I. Love. To. Travel. And, as you probably know from reading this blog – I enjoy sharing my travel experiences. I often say, “Travel is simply taking educational opportunities – on the road”.
However, travel can be much more difficult if you have barriers – such as those experienced by individuals with physical, mental, and/ or sensory challenges. I have noticed establishments that simply do not provide accessible or inclusive environment. While many places are demonstrating a better understanding of how to make their venues more welcoming – there is a lot of room for improvement.
I would like to showcase the organizations that get it RIGHT. So, I wrote a letter to all with links and lists for helping you plan a great vacation.
I am excited for you or your family to be venturing away from your home to discover various parts of the United States. There is so much to experience and learn from travel. I personally find the value of travel to be an extension of what happens within the classroom. It is my hope that my information below will help you to plan for a safe and fun trip. Please note that I am one of many who travel and blog – so be sure to check out other articles on this topic.
Why am I writing this letter to you? I am a frequent traveler, school psychologist, and a parent. I seem to be hyper vigilant for looking at situations through multiple lenses. Does this hotel have good accessibility for people with mobility issues? Can a person safely cross this street if blind? Does the venue offer interpreters for the Deaf or sensory accommodations for a person on the autism spectrum? And, so on.
It is because I have the utmost admiration for families who love to travel together that I want ALL to have a great experience, including equal access and inclusion.
PLAN!!! While a quick spontaneous trip can be fun, don’t underestimate the value of good preparation. Here are some tips that may be helpful –
There is very little consistency among hotel chains, restaurants, or theme park attractions when it comes to accessibility and being inclusive to all. So don’t forget to pack a hefty dose of patience along with your toothbrush!
Hint 1: Travel to family friendly places, especially if this is your first trip. If you are a solo traveler consider group travel to places that cater to large and diverse crowds.
Many people cite the Disney theme park properties as the most “special needs” friendly in the United States. And, I have witnessed that around the globe, too, Disney gets it right – most of the time. As does Disney Tokyo, Disney Paris, etc. They are a big corporation with much money and resources at their disposal. They also are dedicated to educating their staff about inclusion. So, I tip my proverbial hat off at Disney and their employees.
Here is the downside. Disney theme parks are super expensive for most families. Often people save years to enjoy a week with “the mouse”. Look for bargains when you decide to visit Disney properties. See if any organizations you belong to (or the grandparents) offer discounted tickets or places to stay.
Discount tickets for Disney parks have been available at these places (and hope they are still there!)
Once you have planned your trip, consider connecting with Disney representatives to learn about accommodations in the park. Here are two Disney guides for families who have family members with autism and or cognitive disabilities.
Disney theme parks provide for their guests this disability access document that is chocked full of pertinent information.f
Also, there are additional parks and attractions that offer access and disability information. Their links can be found on the list below. Note that these places try to make the information easy to read – but sometimes these guides can be daunting. So, be sure to read ahead of time during your “planning” the trip phase.
- Universal Studios – Orlando information guide
- Seaworld information guide
- Knotts Berry Farm information guide
- CEDAR POINT information guide
- HERSHEY PARK information guide
- SMITHSONIAN (including the National Zoo)
- National Parks – the ALL federal ACCESS Pass to parks around the country
Roadtrippers magazine also listed some of the most accessible parks in the United States. Here is their excellent article.
For your consideration: I am a big fan of using a reputable (in person) travel agency for planning vacations that are more than just an overnight and involve a lot of people and “moving parts”.
Next… packing for your trip. It is impossible to bring all the contents of your home with you – but in the case of a child or adult with special challenges you have to be extra careful to remember key items. Not only should you bring all the items for daily living needs (plus extras). But be sure to add to your suitcase medications for the time you will be gone – and additional in case of an unexpected extended stay. You list also should include some comfort items are those that can make a difference with your stay. Such as a night light, a small fan to block out noise from other rooms, and personal soaps or shampoos for those with sensitive skin or adverse reactions to smells. Noise cancelling headphones, an iPad or laptop, and favorite pillow or blanket(s) can make all the difference in the world. (Especially if someone uses a weighted blanket for comfort.) Also, bring snacks and drinks that are “must haves” for your family members.
Tip: Call ahead when making your hotel reservation. Depending on your family’s needs – ask for a room that makes your life easier. Need to be closer to the elevator – just ask. Need a handicap accessible room? Request it. Need a key with braille? Ask them for that, too. Ask if they have a room with special lights and adaptive equipment if you are traveling with someone who is Deaf. And, if you have a child or adult who is vocal – ask for a room that is more secluded from other guests so you don’t feel that you may be disturbing them.
Also, consider bringing a door alarm if you have concerns of elopement (fleeing). I travel with the STEP OFF alarm for personal security. Yet, it also is great to keep those who wander (including people with Alzheimer’s) safe.
If you are a solo traveler consider using a reputable travel agency that has knowledge about opportunities for travel that accommodates people with unique challenges. Deaf travel agencies are also available.
I did a little research on this subject and found these links to help (However, use your due diligence, as well.)
*Inclusive Experiences for All – IAAPA
*National Parks – ASL interpeters, Captioning and mor
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