to face several challenges while traveling. That includes everything from accessibility on transportation to a lack of hotel rooms available for those with special mobility needs. While traveling, it’s also important for those with disabilities to maintain somewhat of a routine, and that’s not always easy in an unfamiliar location. 

Thankfully, you can still plan a family trip that is both accessible and enjoyable for everyone in your group. This guide will address some of the common challenges those with disabilities face while traveling, and how to overcome them while on vacation. 

Make a List of Needs and Wants

It’s always good to have a checklist when you’re planning a family vacation. However, it’s even more important when a person with a disability is traveling with you. Making sure their basic needs are covered is crucial. Those needs will be different for everyone but might include things like:

  • Medications
  • Wheelchair
  • Technical aids
  • A service animal

Remember, vacations are supposed to be enjoyable for everyone. So, consider going beyond basic needs and trying your best to find things that will make their vacation easier. 

Accommodations like motorized scooters, comfortable items like blankets and pillows from home, or even tablets, books and other hobbies they’re interested in can make the trip more enjoyable.

Research Flight Accommodations

Woman pushing an older man in a wheelchair at an airport

Packing is only the beginning. If you’re heading out of state, you might need to book a flight. Unfortunately, that can sometimes be a headache on its own. When you’re researching flight accommodations for someone with a disability, it can take even more time. 

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) makes it illegal for airlines to discriminate against individuals with disabilities. The act requires airlines to provide basic needs and accommodations, including: 

  • Guided assistance for boarding
  • Wheelchair access
  • Seating accommodation
  • Assistance with loading/unloading/stowing items

However, when you’re trying to make a trip enjoyable for your entire family, you should consider looking for accommodations that are available outside of ADA-provided options. Nowadays, many airlines provide specialized services and mobility aids. Most even have onboard collapsible wheelchairs. Airlines like Delta will stow and transport your wheelchair or scooter at no additional cost. 

While it can take a bit of extra research, it’s worth it to ensure your loved one is comfortable while traveling – especially if you’re in for a long flight. 

Research Hotel Accommodations

silver elevator doors with a handicap placard over the buttons

The Americans With Disabilities Act, like the ACAA, forbids businesses from discriminating against those with disabilities. However, some lodging options are better and more accessible than others. 

Most hotel rooms across the country have basic accessibility accommodations, including wheelchair ramps and shower bars. Visitors with disabilities, however, should be able to enjoy more creature comforts outside of the basics required by the ADA. When you’re looking for a quality hotel, consider some of the following elements to make your stay even better:

  • Automatic door buttons;
  • Simple, open layouts;
  • Beds with adjustable heights;
  • Easy access to electrical outlets;
  • Simple temperature control;

These simple additions can make a big difference for your family members with disabilities. It will also give them more independence while you’re enjoying your destination. 

Research Transportation Options

ticket scan doors at an airport with a handicap space

In addition to air travel, it’s not uncommon to have to rent a car or rely on public transportation while on vacation. However, for someone with a disability, it’s not always as easy as renting a sedan or hopping on a bus the moment you leave the airport. 

Understanding transportation options while traveling, particularly for individuals with mobility aids, will make moving about your destination much easier for everyone. 

Renting a personal car is usually the most convenient option. Most rental companies feature online search filters you can use when booking. You can narrow down your options based on accessibility needs as well as the size of your family. That allows you to rent larger vehicles or even a car/van with a wheelchair ramp for family members with mobility issues.

If renting a vehicle isn’t an option, consider researching local public transportation ahead of time. You might find that certain bus companies are more accessible than others, or that trains/subways may not be an option. The last thing you want is to rely on public transportation only to find out your top option isn’t accessible to every family member.

Researching before you travel will make ground transportation easier for everyone. Some transportation companies may even allow you to purchase prepaid fare cards ahead of time, so you’ll have everything ready to go before you get to your destination. 

Pick a Disability-friendly Location

entrance to a tropical beach with an entryway with a handicap sign and a flat walkway

Choosing your vacation destination is likely the first thing you’ll do when you’re planning a family trip. You can make things more convenient and comfortable for family members with disabilities by choosing a location that allows them to fully enjoy the experience with everyone else. 

Disability-friendly locations can change from person to person. For example, a tropical setting might be perfect for someone with auditory or sensory issues. However, it probably isn’t the best place for a wheelchair user or someone who struggles with mobility. 

Some locations are practically perfect for everyone – including the Las Vegas Strip. It’s entirely paved, many of the businesses are wheelchair accessible, and there are activities for everyone to enjoy – including children. 

While planning a vacation with a disability might take a bit more time and effort, it’s worth it to ensure every member of your family enjoys their experience and doesn’t have to miss out on anything. Consider everyone’s needs and wants, and be sure to do your research ahead of time to put together a vacation the whole family will be talking about for years. 

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