Do you have a disability? Are you planning to travel overseas when COVID-19 restrictions allow and want some advice on how to prepare for your trip? This blog post is for you. We’ll be discussing what accommodations are available, how to plan ahead of time, and the best ways to enjoy your trip without forgetting about yourself.
Many countries don’t have the same access, services or support for people with disabilities as Australia. It doesn’t mean you can’t travel; it just means you may have more challenges to overcome.
You may also face other risks unique to you and your disability, whether physical, sensory, psychiatric, neurological, or cognitive.
Get medical advice before you go
See your doctor
See your doctor before you go. Get your vaccinations and health check.
If you’re advised not to travel by a medical professional, then don’t go. You’re putting yourself and your family or other travelling companions at serious risk.
If you’re fit to travel, talk to your doctor about:
- How you’ll manage your health while you’re away
- Health checks and vaccinations you need
Medical care overseas
In some destinations, you may not have access to the medical care or medications you need. In addition, if you need specialised care, it may be more expensive than more common medical services. Before you go, find out if any specialised medical care you need is available where you’ll be going. Make sure you know how you can access medical care over there. See the ‘health’ section of the travel advisory for your destination.
Get travel insurance
It would help if you had insurance to travel overseas.
The Australian Government won’t pay your medical bills or other costs if things go wrong. So it’s your responsibility to have the right insurance that covers your disability. Please read our general advice about travel insurance.
Declare your disability
You must declare your disability to your insurer, even if you don’t think it will affect your travel. If you don’t disclose your disability, your insurer can deny any claim you make.
Insurers can’t deny you coverage, that would be discrimination. However, it may cost you more to get coverage for your disability, as it does with any pre-existing health conditions.
Check your policy
Policy rules may vary for different disabilities. Check if your policy will cover items or services you may need, such as:
- Replacing medical devices, aids or equipment if they’re lost, damaged or stolen
- Seeing a local doctor
- Filling prescriptions or getting a new medication
- Medical evacuation costs
Choose a policy that covers your disability
Looking to take the stress out of NDIS?
Yes we can process your NDIS invoices, remove time-consuming paperwork and let you track your spending through the My Plan Manager Client Portal. But we also help you make sure that your child is getting the support that they need, and not missing out on important items that can really make a difference to their plan goals.
Accessible air and sea travel
Some medical equipment may be restricted on flights. Talk to your airline. Know what you can take on your flight or what you have to do to prepare your equipment for boarding.
Research your travel provider and the airport or seaport where you will depart and arrive. Know what to expect and what you can ask for at the port when you board and during the journey.
Read more about flying safely with a disability (Civil Aviation Safety Authority).
Take adaptors to charge your equipment. Electrical outlet voltages and plugs aren’t the same overseas.
Ask your airline about their policy on wheelchairs. You may have to put it into checked baggage. In addition, some airlines may restrict battery-powered wheelchairs on flights.
Your airline or cruise ship may have onboard exemptions for service dogs or other assistance animals. Your animal may need to meet specific conditions to use these exemptions.
To take an animal overseas, your animal may have to:
- Be in quarantine for a specific period
- Gt vaccinated before you travel
- Travel with supporting documents from a vet
This could apply when you enter or leave Australia and your destination.
Check what you have to do before you travel. Read advice on the Department of Agriculture website.
Accessible hotels, tours and activities
Research your destination before you go. There are many online resources on accessible tourism.
- Accessible Travel Online Resources ebook (Lonely Planet)
- Travelling with a disability (CHOICE)
- European Network for Accessible Tourism (traveller tips and experiences)
- Travellers with disabilities (US Department of State)
- Foreign travel for disabled people (UK Government)
Research local hotels before you book. Not all hotels will offer the same accessible facilities as you’re used to in Australia.
Talk to your hotel or travel agent, airline, cruise ship or tour operator. Also, ask them about disability access and services at your destination. Find tour operators that offer accessible options.
Consider the types of activities that suit your needs. Then, look for advice on travelling with a disability in your destination country. You can also see this general advice for the activities you plan to do.
Getting around with a disability
You may have difficulty getting around. Many countries have poor infrastructure. For example, there may be:
- Poorly paved paths that are unsuitable for walking aids, or people with a visual impairment
- Hazards, such as unmarked potholes, sharp objects or exposed electrical wires
- Inaccessible public transport and buildings
- Minimal signposting, making it hard to find your way around or to a facility
- Lack of accessible toilets
You may encounter very different treatment overseas than you’re used to in Australia. In some destinations, there’s a social stigma about disabilities. As a result, people may discriminate against you.
It may be illegal to discriminate. However, in many destinations, people with disabilities have little or no legal protection or rights.
How the Australian Government can help you overseas
You’re responsible for making sure you have the support you need when you travel.
Read the Consular Services Charter for what the Australian Government can and can’t do to help you overseas.
