Getting away for a relaxing vacation and a change of scenery is especially important for families with members who have special needs.

Exotic trips may have seemed mostly out of reach in the past, but as more and more locations increase their accessibility, planning such a getaway is often just a matter of a bit of extra research and planning.

If you’re considering a summer trip, here are some ideas to get you started.


Most major airlines offer special assistance for those in wheelchairs. This assistance often includes wheelchairs for use in the airport and for on board the plane, wheelchair-accessible lavatories, spinal and posture support during the flight, and mobile armrests for easier movement in and out of seats.

Airlines also often have resources for passengers with other special needs. For example, accommodations for autistic passengers may include pre-boarding. (Here’s a nice summary of services offered by a handful of major airlines for passengers with autism — JetBlue will sometimes even let autistic passengers check out an empty plane a few days before the flight.)

A safe bet is to call the airline’s customer support line to get all the accessibility details before you reserve your flight. Many airlines require that you request special assistance at least 48 hours in advance.


In addition to wheelchair accessible piers and boardwalks, those in wheelchairs can now also enjoy the beach from the sand, thanks to the increasing availability of beach wheelchairs with large, thick wheels designed specifically for dealing with the sand, sun and water. Less common than “beach wheels” but also increasing in popularity are “beach mats” – simply heavy rubber mats that go over the sand and up to the water, allowing those with mobility impairments to go up to the water without any additional equipment.

According to Frommer’s, the city of Hilton Head, South Carolina was one of the first to install these mats on several of its beaches. A few other locations Frommer’s mentions with beach mats are on South Padre Island and Ala Moana Regional Park in Honolulu, Hawaii, and several on Lake Michigan in the Chicago area.

If you’re considering a West Coast beach, the web site Wheeling Cal’s Coast lists accessible features such as visitor centers, bathrooms, beach wheelchairs and more by region and beach. The California State Parks web site also has a lot of information about state parks accessibility features for things like camping and hiking, not only for beaches but for all parks.

Overall, you can call ahead or inquire about possible beach wheelchairs and other at lifeguard stations.


If you want to relax at a beautiful resort, you have options.

One great one is the Resort at Squaw Creek in Lake Tahoe. Not only are many of the hotel’s features wheelchair accessible (front desk, fitness center, peepholes, climate controls, public restroom, sinks, vanities, closet poles and more), the resort employs a Disabled Access Ambassador can to help their guests with their individual needs finding their way around and planning the perfect activities.

If you’re looking to check out Hawaii, try the Turtle Bay Resort in Oahu. They feature plenty of handicapped accessible parking and their other wheelchair accessible features include all entrances, the conceirge desk, the pool entrance, all elevators, meeting rooms, spa room, fitness center, restaurants and much more.

In the mood for a cabin vacation? Try Golden Eagle Lodge in Minnesota. Two of their cabins are completely barrier free. They feature 8-foot-wide bathrooms with whirlpool tubs equipped with loading platforms and handheld showers, kitchens designed for use by those in wheelchairs with lowered cabinets and oven switches, and accessible pathways to private, accessible docks on the lake.

Other Vacation Ideas

Theme Parks

Disneyland, Disney World, Six Flags theme parks, Cedar Point theme parks, and Kings Island all offer certain accommodations for those with special needs. Just call them in advance to get the details. There’s even one amusement park in San Antonio called Morgan’s Wonderland that was built for kids with special needs.

National Parks

Yellowstone National Park and Denali National Park are among those with handicapped accessible trails.


Most major museums have some level of access for those with disabilities, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
For more ideas, including tours and historic sites, check out this blog post — and enjoy your summer!


Photo credit: Keoni Cabral / CC 2.0