Planning an Accessible Vacation: A Guide for the Perfect Getaway

Kimberly Springs

Jeff Rodgers

May 17 11 min read

Traveling is an enriching experience that everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy. However, for individuals with disabilities, planning an accessible vacation may seem daunting.

With the right resources and preparation, you can ensure a smooth, enjoyable trip that caters to your needs.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore various aspects of planning an accessible vacation, from researching destinations and accommodations to finding accessible activities and transportation.

We will also discuss the importance of digital accessibility and compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for a genuinely inclusive travel experience.

If you own a vacation rental and want to make it more accessible, the tips here can help you understand what your visitors are looking for.

Researching Accessible Destinations

Start with Accessibility in Mind

When choosing a vacation destination, you will no doubt be prioritizing accessibility and the availability of resources available to individuals with disabilities.

Look for destinations that have a reputation for being accessible, such as those with a solid commitment to ADA compliance or a high level of physical accessibility. Some popular destinations with excellent accessibility include major cities such as New York and Las Vegas, national parks, and popular amusement parks like Disneyland.

Consider Digital Accessibility

In today’s digital age, it is essential to consider not only physical accessibility but also digital accessibility. This includes websites that comply with WCAG guidelines, making it easier for individuals with disabilities to access information and services online. For example, when searching for accessible accommodations, make sure the website you are using is WCAG-compliant and easy to navigate.

If you are a business looking to increase your marketing reach, avoid adding one of those accessibility overlay widgets to your website. They do more harm than good and may drive away the people you are trying to attract.

Consult Accessible Travel Resources

Numerous resources are available to help you find accessible destinations and plan your trip. Some popular accessible travel resources include:

These resources can provide valuable information on accessible destinations, accommodations, transportation, and activities, as well as tips and advice from experienced travelers with disabilities.

Finding Accessible Accommodations

Ensure ADA Compliance

When searching for accommodations, prioritize those that are ADA-compliant. ADA-compliant accommodations require features such as wheelchair ramps, wider doorways, grab bars in bathrooms and accessible parking spaces.

If these features are not listed on a website. A quick call or email to a business inquiring about the accommodations will help eliminate surprises, such as renovations that may render an accessible bathroom out-of-order during your visit.

Use Accessible Vacation Rental Platforms

Vrbo and Airbnb are popular platforms for finding vacation rentals; both have filters to search for accessible properties. But, again, communicate with the property owner or manager to confirm the accessibility features and address any specific concerns you may have.

Research Accessible Resorts and Hotels

Some resorts and hotel chains are known for their commitment to accessibility and may offer a more seamless experience for travelers with disabilities. Examples of accessible resorts and hotels include:

  • Walt Disney World Resorts
  • Marriott Hotels
  • Hilton Hotels
  • Holiday Inn

When booking your accommodations, ask about accessible rooms, facilities, and services to ensure your stay meets your needs.

Look for specific accessibility features such as spacious and clutter-free rooms, automatic doors, adjustable beds, and roll-in showers with bars. Lighting systems that are easy to activate and outlet plugs in both walls and desks are also helpful. Some even have voice technology and smart mirrors.

Additionally, it’s important to ask questions and research the hotel’s accessibility features thoroughly to ensure you have all the necessary information to make an informed decision. Calling ahead and letting them know your needs can help them be proactive so they can provide a positive experience.

If you are traveling with someone who is neurodiverse or may be sensitive to noises or active environments, requesting a room away from pools, bars, or busy streets may be helpful.

Accessible Transportation

Plan Accessible Routes

When planning your trip, research the most accessible routes for your destination. This may include researching accessible public transportation options, such as buses, trains, or ferries with wheelchair ramps or lifts. Additionally, consider renting an accessible vehicle if you plan to drive during your trip.

Book Accessible Flights

Airlines are required to provide accommodations for passengers with disabilities under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). Be sure to inform the airline of your specific needs when booking your flight, such as pre-boarding assistance, wheelchair assistance, or seating accommodations.

Finding Accessible Activities

Research Accessible Attractions and Activities

When planning your itinerary, research accessible attractions and activities at your destination. This may include museums, parks, theaters, and other tourist attractions that offer accommodations for individuals with disabilities. Some popular accessible sites in the U.S. include:

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City
  • The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
  • Fisherman’s Warf in San Francisco
  • Millennium Park in Chicago

According to a survey by The Valuable 500, New York, Las Vegas, and Orlando are the most accessible cities in the US. Other wheelchair-friendly destinations include Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in Alabama, Honolulu in Hawaii, Key West in Florida, and Park City in Utah.

Additionally, there are many accessible attractions in different states, such as the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and the Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona.

Look for destinations that offer accessible beaches, trails, parks, attractions, and services like accessible taxis and beach wheelchairs to rent. Some cities also offer wheelchair-accessible day trips to iconic sights such as the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon.

Consult Accessible Amusement Parks

Amusement parks can be a fun and exciting destination for travelers of all abilities. Many major amusement parks, such as Disney World, Universal Studios, and SeaWorld, offer accessible attractions, services, and facilities for guests with disabilities.

If you need to reserve a wheelchair or motorized scooter, consider booking one ahead of time or making sure someone can reserve one early that day before they are gone.

Amusement parks can also be overwhelming for people with sensitivity to noise, crowds, and constant activity. As a result, several theme parks now offer accommodations for visitors, such as sensory rooms and sensory guides.

Disney theme parks, Dollywood, Universal Orlando, Six Flags, and Cedar Point, offer such accommodations. They are also stepping up their efforts to be more accommodating by providing autism training for staff and recognizing the importance of survivors of PTSD.

