Now that the summer travel season has arrived, many are looking forward to vacationing with their loved ones. But traveling with one or more children on the autism spectrum can be challenging. Good news: help could be on the way!
In April, Breeze Airlines announced its intention to become “the first certified autism-inclusive U.S. network carrier.”
To do so, Breeze is working with Autism Double-Checked, a Connecticut-based company that trains staff in the travel industry on how to make travel “stress free” and even “pleasant” for individuals with autism spectrum disorders. The company also assesses travel businesses such as hotels, resorts and attractions to determine their level of autism friendliness.
Autism Double-Checked was cofounded by Alan Day and David M. Tait OBE in 2014. Day and Tait are both veteran travel professionals who are also parents of children with special needs. Hence, they are well aware of the challenges special needs families face when they travel. The cofounders have developed a classification system that assesses travel businesses based on their levels of expertise in serving individuals with autism and their families.
According to Autism Double-Check’s classification system, travel companies fall into one of three tiers.
Level I – Autism Aware
Companies that are “autism aware” have provided training about autism to their service staff. According to Autism Double-Checked, these companies will “be prepared to answer your questions before you book and travel. They have been trained to expect the unexpected, be non-judgmental and autism-inclusivity aware.” So, if your child has a meltdown, you don’t have to panic.
Level II – Autism Ready
Staff at “autism ready” companies have more intensive training. According to the Autism Double-Checked website, employees at these companies have received “job-specific [training that] deals with the kind of real, everyday situations that you may encounter when away from home with your child.” For example, these staff members understand that some individuals on the autism spectrum have particular dietary needs; how long lines and waiting times may be problematic for autistic travelers; and that some people with autism have a tendency to wander.
Level III — Autism Double-Checked Certified
These companies go even further in training their employees to “roll out the red carpet” for guests with autism and their families. They go further than others to help families to plan their vacations based on autism friendliness. For example, the Autism Double-Checked visitor guide provides “specific details about possible sensory issues, safety issues and much more: all specific to that location,” according to autismchecked.com. “Best of all, the index is listed by sensory challenge, which allows you quickly to focus on only the information that is specific to your own child’s needs.”
Autism Double-Checked hopes that companies in the industry will increasingly recognize the value of providing autism education to their employees. Considering the fact that more than 20 million North Americans are parents to one or more children with autism who might otherwise be unlikely to travel, Day and Tait point out that supporting autism families is not only a moral imperative, it’s also good business.
Going on vacation always requires a good deal of planning. You need to arrange flights, drive highways and book accommodations. The process isn’t simple, and the logistics become more complex when you or one of your travel companions is living with a disability.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Unfortunately, there are many places that are not compliant and do not provide accessible options for wheelchair users and those with other disabilities. After weeks or months of anticipation, few things are worse than getting to your destination and finding that they can’t accommodate a disability.
That’s why we’ve created this vacation guide with the best travel tips for people with disabilities and accessible vacation destinations in America.
Tips for Travel for People With Disabilities
Arranging trips for people with disabilities can involve some extra planning. Here’s a brief travel guide to help you get started:
Search for flight accommodations early: The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits airlines from discriminating against people with disabilities and requires they provide certain accommodations. However, additional research before buying your tickets can help you find an airline that will provide the most accommodating flights.
Get travel insurance with medical coverage: Depending on your insurance, you may not have coverage for medical issues outside the United States. If you’re going overseas, look for travel insurance that will cover you in case of a medical emergency.
Research transportation: You’ll probably want to see several things at your destination, so be sure to research your options. While renting a car or van is often the most convenient for people with mobility equipment, parking can raise additional complications. Knowing your transportation plans ahead of time can make your trip much smoother.
Best Wheelchair-Accessible Vacations in the U.S.
From sightseeing at famous landmarks to adaptive river rafting trips, the U.S. offers plenty of wheelchair-friendly options without traveling too far from home. We’ve collected some of the best vacation ideas for a wheelchair-accessible getaway in America:
1. Washington, D.C.
The nation’s capital is an excellent choice for accessible family vacations. The National Mall’s wide, well-maintained walkways make it easy to visit its landmarks and monuments, from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. The Smithsonian Institute offers free admission to over a dozen museums and institutions — including the Smithsonian Gardens and the National Zoo — with various accessibility features, including:
Free-to-borrow manual wheelchairs.
