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Overcoming barriers – travelling with a disability

Going on a spontaneous, last-minute holiday abroad sounds like the perfect excursion but it may be more difficult if you have a disability. Some countries take better care of travellers with a disability than others and it is important you conduct some research into which airports and destinations are more accessible than others.

Here’s a few handy tips that may help when researching a holiday for you and a companion.


With almost a billion people in the world suffering from some form of physical, mental or sensory disability, it is important for airports to offer facilities to assist people with catching a flight domestically or abroad.

Under European law, people with a disability or with reduced mobility (PRM) have legal rights to assistance when travelling by air and those needing assistance should notify their chosen airline at least 48 hours before they travel. outlines a number of services that should be available at all European airports:

  • Assistance at arrival points such as terminal entrances, car parks and transport interchanges
  • Assistance to reach check-in
  • Help with registration at check-in
  • Assistance with moving through the airport
  • A private briefing for you and companions on emergency procedures
  • Assistance with moving to the toilet on the plane
  • Help getting off the plane and moving to connecting flights/next part of journey

However, it needs considering that airline cabin crews are not able to provide round-the-clock personal care. Airlines do suggest those who aren’t self-reliant should always travel with a companion and the company will always attempt to ensure you sit next to each other.


Before booking anything, those with a disability should check their desired destination has enough facilities to accommodate them and a companion. For example, it’s not worth flying for hours to reach your location only to find it has minimal facilities for wheelchair users.

The Guardian has compiled a list of reader-submitted suggestions for disability-friendly destinations. Paris is often cited as an accessible city and it appears on the list, as many attractions in Paris are free to wheelchair users. An attendant at the Eiffel Tower offered to put disabled holidaymakers in a lift to the top while jumping the queue and the Musee d’Orsay is very accessible for wheelchair users. Furthermore, this visitor was sent to the front of the queue at Versailles and waved through for free.

Berlin is also an accessible city. The vast majority of U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations have lifts big enough for wheelchairs and most platforms have no gap if they’re at a barrierefrei station, allowing smooth access to the trains and trams.

Japan is another city that provides exceptional facilities to accommodate disabled travellers. Dropped kerbs, lifts and superb customer service can help wheelchair users glide through the city with ease while Osaka’s floating garden observatory was fully accessible according to one reader. In addition, entry to Osaka Castle is free.


Acquiring travel insurance if you have an existing medical condition or a disability can be difficult. Many standard insurers won’t offer cover or will raise their premiums to high levels when disabled travellers apply for a quote. So it’s worth searching for a specialist travel insurance provider who can offer cover for such conditions.

Specialist insurance should provide cover for emergency medical expenses, repatriation and cancellation as well as specific cover for loss or damage to medical aids and medications. If you’re taking a companion, you should insure them under the same policy too. Some insurance specialists will even offer reduced premiums for people without medical conditions on the same policy.

Insurance for existing medical conditions and disabilities should also come with the standard travel insurance levels of cover such as loss of baggage, passport, personal accident and delayed departure.

If you’re travelling independently for the first time or acting as a companion for someone who is disabled, it is important to do research into airports, potential destinations and travel insurance before jetting off. By planning everything as far ahead as you possibly can, you can be much more confident that the holiday will go smoothly.

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