It's a long and winding road, but slowly and surely, the world is becoming more inclusive and accessible for those of us who live with some form of disability. The prospect of travel can be daunting, even for those who are lucky enough to be completely able-bodied, so it's no wonder the added complications of a disability can be enough to put us off.
But with all the necessary planning in place, tackling the challenge of traveling with a disability is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Travel bloggers around the world are demonstrating that traveling with a disability is very much possible, but before we get to the success stories, here's how to make sure your trip goes to plan.
1) Choose the perfect destination
It sounds obvious but, if you use a wheelchair, you need to make sure your chosen destination is accessible. Not just the hotel or resort, but the city or location itself. Thankfully, some of the world's top locations actually offer great access, such as:
Melbourne is one of the most accessible cities on the planet, so if you're looking to visit Australia, look no further. The city's public transport system is largely accessible and the list of wheelchair-friendly restaurants available is extensive.
100% of buses and 80% of metro stations in Barcelona are wheelchair-accessible and the pavements of the old city are flat as they come. With Catalonia's National Tourism Authority really working to improve accessible travel, wheelchair users get an automatic queue jump for most attractions and even get in to some for free.
For those with reduced vision or motor impairment, Sicily is a surprisingly good option. It's home to the only sensorial botanic garden in Europe, as well as a tactile museum. You can enjoy adapted scuba diving and off-road driving, as well the country's legendary Mediterranean cuisine, of course.
Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
For a far-flung beach getaway, Playa Del Carmen should be top of your list. Sitting around a one hour drive from Cancun International Airport, it boasts a range of accessible hotels and beaches, and even offers adaptive equipment for snorkelling the coral reef. Even the nearby Mayan archaeological sites (Chichén Itzáand Tulum) are largely accessible.
If Asia's on your list, Singapore is by far the continent's most accessible city. Singapore has been working on its accessibility for over 20 years, and it shows. There's step-free access to most buildings, and the rail and bus network are widely adapted for both the visually and motor impaired.
2) Be thorough with insurance and medical arrangements
It's an arduous task, but read that small print before taking out an insurance policy. Make sure your travel insurance is comprehensive and covers your circumstances. Call the insurer, just to double check.
It's also important to look into any medical implications of travelling with your disability. If you're flying, for example, ask your doctor if you are vulnerable to circulation problems. Talk with your doctor about your plans in general, and find out if you need to complete a Medical Information Form (this is valid for one trip only).
If you require medication and are traveling to a country with strict drug controls, obtain a letter from your doctor outlining your need for the medication. Be ready to show this at customs. Otherwise, carry a 'traveling letter' briefly detailing your impairment or disability and outlining what assistance you need if you get into difficulty.
If you're a frequent traveller and your condition is stable, it's a good idea to look into obtaining a Frequent Travelers' Medical Card. This gives airlines a permanent record of your needs, eliminating the need to make special arrangements each time you travel.
3) Foolproof your arrangements
One of the most important things to bear in mind when booking your travel is that people might not understand all the implications of your disability, even if they know the name of it. So when you contact the airport or your accommodation to arrange assistance, be very clear about your specific needs. By making sure the airline and hotel are fully aware of your requirements, you minimize the risk of delays or misunderstandings.
4) Look to the bloggers for some serious inspiration
Finally, here are some of the best travel bloggers posting about traveling with a disability:
Curb Free with Cory Lee (http://www.curbfreewithcorylee.com/) is a travel blog written by a man named Cory Lee. Wheelchair-bound by the condition Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Cory hasn't been discouraged from taking on the world. His posts detail his visit to destinations from Russia to Puerto Rico and Australia. He also shares valuable travel tips and interviews with other travelers.
Hot Wheels Goes (http://www.hotwheelsgoes.com) is a blog consisting of travel guides and personal stories from a witty, wheelchair-bound traveller named Amy. Amy's destinations include Cuba, Japan, and Vietnam, and she's even come up with a handy, detailed accessibility rating system to help you assess the suitability of each location.
Rexy Edventures (http://www.rexyedventures.com/) details the ‘Adventures of a Deaf and Handsome Luxury Backpacker' named Ed. Having quit his job and booked an around the world trip, Ed has heaps of travel advice for deaf travelers, and plenty of funny stories to go with it.
Tony Giles - Blind Independent Traveler (http://www.tonythetraveller.com/) shares his journey around the world in his fascinating blog. Tony is completely blind and 80% deaf without his hearing aids, and yet has travelled to all 7 continents, every one of the United States of America, and has even crossed the Arctic Circle.
So if your disability has been holding you back when the travel bug bites, shake off your doubts. Travel for the differently-abled is very much possible and there's a whole world out there waiting for you. With a huge, growing network of bloggers discussing travel with disabilities, you're never alone.