Audio descriptions for exhibits.
Scheduled tours with sign language interpretation.
2. Daytona, Florida
Fans of the track will enjoy the options at Daytona International Speedway:
Get a tour: The All Access Tour is a wheelchair-accessible 90-minute tour around the Speedway. Guests get an up-close look at the track and end at the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
Watch a race: ADA seating is available for guests who want to watch a race.
Those who want to enjoy the sun and surf will find Daytona Beach a wonderfully accessible option. The county allows beach driving and parking in selected areas, and the four lifeguard towers also serve as rental locations for free beach wheelchairs.
3. Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas is one of the best places in North America for a vacation for people with limited mobility. The city takes wheelchair accessibility seriously:
There’s nothing quite like the wonder and thrill of an amusement park. With large crowds and attractions at every turn, it’s important to pick an amusement park that has something to offer for those with differing abilities. The following are some of the best accessible places to vacation.
1. Disneyland and Disney World
Whether you’re visiting Disney World in Orlando, Florida, or the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California, there’s a lot to love about Disney. Both resorts are dedicated to providing accommodations for guests with disabilities.
Disneyland and Disney World offer dedicated accessible parking lots throughout the parks for guests with mobility devices. These lots require a valid accessible parking permit and have standard parking rates.
When it comes to wheelchair-friendly attractions, Disney World is unmatched. Guests can choose from more than 40 at three levels of access:
Must transfer from wheelchair or ECV to ride
Must transfer from ECV to a wheelchair to ride
Must transfer from ECV to a wheelchair, then from a wheelchair to ride
The attractions which allow guests to stay in a wheelchair or ECV are found in these areas of the park:
Both Disney World and Disneyland both have a comprehensive host of services that cater to multiple disabilities. Their services for guests on the autism spectrum and individuals with cognitive disabilities are particularly robust, including:
Advance ticket purchase
Stroller, wheelchair and ECV rental
Quiet break areas
Both of the parks’ Disability Access Services (DAS) allow guests to schedule their visits to rides and attractions so they don’t have to wait in a long queue that could cause distress. With DAS, guests can spend the intervening time exploring the park, enjoying entertainment or even checking out a different attraction while they wait.
Other services are available to assist those with:
Visual impairment: Guests with visual impairment can request a Disney Handheld Device and access Audio Description for entertainment, park attractions and popular locations with prerecorded audio.
Hearing impairment: The parks offer sign language interpretation, and the Disney Handheld Device provides features like assistive listening, handheld captioning and video captioning. Both parks also offer room amenities for guests with hearing impairment staying in a resort hotel.
Mobility issues: Both parks provide wheelchair and mobility scooter rentals. Disney World offers complimentary bus service between parks, and all buses can accommodate up to two mobility devices.
Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Sesame Place is a theme and water park based on the beloved kids’ show Sesame Street. It also happens to be one of the best vacation spots for wheelchairs. In keeping with the show’s reputation for ever-expanding inclusivity, Sesame Place has a robust accessibility program that makes it one of the best East Coast accessible vacation spots. They are the first theme park in the world to receive designation as a Certified Autism Center (CAC).
The park has partnered with the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) to ensure guests on the autism spectrum can enjoy the park and have their particular needs met. The staff is specially trained in the following areas:
In addition to a highly-trained cast of team members, Sesame Place has a Ride Accessibility Program (RAP). This unique feature uses a questionnaire to match the abilities of individual guests to each ride. After completing the questionnaire, you can bring it to the park’s Welcome Center and receive a personalized list of the rides and attractions that meet your or your companion’s special needs. Some of the park’s other accessibility services include:
Low-sensory parade seating
Sign language interpretation
Wheelchair parade seating
Sesame Places’ Dedicated Sensory Rooms
If you have a child with special needs who may become overstimulated, you can take advantage of two brand new sensory rooms to help them calm down and enjoy the rest of the day. Enabling Devices was proud to partner with Sesame Place in the creation of these rooms and provided many products designed to soothe and engage kids.
