Traveling With A Disabled Spouse

Steve and Jo Lynn Deal

Steve and Jo Lynn Deal

Much has been written about handicapped travel, but there’s not much about traveling with the disabled. This was brought to my attention by a reader of Traveling With Wrinkles whose husband recently became wheelchair bound. Both in their early 70’s, they traveled constantly and chose very active vacations, all of which came to a grinding halt after his diagnosis.

I thought there were lots of options until I saw a Facebook post by my friend Jo Lynn Deal whose husband Steve is quadriplegic. She mentioned that they were vacationing in Boston and really wanted to see the, “Cheers” bar. But the steep stairs, which like the TV show descended into the basement bar, were prohibitive. There was no possible way to get a wheelchair there.

Things you never think about, unless you need to – Problems we might all face as we age.

“Historical sites are the most challenging”, says Deal. The cobblestone streets of Charleston for example, are quaint for the rest of us, but not so much when you are trying to move a wheelchair across the bumpy pavement. Even getting a seat in a restaurant can be challenging. Only a table will do. A booth won’t work and the wait can be long and that’s only if you can get into the restaurant. Without a ramp, sometimes that’s impossible.

On a trip to Alaska, Steve ended up with a middle seat on the plane, which was very uncomfortable for him. The airline was not very accommodating and refused to put him in the bulkhead. Their answer to the problem – free drinks! As if plowing them with booze would make the situation better.

The Deal’s are advocates for change, but change comes slowly. And since Jo Lynn knows that, she tries to address every possible issue before they travel. On their 10th anniversary, they planned a trip to Las Vegas. When they arrived at the hotel, they discovered that even though she asked far in advance and checked several times before they arrived, there was no space under the bed to put a special lift that would assist Steve getting in and out of bed. Whoever booked it wasn’t paying attention and thought they needed wheelchair accessibility which, as it turned out, couldn’t be accommodated there either.

Steve Deal wrote a handicapped travel guide to Daytona Beach which was very well received by those who need it most. It brought lots of people to the area with a variety of disabilities because they knew where they could – and couldn’t go. It’s an idea whose time has come and this type of brochure should be available at every major destination.

Jo Lynn’s says cruise ships are the best place to travel for those with special needs. The City of Vancouver, Canada, where they have special elevators from the subway, also gets high marks for accessibility.

If you are the able bodied spouse of someone with special needs, here are some tips from Jo Lynn. For the caregiver’s part, determine your needs, and then speak with hotels and airlines directly to ensure they will have the proper equipment when you arrive. Know that as the caregiver, you have to plan ahead more than most people, but doing so will make the entire trip more pleasurable. Don’t show up and expect to be accommodated.

As for hotels, restaurants and airlines, Deal recommends they take a few hours and train employees how to deal with someone who needs special assistance. It’s not just a matter of having a handicapped room available because needs go beyond that. Also, hotel managers might consider offering a caregiver’s package that would allow the able bodied spouse a few hours to go to a spa, shopping or a special tour while their spouse is being looked after at the hotel. Properties looking for additional revenue should take a close look at promoting travel for the disabled. It’s an untapped source of revenue.

And the next time you are put off by the person parking in the handicapped zone, don’t complain. Instead thank your lucky stars you aren’t the one who needs it.

Jo Lynn Deal is the founder of My Marketing Café, which coaches, inspires and supports small business. Find her at,

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