Travel After Spinal Cord Injury

Arranging travel is a fairly straight-forward process for non-disabled individuals. Most people contact a travel agency, choose a destination and hope that their baggage and the sun follow them. For the traveler with a spinal cord injury (SCI), or other disability, there is much more to consider when planning a trip. Anxiety about air-travel, the accessibility of accommodations and transportation and attitudinal barriers can be extra "baggage" for the novice traveler with SCI. With proper planning, these issues can be minimized, and often avoided.

What to Look for in a Travel Agency

Call or visit a few travel agencies. Ask if they have actual experience coordinating travel for persons with SCI or other disabilities. An experienced agency will have readily available, fully researched sources on accessible accommodations. On-site visits of travel destinations should be conducted by either agency personnel or reliable area contacts to provide accurate accessibility information. Determining accessibility by telephone is risky unless performed by an individual who specializes in "on-site" evaluations. A reputable agency will ask about such specifics as door width, bathroom design, ramping, etc.
If the agency does not have experience coordinating travel for persons with SCI or other disabilities, ask if they would be willing to do the necessary research to successfully plan the trip. If so, how would they go about determining accessibility of the destination and any in-between ground transportation? Do they know airline procedure for requesting passenger assistance or proper storage of a power wheelchair?
An inexperienced agency may deliver acceptable results, but it takes much more time and effort on the traveler's part. She/he must be well versed in his/her personal requirements and able to articulate these needs. Of course, the travel agency must be capable of understanding these needs and following through with accessibility confirmation.

Applicable Laws and Rights Serving Americans with Disabilities

It is useful to spend some time becoming educated about how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA) affect the traveler with SCI.
The ADA, passed in 1990, gave civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities. It guarantees equal opportunity in employment, transportation, public accommodations, telecommunications, and state and local government. For travelers with SCI, this means travel related services, such as lodging, dining, entertainment venues, bus and rail stations, cruise ship terminals, and airports are impacted and should be more accessible as the industry comes into compliance.
The ACAA, passed in 1986, guarantees that people with disabilities receive consistent and non-discriminatory treatment when traveling by air. An experienced travel agency will provide SCI travelers with a copy of the ACAA. It is recommended that travelers with SCI bring a copy of the ACAA whenever flying. Having a copy on hand can help both the passenger with a SCI and airline personnel clarify any misunderstanding about what is covered.
These laws have dramatically improved how individuals with SCI travel. However, travel industry suppliers need to be constantly educated about their obligation under these laws.

Be Prepared and Get Organized Before You Go

Seasoned travelers have organization down to a science, but most people need assistance in this area. Taking time to get organized before departure is time well spent. For example:
• Make a list of "must bring" items, such as medications, medical supplies, and patch kits, etc. Keep these items in a carry-on bag to make certain they arrive with you. When packing, keep medication in its original container. This avoids questions at Customs about the nature of the drugs the traveler is carrying.
• Write down important telephone numbers and store them in a carryon bag.
• Power wheelchair users should consider using gel cell batteries whenever possible to avoid battery separation as may be required under DOT rules.
• Locate a medical supply or wheelchair repair company in close proximity to the destination. Airlines have limited financial responsibility for wheelchair damages, however they may not know where or how to locate a repair company in a timely manner.
• Adaptive equipment, such as shower or commode chairs and Hoyer lifts can be rented at many destinations.
• When making airline reservations, consider booking a non-stop or direct (one stop without getting off the aircraft) flight, although a connecting flight may be preferred to allow the passenger with SCI the opportunity to exit the aircraft.
• Travelers with SCI should be mindful of fluid intake prior to flying (wheelchair accessible aircraft lavatories are rare ¬ see ACAA) but common sense should be exercised with regard to dehydration.
• Gate-check your wheelchair to allow usage up until boarding the aircraft.

In the recent past, travelers with SCI faced many obstacles. Architectural barriers and unenlightened attitudes prevented many people with disabilities from traveling with ease. The desire to travel was still alive, yet the potential for negative experiences made staying close to home the safest option.
Fortunately, the passage of laws such as the ADA and ACAA have dramatically improved travel options. Additionally, the travel industry is slowly recognizing that the disability community is a formidable market, with billions of dollars in expendable income. These factors mean that individuals with SCI and other disabilities can travel with confidence.

