By Helen Hecker
If you travel with a disability, handicap, physical limitation, mobility limitation, or developmental disability, have special needs, or use an electric wheelchair or handicap scooter, it's a good idea to learn as much as you can to make disabled travel easier.
Or if you're a mature traveler or senior who is a slow walker or just wants a slower pace, becoming more informed about disabled travel services and disability travel resources, will lessen the anxiety that often accompanies disabled travelers.
The following travel tips, resources and information for the disabled will help make trips, tours, holidays and vacations a lot easier for you, or for a child with a disability, whether short-term or long-term.
1. Plan your trip well in advance! Do you need to order extra supplements, medications or renew prescriptions, fix eyeglasses or change prescriptions, get a physical, have dental work done, have your wheelchair fixed or tuned up, etc.?
2. If possible, always book your travel through an agency that specializes in helping people with disabilities. This is important because specialized travel agents and tour operators for the disabled are experienced and can save you some awful headaches.
They offer a lot of good tips and a wide range of services for the handicapped traveler. Among other things, they can arrange for a: wheelchair at the airport, wheelchair accessible hotel room, wheelchair rental, lift-equipped accessible van, full van, minivan, RV, handicap scooter, or any other handicap vehicle.
Travel agents for the disabled can help arrange accessible transportation, help plan the best accessible cruise, give cruise line and cruising tips, arrange travel insurance and take care of special needs.
Agents can check with hotels for: inner and outer door widths to accommodate your wheelchair, ADA-approved handicap bath tubs, grab bars, or for roll-in showers. Just tell them your needs.
Travel agents can help you find cheap airfare, cheap tickets, cheap flights, cheap travel auto insurance, cheap hotels, cheap car rentals, cheap cruises, cheap vacations and cheap travel of all kinds.
3. Besides taking along your travel agent's phone number, you'll also want to take with you the phone numbers for the travel agencies that specialize in disabled travel at your destination, in the event you can't reach your own agent.
These travel agents may know how to solve problems that come up regarding your hotel, car or van rentals, etc., even if you didn't order your tickets through them.
4. When traveling to another city, check out the local health and medical associations before you go. For example, get the phone numbers for the local MS chapter if you have MS. These organizations can be great resources.
They usually know what museums, restaurants, theaters & other local facilities are wheelchair accessible and where you can get oxygen, emergency supplies or medical assistance. They may be able to help you with any problems that arise.
5. If you plan to rent a handicap scooter, wheelchair, electric wheelchair, handicap van, full van, mini-van, RV or other vehicle in another city, don't wait until you get there. Make all the arrangements before you leave on your trip.
Make sure you ask any specifics like, are there tie-downs, ramps, or hoists, etc. Check on what van, RV, car or auto insurance you'll need before you go.
6. Don't leave anything to chance. If you can, double-check all the arrangements your travel agent makes. Call the airlines, hotels, scooter, wheelchair, car, RV or van rental companies, medical equipment rental companies, etc., and verify the specifics, especially if you're traveling in a wheelchair or have any other special needs like oxygen.
This is important if you haven't used the agent before.
7. If you need oxygen or any other special medical equipment, call airlines and suppliers well in advance of your trip. Don't wait until the last minute. Start calling them as soon as you know you're going to be traveling or taking a trip.
Then double-check with your travel agent and the airline at least three to four days before your flight.
8. Arrive early at the airport. It's better to wait around there than miss your plane. This will eliminate some of the pre-trip anxiety you might feel and make for more leisurely travel. This seems like common knowledge but many people still arrive at the gate just in the nick of time.
With all that's going on in the world today there are many reasons why you want to allow for more time at the airport.
9. In your airplane carry-on bag keep copies of the prescriptions for your medications and eyeglasses, extra eyeglasses, sunglasses, all your medications and supplements, and a list of your doctor, dentist and other health professionals with their addresses, and phone numbers.
Include your doctor's fax number for prescriptions in case you lose your medications. Keep duplicate copies of these in your luggage and at home by the telephone. Know where your medical records are kept.
10. When you travel, and for any other time too, if you take medications, learn their names and exactly what they're for if you don't know. People come into the emergency room all the time and don't know what medications they're taking. You might be surprised to find out that most people say 'a little yellow pill' or 'a white capsule', etc.
Emergency workers need to know what you're taking so they don't give you medication that would interact adversely with it, overdose you or somehow interfere with their treatment and your recovery.
11. If you're traveling by air, tell the flight attendants when you board, of any medical problem you might encounter on your flight. Note the location of the closest restroom before getting seated. Tell the flight attendant if you think you'll need assistance getting to it during the flight.
You may need or want an aisle seat for easy access to the restrooms. Discuss seating with your travel agent.
12. If you need someone to travel with you, ask your travel agent for ideas or suggestions. Call the local chapters of medical associations and ask if they can recommend a travel assistant or travel companion to help or accompany you.
There are national companies who offer traveling nurses, traveling companions or travel assistants to accompany disabled travelers or people with serious medical issues.
13. Make sure to take with you: any medical cards, Medicare cards, discount cards, car or auto rental discount cards, auto insurance policy numbers and agent's phone number, passport, airline tickets, etickets, American Express Travelers Cheques, debit cards, credit cards, and drivers license. Photocopy everything.
Keep photocopies in your luggage and at home by the telephone or someplace where someone has access to it in case you need it.
14. Read everything you can about traveling with a disability. Read disabled travel books, access guides, accessible guidebooks, disability travel articles and travel publications for the disabled traveler. Read the personal travel experiences of wheelchair users and others who have traveled with disabilities.
These travel tips, information, resources, and services for the disabled should help you, or anyone with a disability, handicap, physical limitation, or who uses a wheelchair, have an easier, more pleasant, anxiety-free, trouble-free trip, tour, holiday or vacation.
Helen Hecker R.N. is the author of 'Travel for the Disabled' and the 'Directory of Travel Agencies for the Disabled' and other books for travelers with disabilities. Get FREE weekly 'Travel Tips for the Disabled'at www.AllAboutDisabledTravel.com Also get FREE 'Disability News You Can Use'
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