Is International Travel Accessible for Persons with a Disability?

Fred Rosen outlines travel accessibility policies in 5 countries, including problems and recommendations for improved standards. Includes a list of publications on accessibility in the U.S.A., Canada, Britain, and Australia. Internet publication URL:

A Position Paper
Fred Rosen

Author of

HOW TO TRAVEL -- A Guidebook For Persons With A Disability


Travel Consultant For Persons With A Disability

The Question:


The answer to this question could be no, maybe, perhaps, but not a definite yes. In this modern day of transportation, citizens of all nationalities have the opportunity to travel to many foreign countries and visit foreign destinations. Some travel for diplomatic reasons, some for business, but the majority travel for pleasure, and leisure, and the thrill of exploring new and different countries. For the person who does not suffer from any form of disability, traveling by air, or by rail, or by bus, or taking a tour, or enjoying a river barge excursion, or taking a cruise, poses no problem. Staying in a hotel or resort and enjoying all that the facility has to offer, poses no problem. The opportunity to relive history by visiting the sights that have had an influence on mankind poses no problem.

But for persons with a disability, the chance to enjoy these same pleasures is very limited. This limitation is not because of their disability, but for the failure of many governments to address the problem of making all forms of transportation and accommodations accessible within their own country. And even when a country adopts laws that mandates that transportation be accessible for all, there is no universality to these rules and regulations.

I am well aware that each country is sovereign and passes laws for the benefit of its citizens and those persons residing within that country. And this may be well and good for those residing within that country and traveling within its borders. But for a foreign visitor, not knowing what is and what is not accessible in regards to transportation and accommodations poses a serious problem. Although there are many forms of travel available, this position paper will cover air travel, rail travel, bus travel, accommodations, and motorcoach tours. Let me elaborate.


CHAPTER I--Accessibility In One's Country

CHAPTER II--The Problems

CHAPTER III--Recommendations

CHAPTER IV--Resources




The United States of America

In 1986, the Government of the United States adopted legislation known as The Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA). The Act states "No air carrier may discriminate against any otherwise qualified individual with a disability, by reason of such disability, in the provision of air transportation". The Act mandated that those U.S. airports and domestic air carriers operating within the United States must make air travel accessible for persons with a disability. You noticed I said mandated. This Act covered

  • The wheelchair traveler
  • The hearing impaired
  • The visually impaired
  • The traveler with a service animal
  • Persons needing oxygen
  • Those traveling with assistive devices.

It also covered forms of disabilities that may not be visible but make travel difficult. The Act was written primarily for suppliers, airlines and airports on how to make their equipment and facilities handicap accessible. The Act did not inform the persons with a disability how to travel.

However, the Air Carriers Access Act only covered air travel and did not address the needs of persons with a disability in other forms of transportation and accommodations. So in 1990, the Government of the United States passed an act to remove discrimination in employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications, and activities of state and local government. This Act is known as The Americans with Disabilities. The Act consists of five titles, which defines discrimination in several sectors of the American society. Two titles involve transportation and accommodations, which would be of interest to the traveler with a disability.

Title II and Title III mandates that transportation provided by public and private entities must be made accessible for persons with a disability. Tour operators, because of the nature of their business, do not come under the provisions of the ADA Act.

Title III defines prohibits discrimination in public accommodations. Public accommodations are defined as a facility, operated by a private entity that affects interstate commerce. Among the categories covered by Title III are:

  • Inns, hotels, and motels, except establishments in which the proprietor resides and rents out no more than five rooms.
  • Establishments that serve food or drink, such as bars and restaurants.
  • Stations used for specified public transportation such as terminals and depots.

One can see that the United States of America has come a long way in meeting the needs of persons with a disability residing in the U.S.A., in regards to transportation and accommodations.



Canada, recognizing the need to remove discrimination from Canadian citizens with a disability, enacted two pieces of legislation. One Act pertains to transportation and is titled The Canadian Transportation Act of 1996. The other act, The Human Rights Act of 1976-77, pertains to discrimination to the access of goods, services, facilities and accommodations among other parts of the Act such as employment. Canada does not mandate accessibility but rather mediates when a problem arises.

