You might assume that the winding streets of Venice would prove off-limits for travelers who use wheelchairs. However, with a little planning, a disabled person could explore Venice without crossing one bridge.
Tourist destinations across the world have embraced accessible travel with special routes and accommodating policies to ensure that everyone who wants to travel can. Loyalty travel program directors shouldn’t discourage disabled travelers from joining their trips — with a little preparation, these passengers can enjoy a group tour as much as anyone.
Though it may seem daunting at first, improving accessibility on tours can be accomplished with these basic guidelines.
Do Your Homework
The first rule of accessible travel is to never assume. Accessible trips to Machu Picchu, the Galapagos Islands, the Acropolis in Athens and the Roman Forum happen all the time. More and more ancient sites that were once impassable except by foot have developed routes especially for the disabled.
So when selecting your destination, make sure to research what accessibility is already available at your destinations and attractions. If you hit a roadblock, don’t immediately give up. Find out if an alternative site will work. For example, Herculaneum is a nearly identical experience to Pompeii, but the former works for wheelchair users.
Travel planners should also line up accessible transportation early on, such as accessible motorcoaches and a detailed plan for the airport. Call ahead to the airline to ensure special accommodations will be ready for your disabled travelers.
When scheduling your group’s flights, keep in mind that most airlines board wheelchair users first but make them exit the plane last. This can affect connecting flights, so always include at least 90 minutes of buffer time between flights.
Additionally, give careful consideration to selecting hotels for a number of reasons. You want to choose a hotel not just because it lies near the city center, but also by the accessibility of that part of town. For example, a wheelchair user wouldn’t appreciate free time at a hotel next to a cobblestone street. Research the neighborhood around the hotel if you plan on providing any time for individual exploration.
Try to also book hotel rooms far in advance, since many hotel rooms only have one or two accessible rooms.
When a disabled traveler first signs up for your tour, find out as much as you can about the specifics of that person’s condition. Disabilities can vary greatly, and you’ll need vastly different preparations for a deaf traveler than you will a mobility-challenged one.
Encourage your travelers to inform you of any details on the specifics of their limitations, so you can more easily anticipate their needs. Let them also know the advantages of traveling with a statement from their doctor covering their condition, medications and potential complications. This will be helpful to have in case of an emergency.
Another precaution you can suggest to your travelers is to bring extra medication. In case of emergency, you’ll want to have this backup on hand.
Make sure all of your travelers know to store all medications and other necessary medical supplies in their carry-on luggage. Inexperienced travelers might not think of this, which could lead to problems if the airlines misplaced their checked bags.
On the Road
By the time your motorcoach leaves the airport parking lot, you should already have a plan for your mobility-challenged travelers for each stop. Keep with you the information on routes that avoid stairs, steep hills and elevators not wide enough for wheelchairs.
Some cities have accessible maps, but for those that don’t, Google Maps provides street views for any routes you need to figure out so you aren’t met with any surprises.
Though in the planning phase, you should have called ahead to discuss accessibility with hotels, transportation services and attractions, you’ll want to call each of these services the day before to confirm your arrival. This is especially important if additional aid is needed at any stop along the trip.
However, these preparations can help only so much. You should also always come with a plan B.
What do you do if part of a traveler’s wheelchair breaks in Florence? What happens if your planned accessible route is closed for construction in Berlin?
Think through anything that might go wrong, and at the very least, have a phone number you can call if it happens. For example, know the local number for medical emergencies and backup accessible motorcoaches.
You could also pack spare wheelchair parts or keep an accessible map of the city on hand.
If keeping track of all these factors seems too intimidating, you can also receive a great deal of help from travel agents or tour companies that specialize in disability travel. They can help handle some of these medical and travel details, and help you anticipate problems you may not have previously considered.
That way you can focus on making sure your disabled travelers find enjoyment in the tour rather than worrying solely about moving from point A to point B.