Lisa has been dreaming of a trip to Disney World most of her life. She had never been to Florida before, and she’d never been on a plane. Lisa is an adult with disabilities who receives services from ADEC, and not only did she recently fly on a plane to Florida for her first trip to Disney World, but she flew there all on her own.
Lisa lives in a shared home with other individuals with disabilities, and all of them are able to live independent lives because of ADEC’s Supported Living program. Supported Living staff help supervise tasks required for independent living, such as shopping or bill paying, and may also provide transportation to appointments, jobs, and social outings.
Often all that’s needed for an adult with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live on his or her own is support and oversight. Whether care is needed frequently or for only a few hours a day, ADEC’s Supported Living staff will work out a plan. In Lisa’s case, with assistance from her ADEC Guardian advocate, Jodi, she was able to plan a special trip to Disney World and live out one of her dreams. The trip was planned through a company call Exceptional Vacations, based in Florida, that specializes in vacation experiences specifically for people with disabilities.
THE DISNEY EXPERIENCE
Exceptional Vacations meets their clients at the airport if they are flying in, escorts them to their hotel and gets them set up in their rooms, normally with a roommate from their tour group. Tour groups are organized by the company based on support level needs, medication needs and other factors. There is always at least a five to one client to staff ratio on their outings. Lisa’s group had eight clients and three staff members. During Lisa’s weeklong trip she was able to visit all four of the Disney World Parks: The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. She was able to take lots of photos with her own camera, and the tour group leaders took some as well.
Lisa’s favorite parts of the trip include seeing Princess Elsa and visiting Toy Story Land in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. When asked if she had been nervous about flying alone or about her trip, she said no, she was only excited. She had a great time and is already thinking about planning her next trip.
TRAVEL COMPANIES FOR THOSE WITH DISABILITIES
Lisa was the first, but not the last individual supported by ADEC, to plan trips with Exceptional Vacations. Her positive experience has led to others planning a trip with them to Nashville and Memphis, and another pair who are planning a Jamaican Cruise. Visiting EV’s Instagram page, you can see that they have trips as diverse as the Grand Canyon, Spa Retreats, Busch Gardens, Cruises, and even WrestleMania.
If you or a loved one are interested in traveling but haven’t tried it due to a disability, lack of accessibility, or worry about a lack of understanding on the parts of others, you may want to consider a travel company that specializes in making trips for those with disabilities as easy and worry-free as possible. There are many local and national companies with trips available to investigate, ranging from something as small as a day of kayaking, a weekend at a ranch, or a full-scale weeklong vacation. Make sure you choose companies that you trust. You can look at reviews, Better Business Bureau ratings, online feedback, or word-of-mouth from those who’ve used their services before.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
The first thing to consider when planning a trip, either as a person with disabilities, or as their companion, is to make sure that you know your rights. People with disabilities are legally able to travel as freely and as equally as anyone else in the U.S., but you may also wish to check on all accommodations available from the airline, transportation, and hotels before you book your trip.
Two examples of applicable laws in the U.S. are the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) where any traveler with a disability and their companion have the freedom to travel equally. Examples of rights under the ACAA and ADA include:
Service animals are allowed to accompany people with disabilities.
Entrances, doors, ramps, and elevators must have accessible routes.
Accessible building elements such as signs, toilets, parking spaces, and loading zones.
Adequate time to board on all modes of public transportation.
Aircrafts with over 60 seats must provide an accessible lavatory and onboard wheelchair.
Laws and accommodations can vary by country, so for a complete list of country-specific disability laws, check out United Nations as a resource.
Before traveling a significant distance, speak with your doctor. Request and pack enough prescription medication to cover the length of the entire trip. Beyond the standard packing list, consider passports, visas, medical notes, and essential phone numbers. Keep insurance cards, extra medicine, equipment, and anything else important in a carry-on in case of delay or emergency. Inquire about the necessary vaccines for each country and confirm physician availability in the destinations. Bring a letter from the primary care physician to identify the diagnosis and medications in case of an emergency.
Among the final stages of preparations, submit a TSA notification card. This notifies the Transportation Security Administration about any disabilities or medical conditions that could impact screening. TSA offers a free helpline named TSA Cares to assist with additional questions about the screening process.
Call the hotel, tour, and airline a few days in advance to reconfirm special accommodations. Ask specific questions that will ensure proper accommodations. For long haul flights, inquire about bathroom access and transfers.
Allow ample time for check-in, security, and transfers. Have a backup plan in case hotels, tours, or transfers have failed to provide the proper accommodation. Accessibility can mean different things in different countries, especially non-native English-speaking ones. Be open to getting around in new ways and corroborate that there is enough time in the schedule to do so.
ENJOY YOUR TRIP
A disability should not keep anyone from exciting travel experiences or incredible vacation memories, and the number of travelers with disabilities increases every year. It can be done and done well! Make sure you plan ahead, do your research, know your rights and do all the prep work, and you should have a wonderful trip.