Disabilities can hinder the enjoyment of travel, though they do not have to make travel impossible. Most high income nations have implemented strict requirements for accessibility by law in recent years and the US legislation on that topic even served as a model for a UN agreement. That being said, some places – whether through carelessness or lack of resources – are rather hard to access for people with disabilities. Be it sidewalks marred with potholes and poles protruding at odd angles that make walking a challenge even for the healthy and greatly inhibit mobility in a wheelchair, lacking public transit infrastructure or unthoughtful currency design (see below).
Blind and visually impaired
In general, travel should be planned for well in advance when traveling internationally with a dog guide. As dogs can carry diseases, special testing, vaccination and paperwork is required in many countries, especially island countries. Countries with such requirements include Hawaii, the UK and Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Sweden, Norway, and Finland.
Many countries allow dog guides also where dogs are not normally allowed, while most developing countries don't have laws permitting dog guides in public places.
Deaf and hearing impaired
Travellers who are deaf or hard of hearing (HOH) may benefit from some specific features, such as lights on fire alarms. If you can't hear fire alarms, then always tell the hotel staff about your hearing situation when you check in.
Almost all restaurants, especially in areas with significant international travel, can take orders from diners who merely point at what they want on the menu. An increasing number of casual restaurants allow ordering online for takeout or delivery, which reduces the risk of miscommunication.
A few restaurants and stores have employees that use sign language. If you're traveling near a large school for deaf and and HOH students, you are likely to find more establishments that are accustomed to patrons who can't hear well. For example, if you're near Washington, D.C., then it may be worth a trip across town to its Near Northeast district, to be near the businesses that cater to students and staff from the famous Gallaudet University.
Paraplegic and quadriplegic
Keep the following in mind when travelling with or meeting a fellow traveller who happens to be disabled.
- If you need to interact with a person with disabilities, then speak directly to that person, in the same manner that you would speak to any other stranger whom you would like to make a favorable impression on. For example, do not ask a blind man's children what he would like to do; ask him directly.
- Do not touch people with disabilities, or any of their equipment or other belongings, without getting their permission first. "May I help you with that?" is more polite than grabbing their things. Be prepared to have your offer of help declined.
- People all have varied interests, and once practicalities have been taken care of, a person's disability is seldom the most important thing in their life. Someone in a wheelchair may prefer to spend the day at a bird sanctuary rather than attend a wheelchair race, and a blind person might prefer discussing the local culture and history of a town rather than the absence of braille on the museum exhibits.
- Don't ask how or when they became disabled. They're probably bored with telling that story already. Do ask the same things that you would ask any non-disabled person, which includes small talk about traveling with fellow travelers and requests for advice about local sights and restaurants from people who are familiar with your destination.
- Don't make jokes or say clever things. They have already heard all of them, from "Don't run over me in that wheelchair" to "I sure wish I could board the airplane first", hundreds of times.
- There is no need to talk loudly or slowly to blind people. They can hear you well enough.
- Do not pet, feed or otherwise distract a guide dog without first asking the owner's permission.
- Though ignorance, laziness and arrogance probably could be classified as disabilities, they are self-inflicted and do not qualify one to occupy a disabled parking space. These parking spaces are reserved to make it easier for someone in a wheelchair, or who uses crutches or a cane, to enter and exit a vehicle.
- At the same time, if you see someone walking from a disabled space alone with no apparent difficulty, don't jump to the conclusion that the person is not qualified to occupy the space. Disabled parking permits are often available to many people who don't use wheelchairs, but have other conditions that seriously limit their mobility (such as a leg amputation, certain cardiac or respiratory conditions, or chronic severe pain). The driver may also be going inside to pick up the person who is entitled to use the space.
- Most people rarely give a second thought to toilets because they are always there and easy to use, but for a person with mobility limitations, using a standard toilet can be very difficult or even impossible. Check on toilet facilities before planning an outing.
- Be practical. Do not expect a blind person to enjoy an afternoon of birdwatching or someone in a wheelchair to go down the Sterkfontein Caves.
Wheelmap has information about wheelchair-accessible places in many countries. The information is rather basic with 3 levels: All rooms accessible, some rooms accessible, not accessible.
Lonely Planet created a free resource for finding accessibility information by country called Accessible Travel Online Resources.
European Union / Eurozone
The Euro banknotes and coins are intentionally designed to be easily recognizable by touch. While the ten cent coin is slightly smaller than the five cent coin, it is easily distinguished by its ridge. Similarly the fifty cent coin while bigger than the one Euro coin has a different ridge as well. The European Union also tries to set common accessibility standards, especially in new construction and public transit. Most bus operators and many train operators should be able to accommodate people in wheelchairs, though more rural stations may lack elevators and legacy platforms may not have the right height for current rolling stock.
General awareness of accessibility issues is quite high, although in practice there are still many problems. Most public facilities and many private ones have arrangements for people with wheelchair or hearing aids. Anyhow it is a good idea to call in advance to check any special arrangements (such as entry by a locked back door) and have company that can help with unexpected problems.
Toilets designed for use with wheelchair are common where there is more than one toilet.
Dog guides are accepted also in e.g. shops, where dogs in general are not allowed. Many traffic lights have audible signals.
Where finding a parking lot may be hard, there are often parking space reserved for people with disabilities. There is a special permit to use these parking lots. Foreign permits are recognized, if they have the international symbol.
The railways have cars accessible with wheelchair on most routes. Assistance can be ordered in advance. Local buses in e.g. Turku are equipped for wheelchair access (and using the buses is free, also for a person assisting).
The euro notes and coins are made to be easily distinguished one from another without seeing.
Metsähallitus, responsible for the national parks, gives information on accessibility for each destination, many of which have trails accessible by assisted or motorized wheelchair. The exhibitions at visitor centres are usually accessible.
There are specific regional SMS emergency numbers for those that cannot communicate by voice. These are not posted on the Internet. Enquiries to +358 295-480-112.
- ACCESSIBLE JAPAN offers information for tourists with disabilities and other mobility issues with sections including general information, a database of accessible hotels, tourist attraction reviews, equipment rentals and more. They have also published a tour guide book for Tokyo, Accessible Japan's Tokyo: All you need to know about traveling to Tokyo with a disability.
- HEART BARRIER gathers a database of wheelchair-accessible restaurants and shops all around Japan. They include details like slope width and slope, which are not included in Wheelmap.
See also Disabled travel in South Africa
Royal National Institute of the Blind, London, ☎ .
While the U.S. for the most part is very good at accommodating disabled travelers, one glaring exception is money for blind travelers. While coins can be distinguished relatively easily by the blind, the physical sizes of the coins do not consistently relate to the value of the coin. Most notably, the dime (10 cents) is physically the smallest coin. The situation for paper currency (notes) is even worse for the blind. All denominations are the same physical size (unlike the euro, in which the notes increase in physical size as the denomination increases), and there are no tactile features that enable blind people to readily distinguish different denominations by feel. The next redesign of each U.S. note will include a tactile feature to better accommodate people who identify currency by touch. The first denomination to be released will be the $10 note, probably in the year 2020. In the meantime, some devices and apps can identify the value of paper money.
National Federation of the Blind, Baltimore, MD, ☎ .
American Council of the Blind, Washington D.C., ☎ .