What they can support you with
- Emergency consular assistance
- A list of local English speaking medical professionals if you need medical assistance overseas
- A list of local lawyers that speak English if you’re in legal trouble
- With your permission, contact your family if you suffer a medical emergency
What they can’t do
- Intervene on your behalf if you have trouble accessing facilities or services
- Provide specific advice on disability services or access at your destination
- Give you medical advice or pay for your medical expenses
- Guarantee your health and safety overseas
- Get you out of trouble if you’ve been arrested or jailed
It’s illegal to carry some medications overseas. We encourage you to check what is and isn’t allowed into each country before you make travel arrangements. Unfortunately, the Australian Government can’t help you if you break local rules. If carrying medication be sure to include a letter from your doctor.
A lot of overseas destinations are described as not or poorly accessible. While there are certainly some accessibility challenges, the truth is that the more research you do, the more accessible your trip will be. Avoiding bridges in Venice and hills in Paris is entirely possible. Did you know that Herculaneum’s ruins are nearly identical to Pompeii’s but are wheelchair-friendly?
Your vacation doesn’t need to be a struggle — do your homework, and your trip can be filled with fully accessible hotel accommodations, accessible routes between accessible tourist attractions, and wonderful accessible travel experiences.
Book hotels far in advance
It is almost always cheaper to book your accessible hotel accommodation far in advance. Many hotels in European city centres have only one or two accessible rooms. The best ones get booked very early. So for travel in the European or American summer, make your reservations in December.
Carefully plan your route
If you know what you’re getting into before you arrive in Europe, you’ll have a much easier time on your trip. There’ll likely be numerous ways to get to the tourist attractions you’re so eager to see. Some routes will have wheelchair ramps, smooth pavement, and flat terrain; others may have steep hills, bothersome (and even dangerous) cobblestones, and flights of stairs.
Research the accessibility of sidewalks, bus routes, subway stations, and the location of accessible building entrances before your trip. Check for accessibility information in the online visitor’s guides for your destinations — but be aware that not all directories will offer this type of information.
Stay in the most accessible parts of town
This is one of the most complex parts of planning your trip. You may have found a great accessible hotel, but what will you see when you come out the front? Are there hills and stairs in all directions?
Will there be cobblestones? Are there accessible restaurants nearby? It’s crucial to research the hotel’s neighbourhood. You can use Google Maps Street View to get the lay of the land, then email the hotel with your questions.
Have a backup plan
Even on the most perfectly planned accessible vacation, something can go wrong. If it does, it’s important to have a backup plan. If you prepare for all the possible issues, travel with someone who can help you during your trip, and remain flexible, unexpected events won’t turn into potential trip-ruining problems.
With backup plans you won’t have to put your vacation on hold.
If you opt for a tour, a company that specialises in accessibility will lead you on the flattest, smoothest, shortest tour routes.
Before you take a tour or hire a guide, ask these questions:
- Is the tour guide a licensed professional? How much training has the guide received, and what tests have they passed?
- How inclusive are they?
- What route will the guide use? Does it involve curbs, steps, steep hills, or cobblestones? Where are the accessible bathrooms located? Will the guide physically assist you if needed?
- Is this a private tour, or will you be with other travellers? Are you expected to keep up with tour members that aren’t disabled?
- How many people with disabilities have they guided in the past year? (If it’s been a long time, the guide may not be aware of the latest regulations or updates regarding accessibility.)
Other safety tips for travellers
Nothing is worse than being in a foreign country and finding yourself in an emergency where you don’t know if you’re covered. Be sure to purchase travel insurance in case something goes wrong.
Don’t advertise your absence
A few tactics can help travellers to protect their belongings, like not putting the “clean my room” sign on your hotel door.
These signs are an open invitation to let people know that the room is empty. Instead, call the front desk on the way out and let them know you’ll be leaving and that they can send someone up to clean the room.
A few other hotel tips recommended by AARP include engaging the security chain on your door whenever you’re in the room, asking for a room near the elevator (more foot traffic will deter thieves) and staying away from ground-floor rooms where window entry is possible.
Watch what you eat
Some medications don’t interact well with certain foods. If you are taking any medication, call your doctor before you leave for a trip to find out if certain foods popular in your destination are off-limits.
Keep medication safe
Anyone travelling needs to take as much care with their medications as they do with their money and passports. Don’t pack them in checked luggage, and don’t leave them lying in the open in your hotel room. And always make sure you’ve got enough medicine to last you an extra day or two, just in case your flight home is delayed.
It’s recommended to keep a list with the names of any essential medicines you take and their dosages so you can try to replace them if needed. If you take a brand-name medication, write down the generic name too. Even better: try to find out the name of the medicine in the language of the destination you’re travelling to.
Keep others in the loop
If you’re going to be travelling solo, AARP recommends that you let others know your daily itinerary, including your innkeeper or hotel concierge. Tell them where you’re going and when you expect to be back; then stick to your schedule. Keep a cell phone on you at all times.
Stay safe on your feet
Beyond wearing comfortable shoes to get through full days of walking and touring, wearing flats will also help travellers stay steady on their feet.
Heels, even small ones, can make you more prone to spraining an ankle or falling. Flats will help you stay comfortable and balanced.
Enjoy your trip! You’ve done as much planning as you can. You’ve relied on the experience of other travellers with disabilities, and you’re prepared for the unexpected.
Now it’s time to enjoy your trip. Majestic cities, beautiful art and architecture, fascinating history, exquisite food, and beautiful experiences await you.