3. Morgan’s Wonderland
While other theme parks may provide excellent accommodations for guests with disabilities, Morgan’s Wonderland was designed for accessibility from the ground up. This non-profit “oasis of inclusion” is situated on 25 acres in San Antonio, Texas.
The founder, Gordon Hartman, was inspired by his daughter, Morgan. Her physical and cognitive challenges were the basis for Gordon’s mission to provide a place for special needs people of all ages to experience wonder and joy. The result is a 100% wheelchair-accessible Wonderland.
The success of this ultra-inclusive theme park gave rise to a sister water park, Morgan’s Inspiration Island, complete with waterproof wheelchairs available for rental. If you want a completely accessible park, Morgan’s Wonderland is the amusement park for you.
There’s nothing quite like a cruise to bring on deep relaxation and stoke your sense of adventure. However, navigating a cruise ship with a mobility-based disability can be a bit of a headache if you don’t know what you’re getting into. Here are three cruises to consider.
1. Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas
The Symphony of the Seas is the place to be if you want to enjoy gorgeous views, gourmet food and stunning shows. It’s also an excellent cruise option for those with mobility disabilities. The ship has 46 accessible cabins, which feature:
Doors at least 32 inches wide
No doorsill to get into the room
Ramped bathroom thresholds
Grab bars in the bathroom
Fold-down shower benches
The accessibility of the staterooms is essential, but you don’t want to spend your whole vacation in your room. The recreational facilities have several accessibility perks, including:
Lifts at the main pool and whirlpool
Lowered playing tables at the casino
Wheelchair seating in front and back of the Royal Theater, Studio B and Aqua Theater
Braille deck and stateroom numbers
Assistive listening systems in theaters
If a sign language interpreter is required, this cruise will provide one as long as you provide at least 60 days’ notice before the cruise departs.
2. Disney Cruise Line: Fantasy
You can surround yourself with the trademark magic of Disney by booking a cruise on the Fantasy. This cruise is all about immersing yourself in fun and fantasy and offers some standard disability accommodations. In addition to the same ADA specifications for 25 wheelchair-friendly staterooms and bathrooms inside them, this Disney cruise ship offers a variety of other accommodations, including:
Sign Language Interpretation: The sign language service interprets live theater performances and other shows for the first dinner seating and the late performance in the Walt Disney Theater.
Assistive Listening Devices: For a refundable deposit, guests with mild to moderate hearing loss can use amplified receivers at multiple stations around the ship.
Room Service Texting: Guests can use their phones to text for room service, rather than calling in.
Stateroom Communication Kit: This kit includes an alarm clock, bed shaker notification, alerts for the doorbell and phone, and a smoke detector that uses a strobe light.
Audio Description: You can experience movies in the Buena Vista Theatre with audio description by picking up a receiver at guest services.
One of the unique features of this cruise line is Castaway Cay. This private Disney island is packed full of adventure and excitement. The island has its own tram for transportation, as well as an accessible cabana. One of the most enticing features is the availability of sand wheelchairs for rental. This opens up a world of possibilities that most other cruises don’t offer.
Note that if you require sign language interpretation or the use of a pull lift, you’ll have to request these services before you book your cruise.
3. Carnival Horizon
The Carnival Horizon takes a unique approach to staterooms for guests by offering three different tiers of accessible rooms:
Fully Accessible Cabins: These rooms are designed for guests with highly limited mobility. To meet the needs of those who need wheelchairs or scooters, these rooms feature turning space, accessible routes through the room and an accessible restroom.
Single-side Approach Cabins: These rooms feature the same accessible bathroom but offer an accessible route and clear space for only one side of the bed. In rooms with two beds, one side of each bed is accessible.
Ambulatory Accessible Cabins: These rooms are designed for guests who have some limitations in mobility but who don’t use a scooter or wheelchair. They have features such as grab bars to help with balance.
There are 65 accessible rooms altogether. All rooms are assigned on a first-come-first-served basis, so it’s a good idea to reserve your accessible room as far in advance as possible.
