When you use a wheelchair or mobility scooter to get around, you might think your options for travel are limited. But at least within the United States, accessibility has improved greatly since the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
The act compelled businesses, governments and other entities to make its buildings and public spaces accessible. Even so, when you travel, you may encounter some historic sites or out-of-the-way places that don’t excel at accommodating wheelchairs. So if you’re hitting the open road, the following information may be helpful in planning your trip.
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice adopted revised accessibility standards, the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Most historic sites conformed to either the 1990 instructions for compliance or adopted the new standards; however, if historic buildings had not modified their premises between 1990 and 2010, they might be exempt from doing so now. There is, at least, a lot of “gray area,” about what tourist attractions or public buildings are required to do to accommodate wheelchairs, so if you’re visiting a historic site, call ahead and ask about accessibility.
You may find that while historic locations — San Antonio, Texas, for example — have been modified to accommodate wheelchairs, you may need to plan your routes in advance and account for more time when getting to specific destinations. (If you plan to take a trolley in San Antonio, you must request a wheelchair lift 24 hours in advance).
In cities with a mix of residential and business areas, you may not always find curb cuts where you might expect them. You may want to carry your own curb ramps with you, so you don’t end up stranded on a sidewalk, or unable to access it.
Parks that receive government funding must be ADA compliant. However, there are limits to how accessible the natural world can be. But technology may be poised to solve the problem.
For about the cost of a small economy car, people can buy an all-terrain wheelchair that runs on treads, like a mini-tank. It’s expensive, but it opens up a new world of accessibility, allowing wheelchair users to enjoy beaches, hiking trails and other terrain like never before.
If an ATV wheelchair isn’t in the budget, you can still enjoy national parks. In fact, wheelchair-users can purchase the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass, which offers free lifetime admission to national parks, and free admission for fellow passengers in a non-commercial vehicle. Passes must be purchased in-person at a park.
Learning the ropes
If you’ve never traveled in a wheelchair before, or you have a relative who’s using one for the first time, it may take some time before you feel comfortable traveling far from home.
Candy Harrington, author of the book, “22 Accessible Road Trips,” has some tips for travelers with disabilities. She recommends booking accommodations with small inns, rather than large hotels. Because proprietors of small inns often depend on word-of-mouth for business, they’re likely to be more attentive to travelers who need special accommodations.
Harrington also says that families who have children with disabilities should plan short day trips first, then overnight trips, eventually working up to a full-fledged vacation.
People who use wheelchairs can still get out and see the world; it just might take a little more planning.