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Accommodations versus Accessibility in Travel: What's the Difference?

#accessibletravel #autism #autismtravel #disability Mar 23, 2024

Have you ever found yourself wondering about the differences between accessibility and accommodations in travel? 

Accessibility, in general, means that something can be obtained, reached, entered, used, or understood and appreciated. Whereas, the relevant definitions of the term "accommodation" mean the process of adapting or adjusting or coming to an arrangement, settlement, or compromise.  There is the suggestion of convenience or need, but when it comes to disabilities, this is often a legal requirement in the United States under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Those requirements might not apply in other countries--which is something to keep in mind when planning your next excursion. 

There is also the obvious meaning of accommodations as housing or a place to stay while traveling. That will not be my main focus today.  

Accessibility is important for various reasons.  For example, I saw a video recently of a blind person who was able to enjoy a museum because the exhibit was made accessible. They were able to understand and appreciate the art through touch, Braille, and other senses.  Those accommodations made the museum accessible to blind people.  That was an adaptation of the usual hands-off observing with the eyes approach that is usually part and parcel of visiting a museum.  

For someone who uses a wheelchair, stairs will make a location, whether it be a restaurant, hotel, or short-term rental, inaccessible.  A ramp or an elevator would be an example of an accommodation that would allow a person using a wheelchair, crutches, or a scooter to enter and use those particular locations.  

A person with autism, who might have sensory issues, may at times need to provide their own accommodations due to sensitivity to external stimuli outside their control.  Some accommodations could be wearing sunglasses in areas of bright light, wearing earbuds or noise-cancelling headphones when safe to do so, and deliberately choosing to travel to autism-friendly or Certified Autism Destinations and Accommodations, where employees have been trained to work with autistic people and understand at least some of their needs.  

Here are a few points to consider when traveling: 

  1. It may be difficult or impossible to reach certain destinations if you have mobility issues.  This is especially true in Europe with the old cobblestone streets and older buildings that lack elevators.  When I spent a month in Nuremberg, Germany, studying abroad, I rented a room in a fifth-floor walk-up apartment.  Despite walking up and down those multiple flights of stairs at least twice a day for 28 days, I was always out of breath by the time I reached the top.  
  2. It may be difficult to travel with a wheelchair.  You may have heard (and hopefully not experienced) the nightmare scenario of your wheelchair being destroyed or lost while flying.  Many doorways and even cabins on cruises are not wide enough to allow for a scooter or wheelchair to pass through, and special accessible accommodations (sleeping arrangements) would need to be made when available. This might also affect what type of ship you sail on if you want to go on a cruise.  The larger ships are often more accessible than smaller river cruises.  
  3. Accessible places and accommodations might not be available everywhere.  This might result in you not having access to an exhibit, venue, or event that you really wanted to experience.  
  4. A lot of work goes into planning around a travelers specific needs, and that's why it is important to work with a travel advisor.  
  5. You will need to ask for specific accommodations, but they may not always be available.  
  6. Certain public places fall under the ADA, but if they don't--or if you are in a country other than the United State of America--businesses will not necessarily be required to accommodate your needs.  You should thoroughly research to set your expectations to reduce disappointment.  

Awareness of disabilities and accommodations needed for those who are not disabled is increasing, but surprisingly is not as mainstream as it should be.  I am here to help you navigate the travel experience.  As a Special Needs Group Certified Accessible Travel Advocate and a Certified Autism Travel Professional, I will put your needs first and help guide you towards the accessible trips that will be most enjoyable based on your particular needs.  When you're ready to book a complimentary session to discuss my services and fee structure for planning your travel, you can email me at [email protected] 


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