Some Specifics

Air: All airlines are mandated by law to be wheelchair accessible. Wheelchair travelers are entitled to all the comforts and accommodations of non-wheelchair travelers. Assistance boarding and exiting the plane, as well as proper storage of your wheelchair, should be arranged prior to departure. Each airline may have slightly different procedures, so be sure to call ahead.
Bus: Greyhound and Peerless bus lines are accessible to wheelchair travelers. Reservations need to be made 48 hours in advance, but four to seven days is preferred. Once reservations are made, the disabled services department needs to be informed of your intent to travel. Companions or attendants often travel free of charge.
Trains: Each train is mandated to have at least four available accessible compartments. The rooms are bigger and have larger bathrooms. Accessible compartments sleep two. If the dining car is on the second deck, order service to the room.
Cruises: Cabins are larger and all decks are wheelchair friendly. Check with individual cruise lines.

Many resources are available in local communities; check your telephone directories, ask friends for resources, and ask at Support Group meetings for good experiences with various travel agencies. Today, the Internet provides a burgeoning number of resources. A couple of general addresses for more information over the Web are:

AAA Motor Club - Chicago - Ask for "Travel Healthy, Travel Happy" brochure. If cruising, ask your travel agent to obtain a copy of the cruise line's information sheet regarding traveling with disabilities.

Access-Able Travel Source - offers a free newsletter and a collection of resources and travel tips.

The Air Carrier Access Act: Make It Work For You brochure, published by the Paralyzed Veterans of
America, 801 Eighteenth Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20006 (202) 872-1300.

The Americans with Disabilities Act: Your Personal Guide to the Law brochure, published by the Paralyzed Veterans of America, 801 Eighteenth Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20006 (202) 872-1300.

The Directory of Travel Agencies for the Disabled, Disability Bookshop, PO Box 129, Vancouver, WA 98666-0129 (800) 637-2256, (206) 694-2462.

Exceptional Vacations L.L.C.,

Handicapped in Walt Disney World: A Guide for Everyone, by Peter Smith (Southpark)

Handicapped Travel Newsletter,

Hawaii - Commission on Persons with Disabilities, 915 Ala Moana Blvd. (ground floor), Honolulu, Hawaii 96813, (808) 548-7606 (Voice/TDD)

Life Center at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago - Lists travel companies specializing in providing services to the disabled.

Medical Travel Inc,. The Disability Travel Experts, (800) 778-7953 * Office: (561) 921-0496 

Mobility International,

National Directory, facilities for disabled in many cities, (800) 365-1220.

National Park Service Office on Accessibility, Box 37127, Washington, DC 20013 (202) 343-3674.

New Horizons for the Air Traveler with a Disability brochure, Department of Transportation, Aviation Consumer Protection Division C-75, P-10, Room 9222, 400 7th Street SW, Washington, DC 20590, (202) 366-2220, (202) 755-7687 (TT).

Planet Mobility , (866) Go-LIFTS, (866) 465-4387, Office: (586) 677-6363, Fax: (586) 677-6379

RADAR (Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation) 25 Mortimer Street, London W1N 8ABS England.

SATH (Society for the Advancement of Travel for the Handicapped) 347 5th Avenue, Suite 610, New York, NY 10016.

Society for Accessible Travel & Hopitality - (800) 513-1126 - This website gives dozens of contract for all types of situations and limitations. 347 Fifth Avenue, Suite 610, New York, NY 10016 (212) 447-7284.

Travel Industry and Disabled Exchange, 5435 Donna Avenue, Tarzana, CA 91356.

Travel Information Service, Moss Rehabilitation Hospital, 12th Street & Tabor Road, Philadelphia, PA 19141 (215) 329-5715.

Travel Traders Unlimited, Contact Barbara McDermott at for literature and information for those traveling with special needs. Home: 414-258-0926; Office: 262-238-8800; Toll Free: 1-800-747-1708; Fax: 262-238-8801.

Travelinâ Talk Newsletter, Network and Directory, contact Rick Crowder, PO Box 3534, Clarksville, TN 37043.

The United States The Department of Transportation, Office of Regulatory Affairs, P-10, Room 9222, 400 7th St. S.W., Washington, D.C. 20590, (800) 778-4838 (6a.m. to 10 p.m. Central Time) - Provides one of the most important sources for anyone flying with a disability "New Horizons: Information for the Air
Traveler With a Disability. ALSO, the DOT has created a new Aviation Disability Hotline that collects complaint information 24/7 and is staffed from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. (Eastern time). (866) 266-1368 (voice) and (866) 754-4368 (TTY). FLY Rights is anothe publication the US DOT offers for Airline Access information. (202) 366-2220

Wheels & Waves, published by Wheels Aweigh Publishing Co., 17105 San Carlos Boulevard, Suite #1-6107, Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931, (800) 637-2256 or (800) 247-6553.