The Canadian Transportation Act defined discrimination as it applied to Canadian transportation. The Act gave the Canadian Transportation Agency power to remove undue obstacles from Canada's transportation network for persons with a disability, which included:

  • Air Carriers and Airports
  • Passenger Rail Carriers and Stations
  • Interprovincial Ferry Services and Their Terminals.

The Act does not include over-the-road bus service.

In keeping with providing Canadian citizens access to travel, The Government of Canada authorized Transport Canada to enter into a 5 year, $24.6 million, program to financially assist the transportation industry to develop and use equipment that will make Canada's transportation system more accessible. This program has proven to be very successful. This program included

  • Intercity buses
  • Urban buses
  • Air and rail boarding systems
  • Airport ground transportation
  • Vans and minibuses
  • Accessible rental vehicles.


The Canadian Human Rights Act was enacted to eliminate discrimination in several areas including access to goods, services, facilities or accommodations.


The Act states:

  • It is a discriminatory practice in the provisions of goods, services facilities or accommodations customarily available to the general public.
  • To deny, or to deny access to, any such good, service, facility or accommodation to any individual, or
  • To differentiate adversely in relation to any individual, on a prohibited ground of discrimination.

The Canadian Human Rights Act advocated that no discrimination should exist for a person with a disability to the access of goods, services, facilities or accommodations. However, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, as far as I can determine, has not enacted any Rules and Regulations or Codes of Practice to implement this section.

Some members of the Canadian Hotel and Motel Industry have taken upon themselves to make their properties handicap accessible and adopt a rating system indicating the degree of accessibility. The Alberta Hotel Association has developed a rating system that indicates the level of accessibility. It is called ACCESS CANADA. Other provincial hotels and motels are using the international wheelchair logo to indicate accessibility.
So you see, Canada too has attempted to make travel accessible within Canada for all its citizens.



In 1995, Britain passed the Disability Discrimination Act. The Act, as it pertains to travelers with a disability, made it unlawful to discriminate against a person with disabilities in connection of goods, facilities and services. The Act also made it unlawful to discriminate against a person with a disability in regards to public transportation.

Part III: Goods, Facilities and Services

It is unlawful for providers of goods, facilities and services to discriminate against a person with disabilities.
This includes:

  • Accommodations in a hotel, boarding house or other similar establishment.
  • Facilities for entertainment, recreation of refreshment.
  • Access to and use of any place which members of the public are permitted to enter.

Airport facilities come under Part III and must be made accessible by the year 2006.

Part V: Transportation

Air Travel

British domestic air carriers are excluded from the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 in providing accessible air travel for persons with a disability.

Taxis, Buses, Coaches and Trains
Part V of the Act gives the Government powers to make regulations for taxis, buses, coaches, and trains. Authorization is given to the Secretary of State to make accessibility regulations.
In essence, these regulations are to ensure that person with disabilities, including those using a wheelchair, can get on and off public transportation and travel in safety and with reasonable comfort.


In 1992, Australia passed an Act to remove discrimination against persons with disabilities known as the Disability Discrimination Act. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission was named as the authority to enforce Disability Discrimination Act of 1992. The Act states that it is unlawful for providers of goods, services, and facilities to discriminate against a person with a disability. This includes

  • Cafes, restaurants and pubs.
  • Public transportation
  • Theatres and other places of entertainment.
  • Access to accommodations

In regards to transportation, the AustralianTransport Council is at the present time, drawing up guidelines for persons with disabilities to have access to public transportation. Australia is hoping to have these regulations in force for the coming Olympics.

With the passage of the Disability Discrimination Act access for people with disabilities in Australia has improved in recent years. The Australian Tourist Commission can supply information for the visitor with a disability on how to travel in Australia using the various forms of transportation and the availability of accessible accommodations in the various states.


In my research of The State of Israel, I was unable to find any Legislation, Rules or Regulations, or Codes of Practice on accessibility in regards transportation or accommodations for persons with a disability.




As I said at the beginning, rules and regulations or codes of practice enacted within a country against discrimination in regards to transportation and accommodations benefit those person residing in a particular country. How can persons with a disability travel internationally with comfort and ease when he or she does not know the rules and regulations in regards to accessible transportation and accommodations of the country he or she wishes to visit? Let me give you a few examples that a traveler with a disability encounters.


The traveler with a disability travelling by air faces three problems.

