With the rise in technology and awareness of various mental and physical disabilities, inclusiveness and accommodations have increased, too. Amusement parks, beaches, attractions and entire cities have been redesigned to provide better opportunities for more people. To get you started, here are some of the top disability-friendly places to check out around the world.
Berlin has made a commitment to be “barrier free,” meaning the city is accessible for those in wheelchairs, with limited mobility, the blind or partially sighted, the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and who benefit from simple language. In 2013, Berlin received the European Commission’s Access City award and was specifically praised for the public transport and accessible new buildings. These efforts spread further, though, to tourist sites, events and hotels. For an on-the-go guide, download the accessBerlin app.
Seattle, WA, United States of America
Consistently at the top of accessible cities lists, Seattle not only offers a variety of top-notch attractions—from music to industry to nature to museums—but most of them are incredibly accessible. The city touts wheelchair accessible taxis, public transportation, and hotels, and provides multisensory indicators on crosswalks. Disabled residents can also use the job accommodation network and BluePath, a nonprofit community that connects consumers and businesses with the common goal to increase accessibility.
St. Simon’s Island, GA, United States of America
This quaint island in Georgia’s Golden Isles is a great place to relax. Although not all the shops are accessible, many of the attractions and lodging options are, as well as the St. Simon Colonial Island Trolley Tour. However, the most exciting reason to visit is the hard-packed sand on the beach that can support standard wheelchairs (versus beach-specific wheelchairs).
Stratford-upon-Avon, United Kingdom
That’s right—Shakespeare’s birthplace is disability-friendly! Check out The Garrick Inn, an accessible pub that happens to be the oldest in town. The Royal Shakespeare Company is also accessible and has strived to provide access to the arts since 1991. They offer sign language translation, audio descriptions, an induction loop amplification system and infra-red headsets. Other disability-friendly options include lodging, taxis, public transportation, the Stratford Town Walk, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, banks, churches and pharmacies!
U.S. National Parks
Not all national parks are accessible, but the National Park Service (NPS) did create an Accessibility Task Force in 2012 that has since implemented a five-year plan to increase accessibility throughout the parks between 2015 and 2020. NPS also offers a free lifetime pass for U.S. citizens and permanent residents with permanent disabilities, which provides free entrance to 2,000 recreation sites for the pass holder and a limited number of guests (depending on the park), as well as discounts on expanded amenity fees. Among the most accessible are Congaree National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.
With 2,100 tactile and Braille street signs and accessibility for almost all their public transportation, Sydney is quickly becoming a disability-friendly destination. Their Accessibility Map, currently in beta, provides helpful information, such as where to find mobility parking spaces and accessible public restrooms. It also warns of potential barriers, such as stairs or steep inclines. The city is always moving to improve and progress, starting with A City for All: Inclusion (Disability) Action Plan 2017-2021.
In response to their goal of increased inclusiveness, Disney World has developed Guides for guests with disabilities and for guests with cognitive disabilities. Service animals are welcome, and the park offers assistive listening, captioning, audio description and wheelchair rental. They also offer a Disability Access Service (DAS), which provides a comparable return time for those unable to wait in a conventional line. Disney Land offers similar accommodations.
Montréal, QC, Canada
Kéroul is an organization in Québec that connects those with motor, visual, hearing and other physical impairments with tourist facilities in the province. They have assessed 289 establishments in Montréal and list 118 attractions, 58 accommodations, 84 restaurants and 25 other organizations (pharmacies, grocery stores, libraries, etc.) as accessible. Tourist and Leisure Companion Stickers are also available and provide free entrance to attractions for those accompanying disabled persons.
Dublin has quite the digital spread on information regarding disability-friendly places. Their award-winning website, Mobility MOJO, provides current information on accessibility of hotels, transportation, restaurants, pubs, attractions and more in Dublin and beyond. Although the cobblestone streets, plentiful hills and buildings that are hundreds of years old can present some difficulty, the city is committed to braiding accessibility into its history and character, and its compact design makes it easier to get around, which is further aided with low curbs and added ramps.
Hanauma Bay, Hawaii
Another excellent option for disabled persons looking to relax on the beach, Hanauma Bay provides beach wheelchairs free of charge. All their facilities are accessible, as are city buses and the tram to the beach. The movie theater has a separate screen with closed-captioning as well.
San Diego, CA, United States of America
San Diego is an incredibly diverse city with an array of options for disabled visitors, including free beach wheelchairs and accessible sightseeing tours. Some theaters also provide infra-red audio assistance systems, ASL translation and audio-described performances. Many places also allow service animals. Accessible attractions include the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, San Diego Zoo and the USS Midway Museum.
Access 2 Africa Safaris in South Africa is run by safari experts who draw on their personal experiences with disabled individuals. The company was honored with the 2016 South African Lilizela Tourism Award in four separate categories. They also accommodate able-bodied families, individuals and groups, but they specialize in disability-friendly accommodations. Choose from wheelchair-accessible packages in addition to specific tours designed for the hearing impaired (with visually exciting scenes and sign language interpreters) and the visually impaired (with a focus on touch, sound and smells). Choose from one-day, seven-day and 12-day safari experiences for everyone.
Pattaya is an excellent choice for disabled individuals seeking a resort experience. All of the rooms at The Royal Cliff Hotels Group have adjusted peepholes, elevators with Braille, portable wooden ramps and swimming pools with safety rails. A-ONE Pattaya Beach Resort was built specifically with wheelchair users in mind. There are no steps in the entire building (including emergency exits), a barrier-free movement design, low-level counters, controls, etc., and menus in Braille. The beaches in Pattaya have limited access, and though it might not be possible to get to the water in a wheelchair, most of the city’s attractions are accessible and are becoming more disability-friendly all the time.
As a major resort, LEGOLAND offers many disability-friendly options. Their shops, restaurants, show venues, and most of their rides and attractions are accessible, and there are play areas specifically designed for those with autism and similar disorders. LEGOLAND also offers an Assisted Access Pass with a return time that can accommodate up to six people. Otherwise, the Florida resort offers the Hero Pass, which provides immediate front-of-the-line access for families with a member who is unable to wait.
Sirens Resort in Loutraki is a wonderful option for disabled people. The apartments accommodate between one and eight people, and the resort offers wheelchair rentals, shower wheelchairs and toilet commodes, as well as physiotherapy in the privacy of your apartment. Wheelchair-accessible taxis are available, and the beach is fully accessible with free sea wheelchairs and a sea ramp. They even offer disabled-friendly excursions around the area.
In addition to the increasingly accessible accommodations, Sicily offers disability-friendly features at many of its attractions, including the Castello Ursino Museum, which can accommodate wheelchair users and the visually impaired. Disability-friendly activities on the island include accessible SCUBA, the Tactile Museum and the Sensorial-Botanic Garden. In fact, two Guinness World Records have been set in Sicily: the first paraplegic to dive to 59 meters and the first blind woman to dive to 41 meters!