As for the rest of the ship, wheelchair users have plenty of freedom to roam. The ship’s dining areas, bars and the main theater all have wheelchair seating. For those with other types of disabilities, Carnival offers these services:
Visual-tactile cabin alert system
Teletypewriter to communicate with Guest Services
Sign language interpreters
Large print format on some publications
Those with working service dogs are permitted to bring them aboard, but you should review all policies and procedures to ensure the dog is up to date on all veterinary requirements.
Beaches are one of the classic places for summer vacations, but beach travel destinations with wheelchair access can be hard to locate. The following summer destinations with wheelchair access are some of the best places to have fun in the sun.
1. San Diego, California
San Diego is known for being one of the most accessible cities for beach-goers with disabilities. Many of the beaches have sand wheelchairs available for free rental, whether powered or manual. The thing to remember is that there’s often no reservation for the chairs, and it’s first-come-first-served. On some of the more popular, crowded beaches, this can mean having to wait a while for your turn. Here are three of the best San Diego beaches with wheelchair access:
Mission Beach: This is an extremely popular beach where there’s always something going on. The most active sections feature people cycling, rollerblading, skateboarding and more. The south end of the beach is quieter, but its parking and bathrooms are not always fully accessible.
La Jolla Shores: This very family-friendly beach and located a short drive north of downtown. There is a wide paved walkway between the beach and nearby Kellog Park, as well as an accessible bathroom and parking lot.
Imperial Beach: If you’re concerned about the chair rental process, Imperial Beach is one of the few that requires a reservation. They have two power chairs available for use on the beautiful beach, and manual chairs you can use with no reservation.
2. Key Largo, Florida
If you’re looking for summer destinations with wheelchair access, consider heading on down to Florida to experience Tranquil Adventures. This not-for-profit organization was founded more than 30 years ago by Captain Mick Nealy with the mission of providing accessible boat tours for people with disabilities. As a survivor of polio, Captain Nealy has a unique understanding of what makes an experience magical for people with disabilities.
The dock and both boats are completely accessible to wheelchairs. Equipped with Coast Guard-approved safety measures, each boat can fit four people in wheelchairs and a total of 10 individuals. It doesn’t get much more family-friendly than these boat outings. Here are a few of the possible destinations on a Tranquil Adventures tour:
Key Largo Bay
Everglades National Park
Pennekamp State Park
Participants can go fishing or snorkeling, try out island hopping, visit a beach party or stop off at a tiki bar. The combinations are nearly endless, making for a valuable repeat experience.
These tours cost $350 for a four-hour half-day and $500 if you want to make a full eight-hour day of it. As wheelchair-accessible vacation destinations go, Tranquil Adventures tours get top marks.
3. Hanauma Bay, Hawaii
Vacationers with a taste for adventure will love Hanauma Bay State Park. This nature preserve has a gorgeous crescent-shaped beach and the very unique appeal of being formed by the crater of a dormant volcano. The soft white sands are both picturesque and ideal for those who need to rent a wheelchair to traverse the beach. The balloon-tired beach chairs are available free of charge from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. all year.
A tram takes visitors to and from the beach area, and it has a ramp to accommodate wheelchairs. Additionally, city buses have kneeling capabilities so you’re not limited to the beach in your exploration. All of the Bay’s facilities have been designed with accessibility in mind.
Activities are not in short supply at Hanauma Bay. Some of the things to do include:
Wild dolphin watching
Sunset dinner cruises
This is hands down one of the most accessible vacation destinations, and a perfect spot for family fun.
Accessible National Parks
Many people assume that they’ll have to cross national parks off the list of accessible destinations since they often require a lot of hiking and other activities unsuitable for those with disabilities. However, several national parks make great accessible vacation spots. Additionally, if you’re a U.S. citizen and permanently disabled, you can get an Interagency Access Pass for lifetime free admission. The three parks below are definitely worth a visit.
1. Grand Canyon National Park
Arizona’s Grand Canyon is undoubtedly a destination worth seeing in your lifetime, and the park has made it easy for wheelchair users to plan an unforgettable trip. The park has a variety of accessible facilities including:
Lodging and campgrounds
If you need a sign language interpreter, give the park at least three weeks’ notice and one will be provided. The park also offers a cell phone tour and has wheelchairs available for rental at both the North and South Rim.
