Travel For People with Extra Support Needs

As the Mom of a 23 year old who uses a Power wheelchair, and as a Travel addict, I learned the hard way about travel with a wheelchair, starting with many ferry rides to and from Children’s Hospital in Vancouver. On one notable occasion I flew with Kieron on an Air Ambulance from Victoria General Hospital to Vancouver so Kieron could get emergency Neurosurgery. 3 Days later we were discharged and there I was, in Vancouver on my own with a tiny scrap of miserable humanity, in hospital Jammies (Hideous yellow and white striped things) with a huge bandage and a half shaved head, no wheelchair, not even a stroller and not a clue what to do. The good news is I worked it out, as I have every other challenge that Kieron has presented me with!
Since then my 2 sons and I have Cruised to Alaska, the Panama Canal, and the Western Caribbean, enjoyed the delights of Disneyland 3 times, and hopped over to Seattle a number of times. The next plan is Las Vegas for Nascar (and the rest of what Vegas has to offer I am sure!)
Soon after I became a Travel Agent, friends who had a family member who had extra support needs, started asking me if I could help with making sure their holidays went well and over time I acquired more and more experience and knowledge about travel for people with all sorts of different needs. Now about 30% of my clients are people with disabilities.
Cruise ships can often be the most welcoming and accessible of all vacation choices for people with extra support needs. Wheelchair accessible cabins are usually excellently designed with roll in showers and on some ships electronic door openers and sling systems to get you into the Hot tubs and the swimming pools.
There are however some Cruise lines that “get it” more than others, and you have to be very careful and do your research to work out which Cruise Ship is going to work for you as well as which itinerary will take you to places that will also be accessible.
Cruises are often a good choice for people with support needs other than mobility needs. Cruise ship staff are usually very supportive of anyone who has a disability, and will arrange things like dinner in your rooms if the dining room is too difficult, or have someone in the kitchen cut up or mince food for you. On one occasion when I was escorting my Annual Disney and a Cruise Group , we had with us a young lady who would vocalize loudly at the dinner table.. her waiter soon worked out that if she had a glass of Orange juice, a straw and some bread sticks in front of her when she got to the table, things went much more smoothly!
Where you go on a cruise is also important, many places are very un-wheelchair accessible, (One hint, Venice doesn’t work)! Alaska as well as anywhere in the USA is usually great, as the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) has made it law to make every public place in the US accessible. Europe can often be complicated, again research is the key. Most of the world seems to have a different definition of what “Wheelchair Accessible” means. In most places if there is a ramp, then as far as they concerned they are accessible!
The advantages of taking are cruise make this an excellent way for traveling for a person with a disability. As well as having a floating wheelchair accessible Hotel taking you from place to place, cruise ships are filled with all sorts of other delights for a holiday, all you can eat food , entertainment, great welcoming children’s programs, Casino’s, swimming pools, bars, more food, and lots of fun!
Then you get to go to a new place every day!

Alex Yates is The president of the Kieronator Support Society, a Micro-board set up to support her son Kieron. She lives in Victoria BC and is a full time Travel Advisor with Vision 2000 travel Group.
You can reach her at