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Travelling with a disability

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Increasing numbers of people with disability are travelling both within and outside Australia. Travelling with disability is possible and achievable with the right amount of planning and preparation.

In Australia, service providers, such as airlines and airports, are required to provide services for people with a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act (1992). However, accessibility regulations vary throughout the world and travelling overseas with a disability can take some extra forward planning.

Planning your trip

The types of things you should consider when planning your trip will depend on your individual needs. Speak to your travel agent, hotel, airline or cruise company about the services during your trip and at your destination.

Some of the things you might consider are:

  • the accessibility of the airport/s and aircraft you are travelling on, including the availability of aerobridges
  • the airline's policies, such as assistance that cabin crew are allowed to provide and whether electric wheelchairs may be checked in   
  • the accessibility of transport
  • accommodation at your destination
  • the standard and availability of health care at your destination
  • the general infrastructure conditions of the country you are visiting, for example, roads and footpaths
  • what facilities and assistance is available in an emergency.

Booking your trip

Book well in advance and tell the reservations person about your disability – be specific about any assistance you may need. If you use a wheelchair, make sure you mention this at booking as most airlines have a limit on the number of wheelchairs they can carry in the cabin (usually one or two).

Check the service provider has a record of your requests 24-48 hours before you arrive.

If you get stuck, consider speaking to a specialist travel agent experienced in booking travel for people with a disability.

Travel insurance

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you depart to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation.

The Australian Government won't pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. This can be very expensive and cost you many thousands of dollars upfront.

Confirm:

  • what circumstances and activities are and aren't covered under your policy
  • that you're covered for the whole time you'll be away.

Your physical and mental health

Consider your physical and mental health before travelling, particularly if you have an existing medical condition.

At least eight weeks before you depart, see your doctor for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and implications for your health.

Be specific when discussing your travel plans with your doctor. Discuss measures for coping with travel, including long plane journeys and limited access to medical facilities at your destination. 

Read our travel advice and check with the embassies in the countries you're visiting to confirm the standard and availability of medical care.

The World Health Organization recommends you carry the name and contact details of your doctor, and information about your medical conditions and treatment.

At the airport

Some airports provide support staff to help people with disabilities through the check-in and boarding process. Speak to your airline about what services are provided at the airport. 

Arrive early to allow sufficient time to check-in and pass through security.

If you have assistive equipment, get a gate check tag during check in. This tag lets ground crew know to bring your equipment to the gate when your plane arrives, rather than to the baggage claim area.

People with disabilities must undergo the same security screening as other passengers. Security will also examine any assistive equipment you have with you.

More information: Travellers with a disability (Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority)

Accommodation

Information on access is not always provided on accommodation websites or hotel booking applications. Check with your accommodation provider to find out what accessibility options your accommodation has, including images if necessary.

While you're away

Keep in contact with family and friends in Australia with updates about your welfare and whereabouts.

For information on who you should contact if you get into trouble, see Where to get help.

Medication

Not all medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia are available in other countries. Some may even be considered illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor.

Take prescription medicine with you and carry enough medication and medical items for the entire duration of your trip. Always carry a copy of your prescription or a letter from your doctor stating what the medication is, how much you take and that it's for personal use only.

Before you leave Australia:

  • check whether your medication is legal in each country you're travelling to
  • get medical documents authenticated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade before your depart (if required).

More information: Prescription medicines 

Assistance animals

You will need to get approval to travel with an assistance animal on an airline. Notify the airline of your intention to travel as soon as possible.

You may also be required to demonstrate that your assistance animal has been trained.

More information: Travelling with assistance animals (Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority)

Where to get help

Depending on what you need, your best option may be to first contact your family, friends, travel agent, travel insurance provider, employer or airline. Your travel insurance should have a 24-hour emergency number.

Read our travel advice for your destination for the contact information of local emergency services and the Australian embassy, consulate or high commission.

Additional resources