IAMAT |International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers| IAMAT |International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers|

Travel Health Journal

An unexpected twist: Travelling with temporary accessibility needs

Our Communications and Marketing Specialist, Daphne Hendsbee, recently experienced what it is like to travel with accessibility needs. Here’s her story and advice.

An unexpected twist
When I injured my ankle in a rock climbing accident, I never thought it would still be plaguing me a month later on a trip to Las Vegas. Travelling with mobility assistance was an eye-opening experience in accessibility, planning, and patience.

Travelling with temporary injuries
En route, I found myself stranded on an accessibility bus at the Los Angeles airport, unable to walk to security and nervously counting down the minutes until my connecting flight left without me.

Although I cut it very close, I didn’t miss my connection. When I arrived in Los Angeles, I was met at the gate with a wheelchair and escorted to the accessibility bus to switch terminals. Everything went smoothly until we reached the next terminal. After a 40 minute wait with no word on the availability of a wheelchair, mobility assistance staff arrived with a wheelchair and we were whisked through security with just minutes to spare. I was frustrated by the delay and the lack of communication, but with additional planning, my trip may have been smoother.

I could walk short distances but I wasn’t able to walk through the airport or up the busy Las Vegas strip. Thanks to the foresight of my travel companions who arranged a wheelchair rental, I was able to enjoy a relatively barrier-free weekend in Sin City. At $15 a day, the rental was a small price to pay for the mobility to see the Strip, Fremont Street, casinos, shops, and shows in a way I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

Las Vegas surprised me with its accessibility. Despite being known for its vices, elevators and ramps were abundant and convenient. In four days, I only came across one broken elevator. Restaurants, casinos, theatres, and taxis easily accommodated the wheelchair and the staff was adept at catering to my mobility needs.

I was lucky that my destination was so accessible. Unfortunately, many locations around the world are not as accessible due to lack of infrastructure like elevators and ramps, local perceptions of disability, and lack of enforcement of accessibility laws where regulations exist.

Planning, planning, planning
Accessible travel required significantly more planning than I was used to. Most of my frustrations resulted from not planning for my accessibility needs far enough in advance and not anticipating how much assistance I might require.

Call both the airport and airline at least 48 hours before your flight to flag your reservation and request mobility assistance. My itinerary was complicated as I flew on a codeshare booked through a discount travel website, which included connections at one of the busiest airports in the world.

Be aware that mobility assistance is managed differently at each airport: it may be coordinated by the airline or by a separate mobility assistance company. If you use social media, contacting your airline via Twitter or Facebook can be a quick way to ask questions and resolve issues. For my return flights, I arranged a wheelchair via Twitter.

Research your destination and identify attractions that suit your level of mobility. Before you leave, call your hotel or accommodation to discuss the availability of mobility assistance equipment and arrange a rental. If possible, travel with a buddy. This is helpful if your travel companions are mobile and can help find airline or airport staff if an issue arises.

If this seems overwhelming, don’t worry. Start by researching accessible travel: IAMAT’s Useful Links┬ápage is a good place to start. With a little planning, an injury doesn’t have to keep you from travelling!

Photo courtesy of Simon Gray, freeimages.