  1. The inconsistency of accessible air service by air carriers
  2. The problem of code sharing
  3. The difference of delivered services by air carriers.

1. The Inconsistency of Accessible Air Service by Air Carriers

U.S. and Canadian citizens have no trouble flying to a foreign destination using U.S and Canadian air carriers. A problem can arise when using a foreign air carrier. There is no way of knowing if accessible air service is available for the traveler with a disability.
Another problem occurs upon arrival. Many countries do not require domestic operated airlines to offer accessible air travel within their own country because of cost or other factors. Britain is an example. There is no way a traveler with a disability would know how to travel by air in the country that he or she has chosen to visit.

2. The Problem of Code Sharing

This is the second problem for the traveler with a disability. Under code sharing, there is no way to guarantee that accessible transportation. The U.S. Department of Transportation states:

The number of Americans with disabilities who travel internationally is increasing. Because ACAA applies to U.S. domestic carriers, passengers on international flights of foreign air carriers operating within the United States often experience discrimination in the form of inaccessible facilities and lack of reasonable accommodations such as wheelchair assistance. Foreign carriers, operating in the U.S. market must be required to comply with the same laws as U.S. carriers in providing air travel to the American public. The ACAA should be amended to include foreign carriers within its scope, and the necessary international agreements should be developed or revised to reflect these legal obligations.

3. The Difference of Delivered Services by Air Carriers

  • Traveling With An Attendant

  • U.S. air carriers charge both, the passenger with a disability and traveling attendant full fare. Canadian domestic airlines and Australian domestic airlines charge the passenger full fare but the attendant goes at a reduced rate. Proof of disability is required.
  • The Need For Oxygen

  • U.S. air carriers have a charge in providing oxygen for each leg of the trip. Air Canada provides a "Medipak" for an additional charge. Other airlines may have their own policies on travel with oxygen.

How does a traveler with a disability know how to travel by air when from one country to another when the rules and regulations on accessibility vary from one country to another and from one air carrier to another?


Arranging international rail travel for a traveler with a disability poses another problem. In the U.S.A, Amtrak requires both the travelers with a disability and his or her escort to pay full fare. VIA Rail Canada states that an escort traveling with a person who has a disability, can travel free in the economy class. Even in Britain, both a person, who is visually impaired, and his or her companion can receive a 30-50% discount from full fares. And persons traveling their own wheelchair are entitled to the same privilege.
How does one arrange for international travel via rail if the rules of accessibility are different?
How can a person, traveling from a foreign country, know that such benefits exist?


Greyhound U.S.A and Greyhound Canada both offer similar service to persons with a disability. Therefore one can travel in relative comfort within the U.S.A. or Canada. The same cannot be said of bus travel in Britain. National Express, a company similar to Greyhound, has informed me that the company has no accessible coaches and will not have any for the foreseeable future. Here again the international traveler is at a loss to travel and visit Britain by not knowing the inaccessibility of British bus system before they start out on their journey. And I am unaware of the accessibility of national bus companies in other countries.
How is traveler to know the accessibility of over-the-road vehicles in the country they wish to visit?


This is the most difficult part in planning international travel for persons with a disability. Even the countries that have enacted rules and regulations or codes of practice have difficulty meeting the needs of persons with a disability. The international wheelchair logo does not denote the degree of accessibility nor does it denote if accessibility is available for other forms of disability. Every person's needs are different. A room may be accessible for the wheelchair guest but inaccessible if a roll-in shower is needed and it is not so equipped. A room may be accessible for a wheelchair guest but not for the visually or hearing impaired guest. And many facilities, in foreign destinations, cannot be made accessible.

How is the traveler able to know what facilities are accessible according to the form of his or her disability before beginning his or her journey?


Millions of people visit places of interest in foreign destinations by way of motorcoach tours. Everything is planned for them from transportation, admittance to places of interest, accommodations and dining. But for the traveler with a disability, the chance to participate in the same almost does not exist. Motorcoach operators come under a class unique unto itself. In the U.S.A., the ADA Act does not apply to motorcoach tour operators. In Canada, some motorcoach tour operators have added accessible vehicles to their fleet. In Britain, motorcoach tour operators are non-existent among regular tour operators. However, a few companies do specialize only for the handicap. Even in Israel, only one specialized company offers accessible tours for the traveler with a disability. And a number of tour operators in Australia are offering specialized tours for persons with disabilities.

