Sometimes trip-planning can be the most stressful part of vacationing. Where is the best place to stay logistically? Is the means of travel the most reliable, quickest, or most comfortable? Does the plan and total cost exist within the same budget?
For many people that require disabled access, these itinerary stressors are just the tip of the planning iceberg. Planning a trip to include a disabled traveler requires a bit of extra research, especially if mobility aids or special assistance and room accommodations are needed — and in most cases, these accommodations must be booked in advance of arrival. If it is your first time planning a trip that includes someone with a disability, make sure to check in with them often during the planning stages. No one wants to be excited about a trip only to find out what they looked forward to the most is not accessible to them. Taking the time to investigate these factors will ensure a fun and comfortable experience for everyone on the trip.
While accessibility varies from park to park, national parks do their best to meet and follow the requirements laid out by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Adventurers with lifelong disabilities with hopes of visiting many of America’s national parks can obtain an Access Pass from the National Parks Service (in person or online) that offers lifetime discounts for them and their travel companions. Discounts include entry fees, campsites, and guided tours. In addition, many of the visitor centers provide aids to help disabled visitors, such as maps locating spots throughout the park that are accessible with mobility aids and portable assistive listening devices or ASL interpreters for guided tours.
Well-known national parks like Yellowstone and The Grand Canyon are most known for their park accessibility, but Acadia National Park, Gunnison National Park, and Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve also offer special trails, visitor centers, and guided tours for disabled visitors.
For more accessible national parks, check out this interactive map.
While some U.S. cities have taken great initiative to create more accessibility, it is important to note that not all cities are accessible for disabled travelers. Some cities with an abundance of charm and history also inhibit disabled travelers from having full access to what the city has to offer. For example, not all sidewalks or public transportation options may be accessible to those with mobility aids. Additionally, not all hotels are made to be accessible for disabled travelers, so be sure to do your research before booking.
California boasts that they are one of the most accessible states in the U.S., with many of California’s cities offering nearly 100% accessibility to those with mobility aids. The San Francisco Bay Area has made accommodations for wheelchair users on their historic cable cars, and have trained BART employees on how to assist disabled riders in safely securing their wheelchair in any form of transportation. The Bay Area even has a non-profit called Easy-Does-It, that repairs mobility aids free of charge!
Honorable mentions also go out to Las Vegas — they have wheelchair-accessible zip and zoom lines soaring for 1,700 feet over crowded streets – Philadelphia, Washington D.C., St. Louis, and Denver, who offer accessible sidewalks, public transit, and attractions.
There are few things more enjoyable than bein waterside; and with a little pre-planning, you will find many companies that rent or loan out beach wheelchairs and cruisers for individuals that need mobility aids to get around. Individuals with a disability that does not allow them to use a beach wheelchair can check in with local hotels or lifeguards to find an area of the beach with paved walkways that extend to the water.
In places like Gulf Shores, Alabama and Miami Beach, Florida, some resorts, and public beaches provide specialized 350-foot mats for easy in-and-out-of-water access for beach goers that cannot use a beach wheelchair. Those looking for an east coast getaway should look no further than Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, which boasts 24 fully accessible beaches, as well as free parking at metered spaces for anyone with a handicapped or Veteran license plate tag. Need a beach wheelchair? The city will not only provide vacationers with a free beach wheelchair to use but will deliver it to you!
For those looking for a lakefront beach and camping experience, check out Ludington, Michigan. With Stearns Park Beach’s 300-yard beach walkway – voted 5th most accessible walkway in the nation – and numerous campgrounds nearby that feature amenities created with mobility aids in mind, this beach town is sure to provide a care-free getaway.
If you are looking to take your crew on a theme park adventure, there are great theme park options in the U.S that cater to those with a disability. Travelers to San Antonio will find Morgan’s Wonderland and Inspiration Island to be well worth the trip. Both the theme park and the water park were designed specifically for disabled attendees. Inspired by his daughter (the park’s namesake), creator Gordon Hartman has provided the only theme park and water park in the world that are 100% handicap accessible!
Families looking to head to Orlando for the full Disney experience will find that all parks at Walt Disney World have attractions that are fully wheelchair accessible, but the highest concentration in one park resides at the Magic Kingdom. Disabled park-goers that can be transferred from their wheelchair will find the highest number of accessible rides at Magic Kingdom! Guests can also get the Disability Access Service (DAS) pass from Guest Relations at any of the park entrances, which gives park- goers with mobility aids the ability to avoid long lines.
Those looking for the rollercoaster thrill without the Disney theme will find Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana as an ideal destination. Splitting the park into 4th of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas-themed towns, park guests can dive into the world of their favorite holiday. The Park also offers the Holiday World Boarding Pass, which allows a person with a disability and up to three travel companions to schedule a ride to avoid waiting in line!
The attached waterpark, Splashin’ Safari, has a limited number of accessible tubes for those that cannot sit up unaided, and all the pools are grade zero entry for easier access. Most park rides at Holiday World will require wheelchair users to be transferred from their wheelchair to ride, but there are devices to help with that transfer at most ride platforms.
Despite the need for more changes to the way the U.S. approaches public accessibility for disabled people, there are still many places to travel of varied price points that do their best to accommodate everyone. There are many great disabled travel bloggers that provide deeper insight into how specific locations all over the world fair for accessibility — a few that we found informative are linked below: