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

Travelling with accessibility needs

Accessibility standards differ significantly around the world. Many countries apply consistent standards and laws, but there are some parts of the world where regulations are limited or non-existent. Travellers with mobility, hearing, or vision impairment, or who experience another disability can encounter barriers when travelling internationally. The good news is that however you choose to travel – independently or with a tour company – many companies, service providers, and tourist sites around the world are finding ways to increase accessibility. You can ensure you have a positive and fulfilling experience by taking the time to plan ahead.

Before you go

  • Research accessibility standards at your destination including sidewalks, public transportation systems, building entrances and public toilets. Identify attractions in advance that suit your level of mobility.
  • Make accommodation arrangements well in advance since there may be a limited number of accessible rooms available. Book a room on the main floor of your accommodation or ensure there is elevator access.
  • Check if accessible transportation services, public and private, are available at your destination. Call your hotel or accommodation to discuss the availability of mobility assistance equipment and arrange a rental as soon as possible.
  • Communicate any accessibility needs as soon as possible. Tour companies or service providers may need several weeks’ notice to arrange transportation and specific items such as guides or menus in Braille. If you are travelling with a tour company, research its reputation and how experienced it is with accessibility needs.
  • Pack extra parts, charging cables and batteries for mobility and hearing aids in your carry-on luggage.
  • Consider travelling with a friend, family member or professional travel companion who can provide assistance during your trip. Be aware that some cruise lines require passengers with a disability to travel with a companion.

Planning your transportation

  • Notify your transportation company at the time of booking to arrange for your accessibility needs.
  • Depending on your mobility device, companies may require specific documentation and information to appropriately accommodate it on board.
  • Contact your transportation company as soon as possible to ask for assistance during transit. Transport staff can: Escort you through security and guide you to your gate, assist you with your luggage,  notify you in person of all announcements, and assist you on board and around the cabin.
  • 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.
  • If you are travelling by cruise ship, ask your cruise line in advance about their tending process and policy in advance. If your cruise ship cannot dock at port, it will anchor offshore and shuttle passengers from the ship to the port on small boats called tenders. Tenders and ports are not always accessible with passengers who require mobility assistance.

Travelling with a mobility aid

  • Ensure that your device (e.g. wheelchair, electric wheelchair, electric scooter) is in good working condition. If it has not been serviced recently, send it to a reputable repair shop to have it checked.
  • Check if your electric wheelchair or scooter uses dry cell (or gel cell) batteries. If it uses wet cell batteries, call your airline before booking your trip to confirm if they can accommodate your device. Wet cell batteries may need to be removed from your mobility device and stored in a leak-proof container.
  • Remove any easily removable parts from your wheelchair or scooter to avoid them being lost during transit. Store parts in your carry-on luggage and safely secure necessary features such as keys or power pins.
  • Some battery-powered wheelchairs and scooters may require disassembly for transit. Bring any instructions or necessary tools for assembly and disassembly.

Travelling with a service animal

  • Just like people, some animals may not enjoy certain types of travel. Consider whether your service animal is capable of accompanying you on your trip.
  • Research your destination’s regulations for animal entry requirements. Some countries require proof of your service animal’s recent vaccinations while others enforce quarantine upon entry.
  • Check that your accommodation allows service animals.
  • Contact your transportation company at least three weeks in advance to ask about their policy for travelling with a service animal. Some transportation companies require confirmation that your animal has completed training for its role. Bring your animal’s training certificate and ensure that your service animal is appropriately harnessed at all times.
  • Cruise lines generally allow service animals onboard the ship but they may not be able to go ashore at all ports. Contact your cruise line in advance to find out about regulations at all destinations on your itinerary.
  • Be advised that a letter from your healthcare practitioner may be required to confirm your use of a service animal.

During your trip

  • Inform the staff at your accommodation of your disability so they can assist you in the event of an emergency. Some hotels offer visual alerting devices for emergency notifications and TTY communications to assist travellers with a hearing or speech impairment.
  • Make sure that the sites you visit are accessible for your ability. If you are unsure, call ahead to confirm.
  • Even if you are well-prepared, unexpected situations can occur. Try to keep your itinerary flexible and change your plans as needed to minimize stress.

More information

Last reviewed and updated: December 11, 2020.

Travel Health Journal