Travel Tips

Accessible Travel Expert Offers 11 Tips for Finding a Travel Agent

Do you need really need a travel agent to plan your next vacation? The answer is a qualified yes, especially if you have specific access needs.. Says Candy Harrington, accessible travel expert and author of Barrier-Free Travel; A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers, “Although booking a flight these days is a relatively simple procedure; people who need wheelchair-accessible lodging, ground transportation or other accommodations, may benefit from working with a qualified professional.”

Unfortunately finding a qualified professional is sometimes easier said than done. With that in mind, Candy offers these tips to help you in your search.

  • Make sure your travel agent is a true accessible travel expert. If they claim to hold some certification or professional membership, ask how many hours of training or experience it entailed. Some agents become “experts” after a quick afternoon seminar.
  • Although you want to find an expert, beware of any agent who claims to be an expert in everything. It’s virtually impossible for any one agent to be a true expert in every type of accessible travel. That old saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none”, applies here.
  • Ask any prospective agent if they have booked trips for other people with your same disability. Ask them how many clients they have handled with your disability, not how long they have been doing it. Remember, a travel agent could be in business for many years, yet still not had that many clients.
  • Ask friends who share your same disability if they have any travel agent recommendations. Remember to also ask about the trips they booked with their recommended agent.
  • Ask your prospective agent for references, but don’t totally rely on them. Remember, almost anyone can pretend to be a reference.
  • If you have a specific destination or trip in mind, ask about the agent’s experience with it. Some agents only specialize in a few destinations, so try and find someone with an expertise in your top choices.
  • Some agencies advertise that they are “owned and operated by a person with a disability”. Although there’s nothing wrong with stating that fact, be wary if that’s the agent’s only qualification. Just because someone is disabled, doesn’t automatically mean they’re knowledgeable about accessible travel.
  • If your travel agent claims non-profit status in advertisements, then ask about the services the agency provides for the community. If the best answer the agent can come up with is, “We negotiate good deals on travel,” then you may be dealing with a non-profit in name only. Remember, operating a non-profit organization doesn’t necessarily guarantee altruistic motives.
  • Be wary of travel agents who don’t travel. Ask them how long it’s been since their last trip or ship inspection.
  • Ask some trial questions to test the agent’s knowledge of the Americans with Disabilities Act or about the civil rights legislation in the country you plan to visit. A true specialist should be aware of basic access regulations around the world.
  • Last, but not least, don’t be afraid to eliminate anyone you just don’t like. After all, this is a personal service. You don’t have to become best friends with your travel agent, but you do need to maintain a cordial working relationship.

Barrier-Free Travel; A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers, is available from your favorite bookstore or at BarrierFreeTravel.net. Candy also blogs regularly about accessible travel issues at BarrierFreeTravels.com.

Barrier-Free Travel; A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers, is available from your favorite bookstore or at www.BarrierFreeTravel.net. Candy also blogs regularly about accessible travel issues at www.BarrierFreeTravels.com.

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Accessible Travel Expert Highlights Changes in the ACAA

According to a 2005 study by the Open Doors Organization of Chicago, 84% of disabled travelers said they encountered obstacles when flying; while 82% reported access problems at airports.

Candy Harrington, author of Barrier-Free Travel; A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers, agrees that disabled travelers run into a lot of problems in the air. “I get a fair amount of reader feedback,” says Harrington, “and most of the complaints focus on air travel. Access problems range from deplaning delays and subsequent missed connections, to access obstacles in foreign airports and even cases of denied boarding for disabled passengers.”

For over 20 years, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) has been he law of the land as far as accessible air travel is concerned; and thanks to periodic updates it has evolved to serve the needs of disabled travelers. The most recent revisions (effective May 13, 2009) serve to strengthen the law even more and offer greater protection to disabled travelers. Harrington points out some of these important changes, which will drastically improve the quality of the air travel experience for disabled travelers.