The park has several wheelchair-accessible trails and multiple scenic drives where you can take in a gorgeous vista without leaving your vehicle. Scenic drive accessibility permits are available for visitors with mobility issues. You can enjoy a variety of activities such as a wheelchair-accessible tour of an ancestral Puebloan village or a visit to the Yavapai Geology Museum. To get the details on which trails and facilities are accessible, as well as rules for bringing a service animal, check out the park’s Accessibility Guide.
2. Zion National Park
Located in Utah, Zion National Park makes camping and immersing yourself in nature easier. There are multiple campsites set aside for visitors with disabilities, and service dogs are permitted throughout the park as long as they are leashed. The ranger program schedule indicates which programs are accessible, and you can reserve assistive listening devices for any program.
The park has multiple trails suitable for wheelchair users, with the Pa’rus Trail being the most accessible. The trail is fairly short at 1.5 miles long and has a smoothly-paved width of 8 feet so wheelchairs can roll right alongside walking visitors. The Riverside Walk is also a good option, as the first 0.4 miles are accessible. In addition to the trails, these other park attractions all offer some degree of accessibility:
Canyon Visitor Center
Human History Museum
Kolob Canyons Visitor Center
Zion National Park is an excellent option if you’re looking to immerse yourself in Utah’s natural beauty.
3. Everglades National Park
At a whopping 1.5 million square acres of tropical and subtropical habitat, the sheer size of the Everglades National Park means some parts of it are inaccessible. However, plenty of sites and trails are available for those with mobility disabilities.
The Royal Palm Visitor Center is the best place to start. From clearly marked spots with accessible parking to trailheads and a store accessible by curb ramp, this part of the park is one of the best accessible vacation spots. This area has two accessible trails:
Anhinga Trail: This trail is 0.8 miles long round-trip, making it ideal for those who prefer a short jaunt into nature. The abundance of wildlife, from alligators to anhingas, makes this a popular destination.
Gumbo Limbo Trail: This trail is even shorter at 0.4 miles round trip. It is paved and meanders through a shady covering of gumbo limbo trees.
These paved paths do sometimes have mild to moderate cracks in them, but they are not disruptive enough to prevent the average wheelchair user from enjoying the trails.
If you’d like to venture into the heart of the park, Shark Valley is the place to do so. The road here is flat and paved, and there is a wheelchair overlook along the path. It’s also home to the Bobcat Boardwalk, a sensational place to get views of the marsh.
Enhance Your Vacation With Enabling Devices
If you’re traveling with a child or other individual who has special needs, accessibility is just the beginning. Enabling Devices is committed to providing a huge selection of products for people with disabilities, from communication devices to sensory products. If you need adapted toys and games or other devices to make your vacation time easier and more engaging for a disabled individual, we invite you to browse our selection of products and learn more about our services.
Everyone can benefit from the rest, relaxation, rejuvenation and intellectual stimulation afforded by a well-planned summer vacation. Children and adults with disabilities are no exception. Yet, finding accessible hotel rooms, restaurants and historic sites and resorts with beach wheelchairs and sensory-friendly entertainment can present challenges. Fortunately, options for accessible travel are becoming more and more prevalent. In fact, according to Smarter Travel, “travel by people with disabilities, also known as ‘disabled travel’ or ‘accessible travel,’ is on the rise. The travel industry is waking up to disabled travelers’ special needs by providing more services and greater accommodation.”
We’ve done some digging and come up with some of the best travel and vacation websites for individuals with disabilities and their families.
Airbnb Gets Accessible
Last year, Enabling Devices blogged about a new travel website called Accomable, which helped travelers with disabilities find accessible accommodations. Since then, Accomable has been acquired by accommodations and travel start-up Airbnb. In November 2017, Accomable’s cofounder and CEO Srin Madipalli told Tech Crunch, he is hopeful that because of its significant resources, Airbnb will be able to grow and improve Accomable and its offerings. In turn, Airbnb acknowledges that their own disability services haven’t been up to par. “While the company has offered the ability to search for whether a property is wheelchair accessible, the company now acknowledges that this wasn’t cutting it,” says Tech Crunch. “Guests weren’t getting the information they needed to find the right homes, nor the confidence that the home they selected would actually be accessible for them,” Airbnb noted in a blogpost. “Now, the company is updating and enhancing this with more detail, including whether there is step-free entry to rooms, and if entryways are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. These search features are now live on the web version of Airbnb and will soon get added to its iOS and Android apps.”