Service Animals

Traveling with a Service Animal

If you are planning a vacation with a service animal, doing your homework and planning for you and your companion’s needs is essential.

Service animals are defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as dogs that are trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities. Therefore, businesses may not recognize animals that are not ADA-approved service animals. This includes emotional support animals (ESAs).

While ESAs are not covered by the ADA, they are recognized by the Air Carrier Access Act. Therefore, your airline should allow an ESM if they comply with their requirements for such animals. This may include keeping them on a leash or in a fully enclosed traveling container. Some airlines also have size restrictions for ESAs, so check before your book your flight.

When traveling with a service animal, you should call hotels and restaurants in advance to inform them of your dog’s presence and pack the necessary supplies, including food, water, a leash, toys, and medication.

Research pet relief areas at airports and theme parks and ensure your animal is fully trained, exercised, and up-to-date on vaccines. Lastly, remember that service dogs are not pets but working animals and should be treated as necessary equipment. Owners are responsible for ensuring their service animals behave appropriately in public areas.

Accessible Dining Options

Research Accessible Restaurants

When planning your meals during your trip, research accessible restaurants at your destination. Look for restaurants with wheelchair ramps, accessible restrooms, and spacious seating areas that accommodate wheelchairs, mobility aids or service animals.

Accessible Menus

Finding accessible menus can be a challenge for individuals with visual impairments. Some restaurants may offer braille menus, while others may provide digital menus that can be enlarged for easier reading.

Many restaurants now have digital menus by scanning a QR code at the table or through their website. These can be used with assistive technology available on a mobile device, such as a screen reader or zoom tool. Be sure to call ahead or ask your server for accessible menu options.

Preparing for Your Trip

Pack Essential Medical Supplies

Ensure you have an adequate supply of any necessary medical supplies, such as medications, catheters, or ostomy products. Packing extra supplies in case of emergencies or unexpected delays during your trip is always a good idea.

Arrange for Assistance

Decide in advance if you require assistance during your trip, such as a personal care attendant or specialized equipment. This may include contacting your airline, accommodations, or transportation providers to request service or accommodations.

Navigating Airports

Request Assistance

When flying, be sure to request assistance from your airline if needed. This may include assistance with boarding, seating, or navigating the airport. Many airports also offer accessible services and facilities, such as wheelchair assistance and accessible restrooms.

If your flight plan requires a connecting flight at an airport, you should inform the flight attendants that you will need transportation to your next gate. Then, they can contact the staff at your arrival gate to ensure transport awaits you when you land.

Allow Extra Time

Navigating airports can be time-consuming, especially when traveling with a disability. Be sure to allow extra time for check-in, security, and boarding to ensure a smooth and stress-free travel experience.

Be aware of how much time you will need to make your way through an airport. Most airlines have apps with maps of the airports they serve. This can help you decide if you need assistance and help make conveying where you need to go easier.

Traveling by Car and Train

Renting Accessible Transportation

When renting a car that is accessible for persons with a disability, there are several factors to consider. First, ensure the vehicle has proper conversion features such as ramps, lifts, and restraint systems in good condition.

Hertz and Enterprise both offer accessible transportation. Ask about hand controls, spinner knobs, automatic confirmation, and accessible parking. In addition, some offer vehicles with an electrically operated ramp and two ADA-compliant wheelchair positions.

Additionally, specialty companies like Wheelers offer various rental options for wheelchair-accessible vans. When renting a car, it’s essential to plan and be specific with rental agencies about your disability needs.

Traveling by Rail

Many railways, including Amtrak, offer access to passengers with disabilities. To determine whether a particular station is accessible, visit the Amtrak Accessible Travel website. Amtrak also provides services for travelers with special needs, including those with mobility impairments or service animals.

When traveling with a service animal, Amtrak Vacations requests that passengers notify them when making reservations. Passengers with disabilities are advised to carry sufficient food or necessary medications on board. Additionally, Amtrak provides free baggage handling assistance at major stations by uniformed Red Caps.

Enjoying Your Accessible Vacation

Be Patient and Flexible

Traveling with a disability may present challenges, but with patience and flexibility, you can make the most of your accessible vacation. Be prepared to adapt to unexpected situations and embrace the unique experiences that come with accessible travel.

Sometimes other vacationers who don’t require accommodations can be inconsiderate when they see others getting what they deem to be preferential treatment. Do your best not to let others take away your fun, as the parks and destinations you visit do value you and want everyone to have a positive and fun time.

Embrace the Experience

An accessible vacation is an opportunity to explore new places, meet new people, and create lasting memories. So embrace the experience and enjoy the adventure of accessible travel.

Share Your Experiences

Sharing your accessible travel experiences can help inspire and inform others with disabilities who may be considering a vacation of their own. Please share your stories, tips, and advice through blogs, social media, or accessible travel forums to help promote accessible travel and inspire others to embark on their accessible adventures.

Plan Your Next Accessible Vacation

Once you have successfully navigated your first accessible vacation, you may be eager to plan your next adventure. Use the knowledge and experience gained from your first trip to make future accessible vacations even more enjoyable and stress-free. With careful planning and preparation, the world truly is your oyster!

In conclusion, planning an accessible vacation may require extra time, research, and patience, but the result is a memorable and inclusive travel experience everyone can enjoy. Utilizing the resources and tips in this comprehensive guide, you can confidently plan and embark on an accessible vacation that meets your unique needs and creates lasting memories.