If travel is stressful for most of us, it can be even more traumatic for individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD). Often travel involves dealing with new things—something that can be nerve-wracking for people who tend to avoid deviations from their routine. And it virtually always involves more sensory stimulation than an individual might be used to.
Yet travel offers many benefits to individuals with IDD. Besides offering a break from the daily routine and a new way to rest and relax, it can get them outdoors being more physically active. Travelers immerse themselves in new experiences, widening horizons and creating memories they can revisit for years to come. Travel can also enhance a person’s health and well-being by helping them grow through safe experiences that expand their comfort zone.
Perhaps the most important tip I can offer caregivers who want to travel with an individual with IDD is to plan and prepare in advance. This may involve asking for special accommodations to simplify travel, whether by getting advance boarding or booking a hotel room that does not face a busy city avenue, for instance. That way, you can smooth the way, even as the individual encounters new experiences.
10 Tips for Travelling with Individuals with IDD
- Consider a dry run. Before staying in a hotel, try a night at a friend’s home first. Families that are concerned about a member with IDD’s ability to travel may wish to check out the Arc’s Wings for Autism and Wings for All initiatives. The programs give families the opportunity to practice entering the airport, obtaining boarding passes, going through security and boarding a plane. Contact the Arc to find out if your local airport offers such a program.
- Call ahead. Most hotels and other travel-related service providers need some time to make the necessary arrangements to accommodate people with special needs. Mention your needs at the time of reservation. And double check by calling the provider 24 to 48 hours before your arrival to confirm that proper accommodations have been made.
- Be specific and clear when you describe the disability. Not all service providers know the jargon of accessible travel or the medical terms for some conditions. “Give as many details as you can about what the individual can and can’t do,” says Smarter Travel, “and don’t downplay the severity of the disability.” After all, the more information you give the service provider, the better they will be able to accommodate you.
- If flying, don’t forget to bring some form of identification for the individual. Check the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA’s) list of approved forms of i.d.
- Know your rights. Before going through the security checkpoint at your airport, be aware of TSA’s rules for travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. See also the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Disability Resource Center.
- When going through security screenings, passengers with IDDs, such as Down syndrome or autism, may be screened without being separated from their traveling companions. Consult the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer about the best way to relieve any concerns during the screening process. The individual or caregiver may also provide the officer with the TSA notification card or other medical documentation to describe the condition.
- Consider using a travel agent who specializes in working with intellectually or developmentally impaired travelers. Check out the agent search database at TravelSense.org to find travel agents who fit your needs. Some travel agencies specialize in working with people with developmental disabilities. They include: Hammer Travel, New Directions Travel, Trips Inc., Search Beyond, and Sprout.
- Avoid connecting flights, when possible. Flying direct can save time and reduce hassle. If you must transfer to a different flight en route to your destination, allow lots of time between flights to get from the arrival gate to the departure gate. Ninety minutes or two hours should give you enough wiggle room to make it from gate to gate without having to race through the airport.
- Allow plenty of time for check in, getting through the security line, and transferring to your gate. Arrive at least two hours before your domestic flight. And add more buffer time, if you’re traveling at a peak traffic time in the airport. This is typically weekdays, early mornings, early afternoons, and early evenings. But weekends all year round and even Fridays during the summer can be quite busy at the airport.
- Be creative. If the individual you care for has special interests, consider ways to accommodate them without venturing far afield. Travel doesn’t have to involve a plane ticket. And it doesn’t have to involve a big production. A day trip or an afternoon jaunt may be a good option. For instance, maybe the adult you care for has a passion for cars. Consider going to a local classic and antique car show. Or check out the nearest big city convention center to see when the next auto show featuring the latest models will be held. Or just head to a different new car showroom close by each month to check out what’s on the market.
The ABCs of Accessible Travel (a brochure from the U.S. Department of Transportation)