Accessible Journeys isn’t new — the company has been around since 1985, so founder Howard J. McCoy, III, and his staff have plenty experience in the disabled travel industry. A registered nurse who grew up in a family with an uncle with a disability, McCoy says his family always included Uncle Ralph in all their trips… I grew up knowing nothing about disabled issues; I only knew solutions,” says McCoy. His experiences led him to found a company that finds solutions for travelers with disabilities and their families. The company provides vacation planning, accessible group tours and cruises, individual accessible cruises, licensed travel companions, and disability travel resources.
New Directions Travel
Like Accessible Journeys, New Directions has been operating since 1985. A nonprofit organization, New Directions offers travel experiences to teenagers, adults and seniors with mild to moderate intellectual and/or developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and autism. According to its website, New Directions serves over 650 people per year, taking them on trips to places such as Australia, Hawaii, New Zealand, Las Vegas, Israel, Disneyland, Japan and the Grand Canyon. They’re escorted by trained travel guides including special educational instructors, recreation therapists, residential counselors, vocational and independent living skills counselors, and other professional staff trained to work with people with developmental disabilities.
According to Autism Travel.com, “a lot of research shows that travel is one of the most intellectually stimulating events for individuals on the spectrum.” Yet, many families with autistic members are hesitant to take trips because of the many challenges they face. Autism Travel’s goal “is to help the leading travel destinations in the world create safe sensory friendly certified travel options for parents and individuals on the spectrum.” The website provides information on autism-friendly resorts such as Beaches in Turks and Caicos and Ochos Rios, Sesame Place, the Santa Barbara Zoo and so many others. According to its website, “the destinations featured on Autism Travel have completed an in-depth training and certification program [in autism] that is second to none.”
Started in 2006, by Ashley Lyn Olson, who has been paralyzed since age 14, Wheelchairtraveling.com is an online community for travelers with disabilities. The site includes “thousands of resources, reviews, guides and tips from many writers about accessible travel.” The website covers destinations all over the word, providing information on accommodations, transportation, equipment and more. Its goal is: “empowering people with limited mobility, their friends and loved ones to access and experience the world of adventure and leisure travel.”
Is it August already? Where have the summer months gone? If you’re a parent of school-age children, or a teacher, August means the start of back-to-school shopping, lesson planning, carpool scheduling, doctor’s visits, haircuts and more. But not so fast— there’s still time for some late summer fun. It’s just a question of planning. For parents of children with disabilities, arranging a last-minute excursion or vacation requires a little extra planning. Here are some tips to make end-of-the season travel more manageable:
Before setting off, do your best to provide your child with as much information as possible about your family’s travel itinerary. Some children, especially those with autism, sensory sensitivities or anxiety disorders, have difficulty coping with changes to their routines and anticipating the unknown. Social stories about travel or vacationing are a great way to lessen their anxiety. If there isn’t time to design your own story-book, look for one on the web. Here’s one created by Pam Drennen, V.P. Director of Clinical Services Speech at Kidmunicate in preparation for a trip to the beach. You can also try “photo albums, schedules and maps to help our children understand where [they]are going and whom [they] will see,” says Karen Wang, an author at the Friendship Circle. “Any type of visual support will reduce anxiety and increase interest,” says Wang.
Wang also recommends parents carry a “portable sensory toolkit.” Toolkits may contain a “baseball cap or wide-brimmed hat; ice-cold water bottle with a sport cap for sucking or an ice-cold juice box with a straw; hand lotion or lip balm; soft fabric for rubbing on hands or a stuffed animal; a squeeze or koosh ball; soundproof headphones [or earmuffs] and a change of clothes…” says Wang. You may also want to pack one of Enabling Devices’ weighted vests or blankets or our Miracle Belt. All these products help children with sensory integration challenges satisfy their needs for sensory input.
