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Wheelchair-Accessible Transportation

Wheelchair strapped to the back of a motor scooter.
Wheelchair strapped to the back of a motor scooter.

Problem-solve transportation issues in any country with the right information and an open mind.

Depending on where a traveler will stay, the availability of wheelchair-accessible taxis, buses, and public transport will vary dramatically. Some basic questions about what is common in that area, and what alternatives exist will help you think through the transportation options.

Transportation Tips

Check the schedules. Know the routes and hours of service for transportation services, such as whether accessible taxis run to the airport or are available at the hour needed for a flight.

Verify access to subways. If using the subway, be aware that some subways claiming to be accessible are actually only accessible at certain stops, so be sure to check that there is access at the destination and that the elevators are in working order.

Consult local people. Ask the local disability organizations or community for their insights into how to navigate transportation. Questions could include:

  • Do bus lifts and ramps consistently work or are they often broken?
  • When your program wants to rent private buses or vans for group travel, are there accessible options such as buses with lifts or manual ramps?
  • How can you get accessible parking permits?

Arrange a routine. Since “people-power” replaces adaptive equipment in many countries, find people who regularly travel on the same route who are willing to assist, as long as everyone is comfortable with this option. Some travelers call the same taxi driver on a regular basis throughout their stay. 

Assess the need. Be upfront and clear about what specifically is needed to access transportation.

  • No assistance
  • Assistance to transfer
  • Assistance lifting a wheelchair or other mobility device into vehicle
  • Uses sedan
  • Uses van/minivan
  • Can only use van/minivan with lift

Remember: A person who uses a walker or manual wheelchair will have different transportation options from a person who uses an electric wheelchair or scooter.

Get around like the locals. What is the most common form of transportation in the host community and can someone with a disability use it? Consider the following options:

  • Walking/rolling around town
  • Bicycle (including three wheel bicycle)
  • Scooter
  • Automobile
  • Public transport such as bus, streetcar, subway, or train
  • Boat, canoe, ferry
  • Horse, mule, camel
  • Cart, becek, tuktuk, passenger motorscooter, rickshaw

Remember that in many developing countries, private vehicles are rare. To get around, people tend to walk long distances or else ride motorscooters, rickshaws, horse-drawn carts, boats or public buses, many of which are not accessible to wheelchair users without assistance.

Questions to Ask

Does the community have accessible transportation on the main bus and train routes?

Does the community have transportation by accessible taxi? If so, how many and how long does someone have to wait for the accessible taxi after calling?

Does the community have accessible transportation by reservation only? What are the requirements to use or reserve it?

Can inaccessible transportation be used with assistance? Is there someone willing to assist?

Can everything be accessed within walking/rolling distance of major areas of activity?

Outdoor locations like a forest, a park, alleyway, or a beach may have rough and uneven spots, gravel, sand, potholes, or tree roots. Discuss whether, with assistance, getting around without transportation is workable. If in the case of sand or gravel, no matter how much help is offered, the mobility device may not work, then look into other options and assistive equipment for moving around in these situations.

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