  • The updated law legally extends coverage of the ACAA to all commercial flights to and from the US, including those operated by foreign air carriers. This means that foreign air carriers can no longer deny boarding to disabled passengers on flights to or from the US.
  • Foreign airlines operating flights to or from the US must also ensure that disabled passengers can move through the terminal facilities at foreign airports.
  • The law was edited to require the “prompt” deplaning of disabled passengers. The Department of Transportation (DOT) further defined prompt as “no later than as soon as the other passengers have deplaned.” This means that disabled passengers will no longer be left on planes well after the flight crew has departed.
  • Employees or contractors providing airport wheelchair assistance are now required to make a brief restroom stop (upon request) if the restroom is located along the path of travel to the gate.
  • The law also requires airlines to allow the on-board use of all FAA-approved portable oxygen concentrators, ventilators, respirators and CPAP machines. The DOT placed the burden of testing these devices on the manufacturers, not the airlines.
  • The updated law specifies the dimensions of the on-board wheelchair storage space as being 13 inches by 36 inches by 42 inches. This eliminates ambiguity and will help passengers determine if their assistive device will fit in the limited priority storage area.
  • If a service animal is unable to fit comfortably at the assigned seat location, the airline must now offer the passenger the opportunity to move to any open seat in the same class, that can safely accommodate the animal.
  • Airline personnel are now required to assist disabled passengers at inaccessible ticket kiosks.
  • Finally, although the new law stopped short of requiring airline websites to be accessible, it requires airlines to offer disabled passengers web-only fares that appear on inaccessible websites, by phone or another accessible reservation method.

Barrier-Free Travel; A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers, is available from your favorite bookstore or at www.BarrierFreeTravel.net. Candy also blogs regularly about accessible travel issues at www.BarrierFreeTravels.com.

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Expert Debunks Myths About Accessible Travel

With the evolution of the internet, information is just a few mouse clicks away. That includes information about accessible travel. An although the internet is a great tool for disabled travelers, there’s also a lot of misinformation circulating on-line. And that can be a very dangerous thing.

Says Candy Harrington, author of Barrier-Free Travel; A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers, “I get a lot of mail from readers who have relied on misinformation they found on-line. When all was said and done, they later discovered it was just someone’s incorrect interpretation of the law. For example, wheelchair-users don’t get automatic upgrades to first-class, nor are they always entitled to bulkhead seating on airplanes.“

In the end, just because someone types it, doesn’t mean it’s true. With that in mind, here are some examples of accessible travel misinformation that Candy recently spotted on-line.

Myth: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the law that covers air travel for disabled passengers.
Fact: The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), which actually predates the ADA, covers airline and aircraft accessibility. The ADA does not.
Myth: Companions of disabled passengers are entitled to free flights under the ACAA.
Fact: Airline personnel can require a passenger to travel with a “safety assistant” if they feel the passenger cannot adequately assist with his or her own emergency evacuation. The cabin crew however, usually designates another paying passenger or an off-duty crew member to act in this capacity.
Myth: Wheelchair-users are guaranteed bulkhead seating on airplanes.
Fact: Under the ACAA, people with a fused leg and those who travel with a service animal are the only passengers guaranteed bulkhead seating.
Myth: You don’t need to make advance arrangements for accessible rooms.
Fact: Truthfully you don’t need to make reservations for any hotel room; however that doesn’t mean you will have a room when you arrive. The same goes for accessible rooms. The only way to ensure your room will have the access features you need, is to make an advance reservation. In practice, only a small portion of hotel rooms have access features.
Myth: Making a reservation at a property assures you that the accessible room will be there when you arrive, because you have guaranteed it with your credit card.
Fact: Guaranteeing a room with your credit card only locks you in on a specific rate. Blocking a room sets aside a specific room for a specific guest on a specific date. All accessible rooms need to be blocked.
Myth: All accessible guest rooms have roll-in showers.
Fact: In the US, only hotels with over 50 rooms are required to have accessible guest rooms with roll-in showers. Those with under 50 rooms are merely required to have tub/shower combinations with grab bars.
Myth: All hotels have to have shuttles that are wheelchair-accessible.
Fact: If a hotel provides free airport transfers, they must also provide accessible transfers at no charge. They don’t have to own their own accessible vehicle though. They can contract out the service, but they cannot charge extra for it.
Myth: Cruise ships have to be accessible under the ADA.
Fact: Even though the Supreme Court ruled that the ADA applies to foreign-flagged cruise ships that call on US ports, we still don’t have any specific access guidelines for them. Those are being sorted out by the US Access Board and the Department of Transportation (DOT). For now, all the access modifications the cruise lines have made, have been completely voluntary.
Myth: The ship-sponsored shore excursions on most cruises are usually accessible.
Fact: In order to take most ship-sponsored shore excursions you have to be able to walk a few steps and climb up into a bus. Most of the ship-sponsored tours do not include accessible transportation. The exception is in Alaska, but you have to specifically request an adapted vehicle there, even on tours that are designated as “accessible”.
Myth: Theme parks let wheelchair-users go to the front of the line so they don’t have to wait.
Fact: In some cases, disabled guests are allowed to access certain attractions through the exit, because it’s more accessible. The newer rides and attractions are being built with accessible entrances, so this alternative access is no longer required. This accommodation was never meant as a line-cutting privilege, as everyone has to wait at theme parks. The goal is to have all guests access the attractions through one integrated (and accessible) entrance.