If your child has physical disabilities or a chronic medical condition, find out where nearby pharmacies and emergency medical facilities are located, and make sure that your health insurance is accepted there.
If you’re flying, familiarize yourself with the latest airline regulations. While most airlines have information for travelers with disabilities on their websites, be on the safe side and call the airline to ask questions and make special arrangements such as early boarding, deplaning and seating preferences. Huff Post’s Meg Harris recommends calling the TSA prior to your flight. “Alert TSA to your child’s disability,” writes Harris. “Children with disabilities can be screened without being separated from their parents or guardians. Be sure to communicate to the TSA agent suggestions on the best way to approach and screen their children. Also remember that children under 12 do not need to remove their shoes.” Make certain to leave time for airport traffic, long lines, finding gates and changing flights. Rushing with children, especially children with physical or developmental disabilities, is usually a recipe for disaster.
If you’re driving, make sure your car is in operational order before heading out. Allow plenty of time for bathroom and food breaks, traffic jams and weather conditions. Separating squabbling siblings and having teens bring their own musical selections (with headphones!) will go a long way toward making the ride more bearable. Even better, borrow some audiobooks from the library. Don’t forget to bring blankets and pillows. Napping is an ideal way to pass time on a long road trip.
Visiting an attraction or theme park? Purchase tickets ahead of time whenever possible. Don’t assume that parks, beaches, museums and historic sites will be able to meet your child’s accessibility needs. Call ahead to make sure there are no disappointing surprises. If your child tends to wander, make sure she wears a wandering bracelet or carries easily visible identification. Some vacation spots such as Walt Disney World offer special privileges for children with disabilities. Inquire about these before you go. Some may require documentation of your child’s disability, so bring a doctor’s note along.
By the time February rolls around, many of us have had more than enough of wintry weather. And while the calendar tells us that spring is just around the corner, “Old Man Winter” doesn’t always cooperate. That’s why many families choose to get away to warm weather destinations during March and April.
A successful family vacation takes careful research and planning. For families with children with special needs, choosing the right vacation spot is especially crucial. If you’re planning a spring break getaway, now’s the time to book it. But no worries. We’ve scoured the Internet to find an up-to-date list of the best warm-weather vacation resorts for families whose children have special needs.
1. Autism On The Seas
Traveling with a kid on the spectrum can be challenging. Waiting on long lines, bright lights, loud noise, unfamiliar foods, and stressful social situations aren’t exactly conducive to relaxation and fun. Autism On The Seas to the rescue! Founded in 2007, the company works with cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line to provide individualized services for cruise guests with special needs. And don’t be fooled by the company’s name. Autism On The Seas is not just for children on the spectrum. The company’s staff members, all trained to work with children with special needs and to anticipate the needs of their families, are also able to accommodate children with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and a range of developmental and cognitive disabilities. Families who travel as part of the Autism On The Seas charter don’t wait on lines, can request special diets and take part in activities especially designed for them. In addition to enjoying activities together, families have opportunities to socialize with other families whose children have special needs. Since staff members are able to manage all kinds of behavioral challenges, parents are free to have some much needed alone time to refresh and rejuvenate.
What child doesn’t dream of a trip to Disney? Fortunately, Disney resorts are among the most accommodating vacation spots for people with disabilities. They offer advanced ticket purchase, stroller and wheelchair rental, a rider switch program that saves waiting time, accessible attractions, break areas, companion restrooms and dietary accommodations.
Island Grand and Outpost resorts, located side by side on St. Pete Beach in St. Petersburg, Florida, earned the “autism friendly” designation by the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities in 2010. Employees at the resorts receive comprehensive training about autism that teaches them how to make resort guests on the autism spectrum feel comfortable and enjoy their vacations. Families with children with autism receive “safety kits” containing outlet covers, corner cushions for tables and hanging door alarms to alert family if a child with autism wanders out of their room. In addition, the resorts’ kids clubs welcome children with special needs at no extra charge. The clubs offer sensory and recreational activities, leaving parents free to enjoy some down time.
