Recognizing, and preparing, for the hazards of disability travel

Not willing to let ALS deter the goal to reach 100 countries, traveling with a disability comes with new concerns. Here are things to be aware of.

Image via Flickr by SOZIALHELDEN, used under Creative Commons license

CHARLOTTE, NC, June 25, 2017 – Back in the day, when I was younger and agile, it never occurred to me how hazardous travel can be. Now after several months of adjusting to ALS I can only tip my hat to anyone and everyone who continues to explore our planet despite infirmities.

It makes no difference where you are or what mode of travel you select, crowds are a detriment to any traveler who must negotiate with assistance. Airports, for example, are an accident waiting to happen. Someone stops to read a schedule board and puts their carry-on bag behind you and WHAM! next thing you know you’re on your back looking up at the planes taking off through the skylight never knowing what hit you.

Trains and subways offer different situations because a disabled person can easily be bumped onto a track without significant impact if they wander too close to the edge of the platform.

In the case of subways, should the traveler survive the wait for the train, it is also easy to become smothered in the sea of humanity cramming its way into each little air pocket of space. There is also the chance of being slammed between dozens of people and the open door of the coach.

Cruise ships might appear to be the safest option, however danger also lurks in unsuspecting places. For example, on most ships, the elevators are placed across from the stairs.

During especially busy times when elevators are jammed with passengers, people (especially young people) become antsy and begin running down the stairs sometimes taking two or three at a time. Disabled passengers beware. Flying teenagers and twenty-somethings do not mix well with stairways.

Flying teenagers and twenty-somethings do not mix well with the disabled and stairways.

But these are only for starters. Like it or not, a healthy world does not see the hurdles that quickly become obvious to anyone traveling with the slightest need for assistance.

Sofas and couches may be comfortable for most, but they are frequently too soft and/or too low for a handicapped person. Typically seats need to be higher, firmer and have sturdy arms at the side which allow for leverage.

Some cruise lines, for example, in order to accommodate for limited stateroom space, use stools with no backs or arms. Disabled travelers, even those with minimal needs for assistance, can easily fall backwar or off to the side with no means to stop their momentum before hitting the floor.

Standard toilets can also be a challenge if there are no rails with which to pull yourself forward. We have all seen smaller facilities designed with children in mind, but to a lesser degree are the number of high seats that make it easier for disabled adults to sit down.

Many people have said the invention of the wheel is one of the greatest developments in the history of civilization. While wheels may have existed in some form much earlier, the oldest practical recovered specimen dates only between 5,100 and 5,350 years ago in Slovenia.

Truth, be known, domesticated animals and canoes predate the wheel.

But what about the ramp? Contemporary travelers know only too well that it is impossible to travel anywhere in the world without encountering steps of one kind or another. The ramp, you see, is only a recent concept which has made it simpler for disabled travelers to negotiate their surroundings.

Contemporary travelers know only too well that it is impossible to travel anywhere in the world without encountering steps of one kind or another. The ramp, you see, is only a recent concept which has made it simpler for disabled travelers to negotiate their surroundings.

The Greeks utilized ramps to drag ships overland across the Isthmus of Corinth and siege ramps also allowed ancient armies to attack castles and fortresses. But these were completely different uses for ramps which apparently did not occur to the ancient engineers who regarded going “up the down staircase” the most convenient mode of ambulatory access during times of peace and non-construction.

Today, ramps are becoming more and more available in heavily touristed areas but frequently handicapped travelers still must contend with engineering obstacles.

On the positive side, airports are rapidly adapting to a growing number of wheelchair requests by people who want to continue to live as normally as possible without giving in to a disability.

In fact, in some ways, a wheelchair at an airport can be a plus for the traveler because it usually offers courtesies not available to other passengers. That said, hopefully, this will not become an issue in the future where people take advantage of the system by “claiming” to be disabled when they are not.

Doorways, showers with tile floors, beds that are too soft or too high off the floor, stairways without handrails, bathtubs that are too high or do not have a shower, liquid soap rather than a bar, ultra-heavy doors and any number of other minor inconveniences to a healthy traveler, can become a nightmare for the disabled.

As a way to learn how much effort a disability can take, try this. Lay on the floor and get up without using your arms. Hands are acceptable, but arms are off-limits.

Welcome to the land of bumps, bruises and re-educating yourself about the world of mobility.

About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

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