Barrier-Free Travel; A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers, is available from your favorite bookstore or at www.BarrierFreeTravel.net. Candy also blogs regularly about accessible travel issues at www.BarrierFreeTravels.com.

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Expert Shares 12 Tips for Finding Wheelchair-accessible Lodging

Although it’s been well over a decade since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, wheelchair-users and slow walkers still have problems finding accessible lodging. In fact, according to a 2005 Harris Interactive survey, 60% of disabled travelers experienced problems with their overnight lodging choices.

“Finding an accessible room would be an easy task if every accessible room had the same standard features,” explains Candy Harrington, author of 101 Accessible Vacations; Travel Ideas for Wheelers and Slow Walkers. “But that’s not the way it works in real life. In reality, two properties located right next door to one another may have vastly different accessibility standards, so travelers need to ask the right questions in order to get a room that suits their needs.”

In the end, a little advance planning mixed with a healthy dose of self advocacy goes a long way towards finding the appropriate room. Here are Harrington’s tips for accomplishing that task.

  • Never just ask for an “accessible” or an “ADA compliant” room. Instead, describe the access features you need. Accessibility standards vary across the country and around the world.
  • If you need a room with an accessible bathroom in Europe, ask for an adapted room. An accessible room only features a barrier-free path of travel; however an adapted room also contains an adapted shower and toilet.
  • In Europe the first floor is not at street level, so if you want a room at street level, ask for a room on the ground floor.
  • Make sure and ask about the availability of elevators, especially in small European properties. It’s not unusual for a property to have an accessible room that can only be accessed by a stairway.
  • If you need a roll-in shower, ask for one. This is not a standard feature in all accessible or even adapted rooms. Specify your needs.
  • Always call the property directly, rather than calling the central reservation number. Sometimes access improvements at a local property are not entered in the central reservation database.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for measurements. If door width is a concern, ask for that measurement; and don’t forget to ask about the bathroom door too.
  • Bed height is not regulated under the ADA, so make sure and ask for measurements. Many properties are replacing their standard mattresses with pillow top and luxury models. These higher furnishings make transfers difficult, if not impossible, for wheelchair-users.
  • Avoid yes or no questions. For example, ask the clerk to describe the bathroom, rather than just asking if the bathroom is accessible. Be especially careful about asking yes or no questions in the Far East, as many customer service employees consider it rude to answer questions with a “no”.
  • Ask the reservation agent to fax you a floor plan of the accessible room(s). This will give you the dimensions of the room, but remember that access can vary depending on the placement of furniture.
  • If you have difficulty determining if a room will suit your needs, ask to speak to somebody who has recently been in the room. Employees in the housekeeping or engineering departments usually have a good knowledge of access features of the individual rooms.
  • Remember to ask the reservation agent if the accessible room can be blocked for you. If the answer is “no” or “usually”, then find another hotel. Remember, even the most accessible room in the world won’t work for you, if that room isn’t available when you arrive.
  • Finally, always trust your instincts. If a reservation agent hems and haws, gives ambiguous answers or sounds inept, call back and talk to another reservation agent or call a different property. When in doubt, always go with your gut.