Located in San Antonio, Texas, where the weather usually reaches 70-plus degrees in March, Morgan’s Wonderland is the first theme park ever built especially with people with disabilities in mind. Founder, Gordon Hartman created the park to honor his daughter, Morgan, who had physical and cognitive disabilities. According to its website, Morgan’s Wonderland is “completely wheelchair-accessible … [and] features more than 25 elements and attractions including rides, playgrounds, gardens, an eight-acre catch-and-release fishing lake, 18,000-square-foot special-event center, 575-seat amphitheater, picnic area and rest areas throughout the park.” New for 2017 is Morgan’s Island, “the world’s first ultra-accessible splash park.” The island, as well as the rest of Morgan’s Wonderland is committed to “inspiring guests with special needs to achieve things previously thought to be impossible.”
An added benefit— children with disabilities pay no admission!
5. LEGOLAND, Florida Resort
In 2016, LEGOLAND, Florida partnered with Autism Speaks to enlist the organization’s expertise on making the popular destination more sensory-friendly. According to the Orlando Sentinel, last March, the resort “installed a large panel of hands-on, sensory-stimulating activities in a quiet space within its theme park.” Other projects such as additional quiet spaces and online social stories to help prospective guests to know what to expect during their visits are also in the works. Especially significant is the resort’s commitment to providing autism education to all staff members so that they can better serve their visitors with autism.
P.S. Not everyone can afford to take a family vacation. However, the following organizations offer opportunities for vacation grants. With a little luck, you could be lying on a beach in no time!
With spring break in the rear view window, many of us are turning our attentions to summer vacation planning. Although planning a family trip can be fun, it does have its challenges. After all, coming up with a destination and itinerary that suits each family member while also adhering to a timeframe and budget is no small feat. The task can seem even more daunting when one vacationer requires special accommodations because of a disability.
English entrepreneur, Srin Madipalli, who has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and uses a motorized wheelchair, discovered this first hand in 2010, when he took six months away from his job at a law-firm to travel. Madipalli found the experience “eye-opening.”
“It was extremely difficult to find information on adapted accommodation and transport. A lot of times it involved hours of searching online, taking a major risk and hoping for the best. While I enjoyed the challenge, it also felt very frustrating and I’d often just like the planning to be easy!”
While traveling, Madipalli reached the conclusion that technology could offer solutions for the frustrations faced by him and other travelers with disabilities.
“Such systems have revolutionized travel for other customer sectors, [think: airbnb], so why not for the accessible travel market?” he wondered.
When he returned to the UK, Madipalli and his childhood friend, Martyn Sibley, an avid traveler who also has SMA, co-founded an online magazine called Disability Horizons. The publication covers a variety of topics including employment, entertainment, relationships, technology, news and travel. Through the magazine’s online community, Madipalli and Sibley learned that others were also concerned about the lack of travel resources for those with disabilities. Always up for a challenge, they decided to see what they could do to change the status quo.
“I put myself through an MBA at Oxford and taught myself to code, so I could build the website for Accomable,” says Madipalli. “The idea is to make everything as transparent as possible for customers looking for accessible hotel rooms and vacation rentals.”
Each property listed on Accomable includes information about all the accessible features of that property. Need a place with step-free access and roll-in showers? Are height adjustable beds and ceiling, mobile or pool hoists necessary? Would you like to rent a wheelchair when you arrive? The platform allows you to search for lodgings vetted by the Accomable team, filter listings according to your needs, make a reservation, rent equipment if necessary, plan your trip with Accomable’s accessible city guides, get tips and recommendations from other users and share your experiences with the staff and fellow travelers. While you’re online, you can view gorgeous photos and read interesting blog posts about travel-related topics.
Although Accomable started in the U.K., its more than 500 listings are located all over the world. Last month, the company opened its first U.S. office in Austin, Texas. “We want to be the easy go-to travel company for all of these people, and their friends and family, initially for hotel and vacation rentals, but eventually for specialist car hire, activities and insurance too,” says Madipalli. “That’s our big push for this year: finding hundreds of great, quality accessible hotels and rentals across the country.”
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