Disabled Traveling in the US: A Guide

The USA has made a lot of progress on considering handicapped travelers. Nowadays, there is easier access for people with disabilities when traveling in America. Almost all buildings in America now have wheelchair access. The best parking slots are now reserved for drivers with disabilities. Elevators now have braille signs. And even television shows now have hearing impaired captions.

The good news is that the travel industry is now providing better accommodation and services for disabled people, including those with psychological disorders. For example, some have Dyscalculia (dyscalculia meaning: it is a brain disorder). Many shuttle services that travel from the airport to hotels may ask if the shuttles provide disabled access.

Luckily, traveling to the US is now easier, thanks to a program that waives ones visa.


The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is a US government requirement when travelers come from countries that implement the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

The ESTA is an automated system that determines if people were wanting to travel to the US are eligible to travel. However, the ESTA does not mean that a person is admissible to the US.

The ESTA process involves collecting your biographic information and other eligibility requirements. The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers determine a person’s admissibility upon the arrival of a person.

It is recommended that travelers should apply for the ESTA as soon as they prepare travel plans or purchase airline tickets. A payment of $14 is required for the ESTA certification.


Passengers from ESTA eligible countries could sign up for as early as August 2008. The authorization has been become mandatory ever since January 12, 2009.

If you have been screened already, passengers may use the ESTA approval for two years.

Currently, there are 38 countries require the Visa Waiver Program.


The US Government recommends an advice of 72 hours in advance before travelling to the United States. The submission should be submitted online, as suggested.

However, online application is not a requirement. In fact, majority of applications are approved in less than one minute. But for travelers who are not eligible for visa-waived travel, he still needs to apply for an interview schedule for a visa at the local US embassy.

As stated before, the ESTA application lasts for two years. In any case the traveler changes name, gender, or citizenship, or changes passport, the traveler still needs to obtain a new ESTA authorization.


Communicate ahead of time. Terminals in the United States are usually required to accommodate disabled travelers. However, necessary arrangements must be made so that airlines can accommodate you. Clearly communicate to the airline staff 24 to 48 hours before your scheduled arrival for confirmation of assistance and accommodation.

Be detailed. When describing a companion’s disability, be very detailed and clear. If possible, use layman’s terms about conditions, standard operating procedures, or medical jargon if possible. This is because not all flight staff are familiar with the more technical terms. It’s best to be as specific as you can regarding your condition, outlining your can dos and cannot dos, while realistically describing your condition. Clarity is key to your comfortable travel, and being detailed is how you accomplish it.

Ask for a prescription. Upon check-up, communicate to your doctor your travelling intentions. Be very detailed describing your plans for the trip so that your doctor knows what to advise. Doctors can usually give you measures and prescriptions for long flights.

Prepare your doctor’s note. It is best if you carry a statement from your doctor whenever you travel. It should contain details about your condition, complications, medication and special needs. Make sure your doctor signs it. Also have a copy of your doctor’s number in case of an emergency situation.

Pack extra medicine. Always make sure to have extra medicine when you travel. One emergency package of your essential medication is fine, two is probably a safe bet. Make sure to store all your emergency medicine in an accessible location in your travel bag. Make sure your travelling companions know where your medicine in stashed in case of an emergency.

Research about physicians in the area. Weeks before the scheduled travel, research about the physicians native or near the area. If possible, even drop them an email or call to communicate your need. Your doctor, health care provider, or embassy may also provide you with some physicians in that area.

Special travel agencies. For a smoother travel experience, availing the services of a special travel agency could be an option. Some travel agencies have agents that are trained in dealing with travelers with disabilities.

Do not book connecting flights. Direct routes will save the disabled from time and travel, and it usually will save you from all the hassle of getting on and off flights.  However, this can be overlooked if the disabled passenger gets uncomfortable during long traveling times.