A Guide to Ableism: Travel Edition – Part I

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Ableism is a term much like racism or sexism; it is defined as discrimination against people with disabilities that is in favor of the able-bodied population. Ableism is alive and well; whether it is obvious or subtle, purposeful or unintentional, ableism is etched into every aspect of life. This includes traveling; Ableism is intertwined within and through every aspect that an adventure brings.


Ableism starts from even before one’s traveling begins, even before the traveler heads out their door. The disabled are perceived as a group that stays home, does not participate in society and certainly does not venture out on any traveling excursions. However, this could not be any further from the truth; many people with disabilities – just like people without disabilities – love to and do travel. In fact, people with disabilities account for $17 billion of the annual travel market.

Even with how active people with disabilities are within the travel market, the amenities associated with traveling are greatly lacking when it comes to accessibility needs.


Transportation is an important piece of the traveling puzzle. When traveling, people can use their own cars, but in many cases, people resort to another mode of transportation. However, for travelers with disabilities, when coordinating the travel web of transportation, Ableism often arises.  

Trains and Subways

When traveling, trains and subways are an amazing resource. But, unfortunately, due to age and ignorance, many stations are not accessible to every traveler. And even when stations are accessible, people cannot always rely on these accessible stations to provide access due to broken elevators and streets being under construction.

An example of a system rot with Ableism is the New York City subway system; only one in five stations is accessible. This forces the traveler, who cannot access all stations, to walk many blocks out of their way to simply find an accessible station, or rely on the heavily crowded bus system that slowly wades through the parking lot of heavily laden New York City streets.

Taxis and Shared Economy Cars

Taxis and other shared economy cars like Uber are another highly used mode of transportation; they are loved because they provide specific – – rather than fixed – – transportation routes. Unfortunately, these transportation industries have very few accessible vehicles or they do not have any at all. A common excuse is that a type of paratransit is provided for people with disabilities.

Unfortunately, paratransit is not only inconvenient to the daily user, but is pretty much not accessible at all to the traveler. Paratransit requires an application process, with a doctor’s note and appointment in advance. Even if travelers with disabilities had the time to complete this process, paratransit may deny their request nor would paratransit be able to provide a traveler’s complete travel needs.


Planes are an incredible travel resource; travelers can get to their travel destination so much quicker on a plane than any other mode of transportation. However, when flying, there is a fear that many people who travel with mobility aids carry with them as they fly to that destination. But it is not the actual fear of flying, it is a fear of their mobility aid being broken somewhere in the line of transit and then being stranded on the other end.

The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 was supposed to protect the rights of travelers with disabilities when they flew; this act guarantees some sort of access to traveling via plane to travelers with disabilities but does not keep the airline from being ill-equipped and negligent toward a traveler’s livelihood. The faulty piece of this act is that it does not call for any preventative measures but does hold the airline responsible for damages. The traveler with disabilities must go through a lengthy process of paperwork and red tape and then wait for their mobility device to be replaced or repaired (which can take months). People’s “legs” are being broken by the airline at a very costly price. For more information check out this article HERE.

Another concern, for a person who uses a custom-made wheelchair, is when sitting in an airplane seat; this can not only be uncomfortable but can be detrimental to one’s health. Poor circulation and being prone to pressure sores is not paired well with sitting in an airplane seat for multiple hours. It would be incredible for many travelers who use a wheelchair to be able to drive their chair right onto the plane and sit in comfort during their flight. This would not only prevent health related risks but would also decrease costly damages that the airline is currently causing.

Stay tuned for part II of this blog post and learn about the Ableism that lives within lodging and Attractions when traveling throughout the globe.