Tips for traveling with disabilities

It's vacation time and like most people, I am ready to take-off! However, as a wheelchair user, planning a vacation often takes extra thought and preparation. Whether you are a seasoned traveler with a disability or new to traveling, here are a few tips and suggestions.

Air Travel

Most major airlines have a designated phone number for travelers with disabilities. By calling ahead you can reserve a wheelchair row on the plane that has extra leg room. You can also request help with things like getting to your gate, boarding the plane and/or grabbing your luggage off the carousel once you arrive at your destination.

As a wheelchair user, we are able to pre-board to allow for extra time for us to get to our seat. However, we are the last to deplane, which means you could be sitting there for a while. I always recommend if you have a connection to make, allow yourself enough time. A layover that is less than an hour long, may result in a missed connection, and getting stuck in an airport is not the way you want to start or end your vacation.

Other reminders when flying:

  • Make sure all your medication and catheter supplies are in your carry-on. You don’t want them in your checked luggage in case your bags get lost or delayed.
  • For long flights wear compression stockings to help prevent swelling and blood clots*.
  • Take your cushion off your wheelchair and sit on it during the flight, so it doesn’t get lost and you don’t get a pressure sore.
  • Take a photo of your wheelchair before boarding. If your wheelchair is damaged by the airlines, file a report at the airport immediately, do not wait until you get home. The photo of your chair will show the condition it was in prior to the damage. Also document the damage by taking photos as well.


Most people can just go online and book a hotel in a matter of minutes, it’s not quite as simple for wheelchair users. Although a hotel may advertise they are accessible, their idea of accessible and yours may differ. It is always best to call and ask:

  • What accessible features do your hotel and guest rooms provide?
  • Does the room have a roll-in shower?
  • Does the hotel provide a shower chair or bench?
  • Are there grab bars near the toilet and shower?
  • Are accessible rooms on the first floor available?

The author Cheryl Angelelli.

Visitor’s Bureau

When I am traveling to a new destination, I always like to go online and find information about the accessibility of the city from their Visitor’s Bureau. Most major cities will have a website. For example, I am planning a trip to Charleston, South Carolina. Their Visitor’s Bureau had an amazing web page dedicated to travelers with disabilities that provided me with a lot of great information. On that website I was able to get a list of accessible transportation, hotels, restaurants, shops, and tourist attractions.

If all this extra work planning a vacation feels like it is too much for you, consider working with a travel agency that specializes in planning vacations for persons with disabilities. You will find is a list of a few of them here:

Wherever your travels may take you this year, I hope you have a wonderful and safe vacation.

*Consult with your health care provider or your doctor before wearing compression stockings.


About Cheryl Angelelli

Paralympic medal winner, World Record holder, and Athletes with Disabilities Hall of Fame inductee, are just a few of Cheryl Angelelli’s many accomplishments. She is also a professional ballroom dancer and works in healthcare marketing.