101 Accessible Vacations; Travel Ideas for Wheelers and Slow Walkers is published by Demos Publishing and is available from your favorite bookstore or at www.101AccessibleVacations.com. Visit Candy Harrington’s Barrier Free Travels blog at www.BarrierFreeTravels.com for more helpful access tips, travel news and information for disabled travelers.

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Accessible Travel Expert Offers 15 Tips for Navigating Airport Security

With the holiday season upon us, travelers are once again converging on airports en masse. During this time of year, crowds and long lines are the norm, and getting through security can seem like a challenge befitting the Amazing Race. Add a cane, walker, crutches or a wheelchair to that equation and the degree of difficulty increases tenfold. So what’s a disabled traveler to do?

“The best way to make your trip more comfortable is to learn your rights, so you know what to expect when you get to the airport,” says Candy Harrington, author of 101 Accessible Vacations; Travel Ideas for Wheelers and Slow Walkers. “In fact,” adds Candy, “with a little education and some advance planning, you can have a relatively comfortable and stress-free security screening experience.”

With that in mind, Harrington suggests you remember the following points as you approach the security screening checkpoint.

  • Allow plenty of extra time to get through security, especially if you wear a prosthesis or use any type of assistive device.
  • If you can’t walk or go through the metal detector, tell the TSA agent. You will be hand-wanded and given a pat-down search.
  • If you tire easily or can’t stand for long periods of time, request a chair during the screening process.
  • Slow walkers should request a wheelchair at check-in. This will expedite the screening process as wheelchair-users are usually fast-tracked through security.
  • Keep in mind that you are not required to transfer from your wheelchair or scooter for any portion of the security screening process.
  • Canes and walkers are allowed through security checkpoints, but they will be inspected thoroughly by security personnel.
  • Prosthetic devices do not have to be removed for screening; however the screener will manually inspect the device and swab it for trace explosive residue.
  • You have the right to a private screening and to have a companion present during that screening.
  • You are not required to remove your shoes if your disability prevents you from doing so. You will however be subject to a pat-down search and your shoes will be swabbed and tested for gunpowder residue.
  • You have the right to have your medication visually inspected (as opposed to being x-rayed), but you must request this before the screening process begins. All prescription medications should be labeled and in their original containers. Those that are not to be x-rayed should be removed from your luggage and kept separate.
  • Liquid medications are allowed through the security checkpoint; however if they are in volumes larger than 3 ounces each, they may not be placed in the quart-size bag and must be declared to the Transportation Security Officer before the screening process begins. They must be removed from your luggage and kept separate from items to be x-rayed.
  • If you need assistance but are traveling by yourself, have your attendant or a family member obtain a gate pass at the check-in counter. Once they have a gate pass they can accompany you through the security checkpoint to the gate, or meet you at the gate on your return flight.
  • Sharp objects or anything that could be used as a weapon will be confiscated at the security checkpoint, so pack your wheelchair-repair tools in your checked luggage.
  • Syringes are allowed through the security checkpoint upon inspection. Although not required, it’s best to bring a doctor’s note when carrying syringes in an airport.
  • If you encounter any problems, ask to speak to a supervisor or call the TSA Contact Center at (866) 289-9673.
  • In the end, patience is really the key for dealing with airport security; however, if you feel your needs as a passenger with a disability are not being adequately addressed, don’t be afraid to speak up.

