“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

TravelHaven Tips ― Traveling for the disabled

Recent incidents of airlines refusing passengers with disabilities have demonstrated how challenging travel can be. A blind American man was denied travel on a Flydubai flight because he was flying alone. US Airways asked a traveler with cerebral palsy to deplane after an airline employee determined that he was too disabled to fly alone.

“I’m flabbergasted by it,” said Lex Frieden, professor of biomedical informatics and rehabilitation at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, “Things happen despite rules that say they shouldn’t.”

A passenger can request the judgment of a Complaint Resolution Official (CRO), which should resolve the situation at the gate. Airlines can require a disabled passenger to fly with an attendant, but it’s the airline’s responsibility to find an attendant at its expense. However, the passenger may be denied boarding if he or she does not agree to be accompanied.

Fortunately, such experiences are rare. Progress has included more wheelchair-accessible taxis and rental vans and greater availability of rental cars with hand controls. There are more travel websites for people with dexterity or vision problems. Laws protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and training for airport and carrier personnel has improved.

The Open Doors Organization, which has conducted training for more than twenty-five commercial airlines on improving access for air travelers with disabilities, estimates that the travel market for people with disabilities approaches $15 billion annually. The number of people with disabilities will inevitably increase as we live longer; about 25% of the American population is expected to have some disability by 2030.

The Air Carrier Access Act extends coverage to foreign airlines for flights originating or landing in the United States, or ticketed through American carriers. Airlines are required to provide accommodations for people who fly with service animals, travel with oxygen or respiratory assistance, or have hearing or vision impairments. Airlines must provide assistance to passengers unable to use automated kiosks to check in or to print boarding passes.

Traveling overseas, however, can pose greater difficulties. People with disabilities may have fewer legal protections in some countries. Service dogs can be a particular issue, since some countries don’t allow them to disembark and hotels may not be required to accept service dogs.

Even in the U.S. problems remain. Progress to retrofit older mass transit systems has slowed because of chronic under-funding. Under provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990, Amtrak stations were to be fully accessible by 2011. Only 20% of its 482 stations have achieved compliance.

The most important steps travelers with disabilities can take are the same as for the non-disabled — plan ahead, allow enough time, study your options, and have all necessary documents. Many disability-related organizations can provide access to peer counselors and online groups to research travel options.

Howard J. McCoy, founder of Accessible Journeys, a tour operator focusing on wheelchair-accessible vacations, says “Thousands of people with disabilities travel everyday, and we never hear about their successes.”