Van Rentals
(See also Transportation)

Wheelchair Getaways Nationwide Wheelchair Accessible Van Rentals (800) 642-2042.

Wheelers Nationwide Wheelchair Accessible Van Rentals (800) 456-1371

Planet Mobility , (866) Go-LIFTS, (866) 465-4387, Office: (586) 677-6363, Fax: (586) 677-6379


Able to Travel, a Division of Partnership Travel, Inc.
247 N. Main Street, Suite 308
Randolph, MA 02368
(800) 968-0053

Access Ability Travel
186 Alewife Brook Parkway
Cambridge, MA 02138
(800) 610-5640
(617) 661-9200

Access Aloha Travel
677 Ala Moana Boulevard, #101
Honolulu, HI 96813

Access First
(800) 557-2047
(516) 887-5798

Access Tours
PO Box 2985
Jackson, WY 83001
(800) 929-4811

Accessible Journeys
35 West Sellers Avenue
Ridlely Park, PA 19078
(800) 847-5637
(610) 521-0339

Alaska Welcomes You
PO Box 91333

Anchorage, AK 99509
(907) 349-6301

Arizona Raft Adventures
4050 East Huntington Drive
Flagstaff, AZ 86004
(800) 786-RAFT

Challenge Alaska
PO Box 110065

Anchorage, AK 99511-0065
(907) 563-2658

Club Access
(800) 610-5640

Courier Travel
32 Duane Street

Glen Ellyn, IL 60731
(630) 469-7349 Cruise Planners
70 Garland Road

Nottinghan, NH 03290
(603) 942-7191
(800) 801-9002 [toll free]

Accessible Tours Division
(800) 533-343

Discovery Hills Travel
(800) 750-5975

Easy Access Travel
(800) 920-8989

Easy Access Travel
(800) 920-8989

Tuff Tours
PO Box 276244
Sacramento, CA 95827
(916) 364-1365

Flying Wheels Travel
143 W. Bridge Street
Box 382
Owatonna, MN 55060

Free Again Tours
1000 Figuora Street, Ste. 36
Wilmington, CA 90744
(310) 518-1444

Freedom's Wings International

International Cruise Concepts
PO Box 163
Littleton, CO 80160
(800) 772-7998
(303) 797-340

Medical Travel Inc.
The Disability Travel Experts
5184 Majorca Club Drive
Boca Raton, FL 33486
561-361-9385 Fax

Mobility International USA
PO Box 3551
Eugene, OR 97440
(503) 343-1284

National Ability Center
PO Box
682799 Park
City, UT 84068-2799
(801) 649-3991

Nautilus Cruises & Tours
(800) 797-6004

NeverLand Adventures
(800) 717-U-CAN

Outta Sight Travel

Over the Rainbow Disabled Travel Services
186 Mehani Circle
Kihei, HA 96753
(800) 303-3750

Able to Travel
247 North Main Street
Suite 308
Randolph, MA 02368
(800) 986-0065
(617) 986-2047
Fax (617)986-4225

SE Unlimited
(605) 366-0202

Sunset Travel
1100 River Road
Forestville, CA 94536
(800) 697-0569

Travel Traders Unlimited
Specialists in travel for those special needs
Barbara McDermott
Travel Counselor
Home: 414-258-0926
Office: 262-238-8800
Toll Free: 1-800-747-1708
Fax: 262-238-8801

Turtle Tours
197 Candlewood Isle
New Fairfield, CT 06812
(800) 453-9195

Wheeling Around the Algarve
Rua 5 de Outubro
Apartado 421
8136 Almancil
Algarve, Portugal

Wilderness Inquiry
808 14th Avenue SE
Minneapolis, MN 55414-1516
Phone: (612) 676-9400
TTY (612) 676-9475
Fax: (612) 676-9401

Four Winds Travel & Tour
Co. 9 Dunwood Park, Ste. 11
Atlanta, GA 30338
(770) 698-8444

Worldwide Cruises, Inc.
8059 West McNab Road
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33321
(800) 720-9000
(305) 720-9000

House Exchange Program