Making Your Travels More Accessible

It's true. Traveling with a disability is challenging. Many parts of the world were unfortunately built primarily for people without disabilities with no second thought to those who have trouble getting around. For example, while on our recent trip to Europe, my step-dad Tim, who uses a cane to get around, tried his best to avoid the countless cobblestoned streets and struggled with the long, narrow staircases in many bed and breakfasts.

However, despite inconvenient sidewalks and steps up to old buildings, Tim found his trip much more accessible than he was expecting. That's because, to quote Bob Dylan, "times they are a changing," and the world's view toward accessibility is changing with it. To put it in a more simply, travel is becoming more inclusive to everyone who has the desire. Destinations are finally acknowledging that people of every age and ability, no matter what their physical or mental hurdles are, deserve to get out of their homes and experience new places.Dr-Who-Experience_Handicap-Accessible-Travel.jpeg 
That said, it is still nerve-racking to go to another city, never mind another country, when you're dealing with a disease like multiple sclerosis. Will the sidewalks be wide enough and have ramps to the streets? Will I be able to find affordable lodging that is handicap accessible?
Take a deep breath. Where there is a will, there is a way. Here are my best tips for making sure your trip is as easy as possible:
  1. First of all, determine how accessible you want your trip to be. Do you need to travel with your wheelchair at all times, or are you able to walk with a cane? For Tim, while he used a wheelchair to get around the airport and museums, he was able to use his cane to get onto public transportation and walk shorter distances. If he had needed a wheelchair for the duration of the trip, we would have booked different hotels, alternative ways to get around many of the cities - like handicap accessible taxis - and possibly decided to switch a couple of our destinations. That leads me to my next point...
  2. Design an inclusive trip. Once you have determined how accessible your vacation should be, do your research and find a spot that meets your requirements. For example, a cruise might be perfect for someone who wants to visit multiple destinations without having to book a bunch of different hotels and drive around winding, unfamiliar roads. Or, check out a tool like www.axsmap.comCreated by a man living with MS, the website and app helps locals and travelers find handicap accessible spots in their areas. Based on user generated content and feedback, most of the tips are currently for cities scattered around the USA. However, the database is constantly expanding! If you are thinking about a trip in the U.S., the app is worth checking out. Also, consider giving input for your city or for cities you have visited to help others in similar situations.
  3. Pick up the phone! To make sure you are packing up for your dream vacation, it's a good idea to call the hotels you’re interested in before you book to ask questions about accessibility. Is there a ground floor room or functioning elevators? Are there any steps up to the building? Is there public transportation nearby? If you're driving, is there a parking lot on location? Placing a phone call to any attractions you would like to visit is a good idea as well. This should lead to fewer surprises once you arrive!
  4. If planning an accessible trip sounds like a pain, there is another option: Use a company that arranges your vacation for you. Over the past decade, travel agencies have been popping up that specialize in inclusive travel. Many of these agencies, like Vancouver's, will go above and beyond completing the initial research and booking your tickets for you. With support from their employees and colleagues around the world, they will also connect you with people (digitally, over the phone, or even in person) who can help throughout your trip, whether things are going smoothly or you hit a couple of bumps in the road.
Overall, it is important to remember that planning an accessible trip will take a little extra time and effort, and that's all right! Don’t let mobility challenges stop you from seeing the world. Dream big and start traveling!
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Calysta Phalen

Calysta is a professional copywriter from Milwaukee, Wisconsin with a passion for travel. She has been an advocate for MS awareness since 2005 when her mom met her future step-dad, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2000.