Travel and Disability: A Case Study on International/Travel Programs

Date Updated


My name is Dr. Steven Nourse. I am a professor at Central Washington University where I teach research, education law, and special education. I use a wheelchair for mobility.

Access Issues

As a faculty member and postsecondary educator, I travel frequently throughout the United States to conferences and professional organization meetings. In order for me to travel comfortably and safely, a lot of pre-planning needs to take place. I consider the following questions each time I plan a trip:

  • How do I arrange my air travel?
  • How do I arrange ground transportation once I get to my destination?
  • How do I select lodging?


Based on my personal experience, I have found the following suggestions helpful when arranging travel.

  • Air Travel: When making airline reservations, I immediately request any in-flight and airport accommodations. This is the best time to ask for accommodations such as special seating or assistance entering and exiting the plane (many airlines have information on accommodations and services they provide for travelers with special needs at their respective Web sites). While most airlines note the specific accommodations on the original reservation, it is essential to double-check all the accommodations that you requested one or two days before the travel date. Finally, arrive at the airport at least one hour early and be prepared for any last minute issues that may arise.
  • Ground Transportation: There are accessible shuttles that will accommodate a wheelchair at most major airports. They need to be scheduled in advance. If the travel agent does not know where to reserve these accessible shuttles, it may be helpful to contact Easter Seals or another local organization that advocates for people with disabilities in the city you are travelling to. They should have local accessibility information on transportation as well as other attractions.
  • Lodging: When making a hotel reservation, it is best to call directly to the hotel rather than the national 1-800 reservation line. Make a list of questions before you call. Each hotel will usually be able to tell you about security issues, access to public transportation (e.g., the closest subway station with an elevator), accessible restaurants, etc. When making the reservation, be specific about what you need (e.g., one bed or two, smoking or non-smoking, specific bathroom requirements such as roll-in shower). It is also helpful to keep track of the hotel manager and any reservation staff you talk to. Bring these notes with you when you travel.


This example demonstrates that a person with a disability can travel safely and comfortably in the United States, however, timely and detailed planning is an essential part of the process. While all difficulties cannot be avoided, proper planning can help prevent major problems.