101 Accessible Vacations; Travel Ideas for Wheelers and Slow Walkers is published by Demos Publishing and is available from your favorite bookstore or at www.101AccessibleVacations.com. Visit Candy Harrington’s Barrier Free Travels blog at www.BarrierFreeTravels.com for more helpful access tips, travel news and information for disabled travelers.

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Expert Shares 14 Tips for Planning an Accessible Cruise

Cruising is often billed as one of the most accessible vacation choices for wheelchair-users and slow walkers. In fact, according to a 2002 Harris Interactive poll, 12 percent of disabled adults had taken a cruise in the previous five years, compared to 8 percent of the able-bodied population. Still, some cruises are more accessible than others.

“Unfortunately some people think that all cruise ships and itineraries are equally accessible,” says Candy Harrington, author of 101 Accessible Vacations; Travel Ideas for Wheelers and Slow Walkers. “But,” she adds “although there’s certainly a high level of accessibility in the cruise industry, you can still end up on a very inaccessible ship if you don’t do your homework.”

Of course, it helps to know who to contact, what questions to ask and what access-related services are available. With than in mind, here are Harrington’s tips about how to plan an accessible cruise.

  • For best access, choose a large ship built within the past three years.
  • If you’d prefer to deal direct, contact the special needs desk at the cruise line, as these employees are the experts in all access-related issues. Alternatively you can contact a travel agent who specializes in accessible cruises.
  • Accessible cabins are in short supply so try to book at least 6-9 months in advance to get your first choice of sailing dates. Accessible balcony cabins on Alaska cruises sell out extremely fast, so book those as soon as they become available.
  • Don’t assume all accessible cabins are the same. If you need a specific feature, such as a roll-in shower, ask if it’s available.
  • Don’t forget to inquire about access to the public areas of the ship, especially those of prime interest to you. For example if you really like the nightly shows, ask about the availability and location of wheelchair-seating in the showroom.
  • If you’d like to enjoy the water, ask the special needs department if any of their ships are equipped with pool and Jacuzzi lifts.
  • When you book your cruise, remember to request a table near the restaurant entrance, but out of the main traffic flow; as this will make for a more pleasant dining experience.
  • Don’t forget about airport transfers. If you book your air through the cruise line, you can also purchase transfers from them; however, if you fly in a day early you’ll have to arrange your own transfers. If you purchase transfers from the cruise line, be sure and let them know you need a lift-equipped or ramped vehicle.
  • If you are planning to drive to the port, ask about the availibility and cost of accessible parking. Some ports offer free or discounted parking for disabled passengers. For example, all Florida cruise ship piers offer free parking to passengers who have permanent accessibility modifications installed on their vehicles.
  • Remember to request pier assistance when you book your cruise. Disabled passengers are given priority boarding upon advance request, and it really streamlines the whole boarding process.
  • If you use a power wheelchair or scooter, ask about the electrical supply on the ship. If it’s not compatible with your battery charger, bring a converter. For easier recharging, also pack an extension cord and a power strip.
  • If you need any special equipment, such as a commode chair or a shower chair, ask if the cruise line can provide it. Provide a detailed description, and even a photo of the type of equipment you need.
  • Ask about tender ports before you choose an itinerary. In some ports, cruise ships anchor offshore and ferry their passengers to the docks in small boats called tenders. In most cases the cruise lines will not tender passengers in power wheelchairs. To avoid being stuck on board, bring along a manual wheelchair for use in tender ports.
  • Last but not least, ask a lot of questions about “accessible” shore excursions. In most cases “accessible” means you have to climb the tour bus steps and store your wheelchair or scooter below. Sometimes it’s better to plan your own accessible shore excursions.

101 Accessible Vacations; Travel Ideas for Wheelers and Slow Walkers is published by Demos Publishing and is available from your favorite bookstore or at www.101AccessibleVacations.com. Visit Candy Harrington’s Barrier Free Travels blog at www.BarrierFreeTravels.com for more helpful access tips, travel news and information for disabled travelers.

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