How is a person with a disability able to enjoy visiting a foreign destination by motorcoach if access is denied because of lack of suitable transportation? Or must one use the services of a specialized tour operator?




I am aware that discrimination cannot be removed from all forms of disability. For example, traveling with a service animal. Countries, such as Britain, requires that service dogs entering Britain be quarantined. And this is understandable. But there are barriers that exist that can be standardized to make travel easier for the traveler with a disability.

  1. I would recommend that the nations of the world convene so that a common standard of accessibility could be set for air travel, rail travel, bus travel, motorcoach tours and accommodations in regards to the following.
  • The wheelchair traveler
  • The deaf or hearing impaired traveler
  • The blind or visually impaired traveler
  • How to travel with an attendant or escort
  • Standardization of how to travel with oxygen.
  1. I would recommend that this convention study legislation against discrimination from the countries that have enacted such legislation.
  2. I would recommend that all the countries consider enacting a common Bill of Rights for the traveler with a disability with the same rules and regulations for accessibility in regards to transportation and accommodations.
  3. I would recommend that the international wheelchair logo, to denote disability, be expanded to include the blind or visually impaired and the deaf or hearing impaired. This would apply both to transportation and accommodations. The Code of Practice issued by the Canadian Transportation Agency in regards to air travel displays three pictographs.
    • The wheelchair passenger.
    • The visually impaired passenger
    • The hearing impaired passenger.
  1. I would recommend that each cooperating country publish a common brochure with the same rules and regulations so that the travel will be consistent for the traveler with a disability no matter how or where he or she wishes to travel.

If a commonality of rules and regulations or codes of practice among nations were adopted, then, if the question should arise:

Is International Travel Accessible For Persons With A Disability? The answer would be YES.




For the preparation of this position paper, my thanks go to the following.


The United States Government:

  • The Air Carriers Access Act 1986
  • The Americans With Disabilities Act 1990
  • U.S. Department of Transportation:
  • New Horizons For The Air Traveler With A Disability.
  • America West Airlines: Tips For Passengers With Special Needs.
  • Northwest Airlines: Air Travel For People With Disabilities.
  • United Airlines: Air Travel Tip - Passengers With Disabilities.
  • Amtrak: Access Amtrak
  • Greyhound U.S.A.:
  • Greyhound Travel Policies.
  • Travel Information For Passengers With Disabilities.


  • The Government of Canada :
  • The Canadian Transportation Act 1996.
  • The Canadian Human Rights Act 1976-77.
  • The Canadian Transportation Agency:
  • Fly Smart
  • On The Move: Improving Access For Travelers With Disabilities.
  • On The Move: Air Accessibility Regulations
  • Taking Charge of the Air Travel Experience- A Guide for Persons with Disabilities.
  • Transport Canada: Access For All.
  • Canada Tourism.
  • The Canadian Human Rights Commission.
  • Air Canada: We Have Special Services For Special Needs.
  • Canadian Airlines: Accessible Skies.
  • Greyhound Canada.
  • Via Rail Canada: Services For Passengers With Special Needs.
  • Marine Atlantic Ferries: Special Assistance.
  • BC Ferries: Special Facilities.
  • Access Canada: Accommodating Seniors And People With Disabilities.
  • The Government of Great Britain:
  • The Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
  • Air Transport Users Council:
  • Care In The Air-Advice For Disabled Travellers.
  • Office of the Rail Regulator:
  • Meeting the Needs of Disabled Passengers.
  • The Association of Train Operating Companies:
  • Rail Travel For The Disabled
  • The British Tourist Authority: Visit Britain
  • Scotland: Tourism For All- Providing Service For All.
  • Wales: Discovering Accessible Wales.
  • Northern Ireland ; An Information Guide To Accessible Accommodations.
  • The Government Of Australia:
  • The Disability Discrimination Act 1992.
  • The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission:
  • Disability Rights.
  • The Australian Tourist Commission:
  • Facts for the Visitor - Disabled Visitors.
  • Australian Transport Council:
  • Disability Standards For Accessible Transportation with Guidelines.

  • For great resources on Accessible Travel, visit Fred's Accessible Travel Bookshop at:

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