Tips for travelling with disability

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For people with disability, travelling may present some additional challenges, however, if you’re well prepared you won’t find any unexpected surprises. We’ve put together a list of tips to help reduce some of the stress. 

​Key Points

  • Taking the time to plan out your travel in advance is important to ensure there are no hiccups that interrupt your journey
  • Maps are incredibly useful and can help you out if you don’t know where to find help at an airport or transit location
  • You may need to have a chat with your doctor before you leave to make sure your health needs will be met while you are away

General tips for travel

Some of the tips below will help you with starting your journey and hopefully give you a head start on making sure there are no surprises while you are travelling.

  • Travel insurance is recommended for all travellers, but if you are travelling with a disability, then you need to make sure it covers your disability specific needs so that you are covered for any unexpected events or health emergencies.
  • Consider booking your travel through an agency that specialises in helping people with disabilities to make sure you have access to everything you need.
  • Research your destination and any hotels or travel locations you intend to visit before booking to make sure they will be accessible to your needs. Call or email ahead to make operators aware you are visiting and may need some extra assistance.
  • Across the world, the term ‘accessible’ may mean different things or be used in different ways, so don’t be afraid to ask specific questions to make sure you get the assistance you need.
  • Talk to your General Practitioner (GP) about how to manage your health needs while you are travelling. You may need to ask them about your fitness to travel or how to manage medication supplies.

Tips for people who are low vision or blind

If you are travelling through an unfamiliar airport or transit location, it may be helpful to have a map for them in a format you can use, so that you know where any assistance or help desks are. This means that if you need help, you will know where to go.

Keep any important items, like passports or travel tickets, within reach.

Consider having a list of important phone numbers handy in either braille or audio format.

If you need information in alternative formats, such as braille or large print, make sure you ask places like your airline, train or bus operator, and hotels, in advance as they may need time to prepare them.

Due to safety regulations, you will not be allocated an exit row seat if you are blind or vision impaired, so if you need extra room, you may need to take this into consideration.

Finding your luggage can be difficult at the best of times, but if you are low vision or blind, then the challenge is even more significant. To help you find your luggage make sure it is easily identifiable among the many other black suitcases. You can do this by attaching coloured tags or tape. There are also tools like an audible luggage locator which allows you to activate a beeping locator in your bag.

If you use a service animal, find out if there are any limitations or restrictions. You may need to contact your airline, cruise or travel operator for advice on what the guidelines are and what you need to consider. See below for some more tips for travelling with a service animal.

Travelling with a service animal

Travelling with a service dog, such as a guide dog, may require additional preparation in order to avoid any delays or incidents.

  • To avoid any delays or incidents it’s best to let your airline, bus operator, or cruise ship operator know in advance that you’ll be travelling with a service dog.
  • In Australia services dogs, like guide dogs and hearing dogs, are given special access privileges. These privileges mean that they are allowed to use buses, trains, trams and aeroplanes. If they are refused then penalties may apply. This may not be the case in other countries so it is best to check with any travel operator before leaving.
  • If you are travelling internationally, you will need to check with your airline or cruise operator and the country you are travelling to for any quarantine requirements so that your service animal can enter the country.
  • Check any security screening requirements, so you know what to expect when you get there. For example, you may want to look into what needs to happen when going through security checkpoints or conditions for bringing animals into a country.
  • Many airlines in Australia require evidence that an assistance dog has completed a public access test (PAT) showing that it is able to travel on public transport. It’s best to keep this information on hand when travelling.
  • Dogs not approved for carriage in an aircraft cabin may be able to travel in the aircraft cargo hold, but this will be up to the airline.
  • Prepare for the worst-case scenario of having your checked luggage lost and make sure you have enough supplies to last a few days. Be sure to pack some extra food, treats and bags in your hand luggage.

Tips for people who are deaf or hearing impaired

Let people like flight attendants, train conductors and hotels know that you are deaf or have a hearing impairment so that they can notify you of any important announcements or in case of an emergency.

Due to safety regulations, you may not be allocated an exit row seat if you are deaf or hearing impaired, so if you need extra room, you may need to take this into consideration. Check this with your airline before you book as some may allow you to have an exit row seat if you have a hearing aid.

Make sure you keep any hearing aids or implants safe while travelling. You can do this by making sure you have protective pouches to store them in while you’re sleeping. If you’re going to the beach or poolside, then you may want to make sure to bring some waterproof cases.

Make sure you have enough spare batteries or tools to help make sure your hearing aid or implant is working properly.

Consider bringing things like an under-the-pillow vibrating alarm clock to help you wake up so that you don’t miss any tours, flights, trains or busses.

Tips for travelling with intellectual disability

Transit locations, like airports, can be crowded and often noisy, which may be overstimulating for people with an intellectual disability such as autism. You may want to prepare for this and bring things like noise-cancelling headphones, earplugs or other aids with you to help you if you are feeling overwhelmed.

More and more airports are making sensory rooms available, which some people may find useful. You may want to check with any transit airports about booking or using these rooms.

To avoid large crowds while travelling, consider travelling during quieter times of the year instead of during peak travel seasons like summer, Christmas and Easter.

Think about where you’ll be staying and any potential for becoming overwhelmed. City centres will be louder than staying on the outskirts. If you are staying on the outskirts make sure you have a plan for getting into and around the city.

Prepare some snacks. If you, or your child, likes certain foods or textures you may want to consider packing some snacks or particular foods to bring with you as there may be a limited amount of food available. Remember that depending on what country you are travelling to you may need to throw out any uneaten food before exiting an airport.

Many airports, train stations and hotels offer additional support, including priority boarding and special food so make sure to ask in advance as they may be able to help you.

Tips for travelling with mobility aids

When travelling with an assistive device or mobility aid, make sure it is in good working order before leaving to make sure you don’t get stuck with equipment that is not fit for purpose.

Consider bringing a basic repair kit and any extra supplies, like batteries, with you just in case.

You may be required to check in your mobility aids when travelling, like on an aeroplane. If you need to do this, make sure you communicate with the airline about any transfers from check-in to where you are departing from. You may also want to check the availability of things like an aisle seat or wheelchair to help while you are on the aircraft, or, if departing from the tarmac, a ramp or lift.

Many wide-bodied aircraft have ‘accessible toilets’ which are normally larger. To make sure it meets your needs, you may wish to ask the airline for information about the facilities on the plane you will be flying on.

Where possible, consider checking for accessibility information in the online visitor guide for your destination so that you can plan your route and any stops along the way.

If you do get a flat tire, a bike shop might be able to help you out as they should have the tools to help.

What tips do you have for travelling with disability? Tell us in the comments below.

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