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(2012 - Spring/Summer Issue)


Stepped-up mandates for improved accessibility around the world have made travel a far more enjoyable experience for those with disabilities and their companions.

Challenges remain, mind you. Difficulties are magnified by the unknown, surprises, dashed expectations, and separation from equipment that is relied upon at home. Thorough planning is needed, starting with the correct seating in transit as well as reliability and comfort at your accommodation. Specific needs will also be added to the checklist. For example, if a traveller is vision impaired, it may be necessary to include a working dog. If a wheelchair is needed, the degree of accessibility must be confirmed for all aspects of the trip.   

In Canada there’s a growing infrastructure to make things easier, although there is no legislated criteria here yet. This means the facilities vary from place to place and, as specialists tell us, the word “accessibility” means nothing without more detail. Let’s take a look at some planning tools as well as some recommendations as you travel near and far:

Count on Canada

Before any Canadian adventure begins, seek a few tips from the federal department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade. At voyage.gc.ca, for example, answers are given to questions such as these: 

•    Are there any government services for travellers with disabilities?

•    How can I ensure that my special needs are addressed while travelling?

•    If I have a pacemaker or other medical device, will there be a problem when I go through airport metal-detection screening?

•    How should I prepare for travel with a guide dog or other service animal?

•    Are there parking privileges for disabled Canadians abroad?

•    Can I take prescription medication abroad with me? If so, how should I pack it?

•    If I travel with syringes, will I experience problems with airline security and customs officers abroad?

•    In the event of a medical emergency, how can Canadian officials help?

Another high-profile resource called Disabled World tells us that Canada is rankedas one of the best countries to travel if you have mobility problems or other physical disabilities. Here’s a snapshot of their findings from disabled-world.com:

All Canadian public buildings are required to be wheelchair accessible and provide suitable toilet facilities. Almost all street corners have dropped curbs, and the public telephones are specially equipped for hearing aid users.

The Canadian Paraplegic Association (CPA) can provide information on travelling in specific provinces, and its regional offices produce a free guide on the most easily accessed locations. Canadian provincial tourist offices are also excellent sources of information on accessible hotels, motels and attractions.

Canada offers possibilities for outdoor adventures including hunting and fishing trips specifically for men and women with disabilities.

Nearly all bus companies accept the (companion) two-for-one certificates called Helping Hand.

Car rental companies, such as Hertz and Avis, can provide cars with hand controls at no extra charge but be sure to book at least a week in advance. To obtain a parking privilege permit, disabled drivers must complete the appropriate form. Once obtained in any province it is valid across Canada.

Air Canada is among those airlines which usually allow attendants to those with serious disabilities to accompany them at no extra charge.

If travelling by air, identify your special needs at the time of booking to improve the airline’s ability to offer the best services available. Air Canada, for example, requests at least 48 hours’ notice (72 hours for certain destinations) and passengers are asked to arrive early at the airport to allow ample time for check-in and boarding.

VIA Rail trains can accommodate wheelchairs as long as they are no larger than 81 by 182 centimetres and weigh no more than 114 kilograms. The rail company may add other services such as served meals, roomettes at no extra charge for persons who are blind travelling with a guide dog, and assistance with boarding and disembarking.

Stepping up to the Challenge

La belle province is a standout for extending a helping hand. Québec officials work in close collaboration with Kéroul, an organization that promotes tourism among people with any kind of restricted abilities including mobility, vision and hearing impairment. Kéroul evaluates accessibility at leading tourist sites and at accommodation properties such as resorts, city hotels, B&Bs and campgrounds. Look for the grading decal when making your plans. The organization’s tourism guide (available at bonjourquebec.com) identifies and rates some 150 establishments.

The whole Niagara region in Canada is wide open with possibilities, all of it carefully chronicled now by local residents Linda Crabtree and partner Eileen Zarafonitis. Both are media professionals who for 12 years investigated and documented what visitors with disabilities might need and where to find it. Linda Crabtree has a neuromuscular disorder and uses an electric scooter at all times. Log onto the website (accessibleniagara.com) to find out pretty well anything you want to know about sites, attractions, hotels, B&Bs, theatres, wineries, museums, shopping, restaurants, camping, family activities and more. 

Universal Studios Orlando in Florida, a favourite pop culture theme park, has created a planning guide highlighting assistance for those who are vision, hearing or physically impaired, plus tips for guests with autism. Take a look at universalorlando.com. When booking accommodation here, be sure to notify the resort about the services and room facilities required.

At the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel in New York City you’ll not only find a dream location overlooking Central Park, this historic hotel (where you can tour the district by horse and carriage) is also equipped to service those with disabilities. Here you’ll get sweeping views of the New York skyline and be in close proximity to Fifth Avenue shopping, Carnegie Hall, Madison Avenue, Rockefeller Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and vibrant Times Square. Be sure to describe your needs when making the reservation.

In the Caribbean, newer and modernized resorts tend to include the basics of accessibility, but be specific about your needs. Touring and sightseeing is more challenging however, due to many ungraded pathways and roads—and with flooring inside that is often warped by the whim of the weather. Frommer’s guide (frommers.com) is a reliable resource in the category Tips For Travellers With Disabilities. In Turks & Caicos, for example, wheelchair-accessible resorts, condos and villas are identified. A tour operator called Flying Wheels Travel can customize a tour for you and the online guide also highlights the Avis Access program for drivers with special needs. The website totallybarbados.com features a Disabled Persons Resources guide, which lists accessible services, amenities and events in Barbados. In Aruba, Cancun and Cozumel, the Occidental resorts are recommended at disabledaccessholidays.com. To ensure your specific needs are met in the Caribbean, ask for written confirmation when making your reservations.

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