On your way

It's time to go! You will soon be at your destination. Let's review a number of issues that can arise along the way, beginning with your ride to the terminal.

You can check ahead for information on parking areas, drop-off and pick-up areas, and other accessible services. Terminals provide this information by phone and on their Web sites. You should plan your ride well ahead, selecting from options that include a private car, a taxi or a shuttle bus.

If you arrive by private vehicle, you can expect to find a convenient drop-off near the door. But of course, many other people will also try to get as close to the building as possible, so you may face congestion and delay. There may be a traffic control officer who can guide you safely to the drop-off point. As well, if you choose to park at the terminal, there should be accessible parking nearby.

Be aware of your transportation company's check-in time to give yourself enough time to get there, so that you're not in a last-minute rush to check in and board. Most companies allow persons with disabilities to board ahead of the crowd. Also give yourself some extra time if you need help to get through the terminal and to transfer to another mobility aid.

Moving through the terminal

Getting from the terminal entrance to the boarding area can be a voyage in itself. Boarding areas may be far away. Many terminals publish maps of their interiors on their Web sites so you can chart your own course ahead of time.

There may be long lines at check-in counters and security checkpoints. If you can't stand for long periods, you can ask for an alternative such as a chair while you wait your turn. The terminal is also expected to provide seating in and between entrance and boarding areas for people who find it difficult to stand in lines or move around.

1. Finding help

Inside larger terminals, you will probably find a help desk near the entrance where you can get information and help. Some terminals may have automated information kiosks or information dispensers. These are expected to be usable by travellers with disabilities.

If you had arranged for a friend or family member to help you get through the terminal ahead of time, your transportation company will give your escort a temporary pass through secure zones.

Checking in

When you check in, confirm that you will receive the services you requested when you bought your ticket. If you had asked your transportation company to detail the arrangements in writing, bring the document with you in case anything isn't clearly understood by the staff at the counter.

You can ask the staff to help you through the terminal all the way to your seat on board. If you have a service animal, ask to be guided to an area where it can relieve itself, if necessary.

1. Mobility aids

If you use a power wheelchair or other mobility aid, your transportation company may need time to prepare it properly for the trip. Somewhere between check-in and boarding, you may need to transfer to a boarding wheelchair. You can ask to delay this as long as possible, and, if necessary, ask for help to make your way to the boarding gate. You may ask how your mobility aid will be secured and stored on board.

A railway may ask you to transfer to a smaller wheelchair if your mobility aid won't fit into the rail car. Trains also have limited wheelchair tie-downs, and not all trains have baggage cars to store your mobility aid. You might have to transfer to a seat, or take another train if your chair is too large. These are reasons why you would be wise to ask how the railway can meet your needs well before you travel.

2. Security screening

You may have to go through a security screening process depending on the type of travel. Screening officers may want to see your boarding pass, and they may ask to see prescriptions if you bring your medications on board. Keep your passport, boarding pass, prescriptions and any other additional documents close at hand.

In Canadian airports, it is the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) officers who screen passengers entering the secure zones and boarding areas. For more information see Section VII: Useful information sources.

Note: Wider mobility aids may not fit through screening areas, and some passengers with disabilities must avoid metal detectors. There may be special procedures for service animals. Screening may involve being searched by hand by a screening officer. You can ask that this be done in a place away from public view.

Boarding

Transportation companies typically offer travellers with disabilities a time to board before the other passengers. This ensures you have the time you need to settle into your seat before the rush of passengers. If you wish to pre-board and have an invisible disability, identify yourself to an employee since they might be unaware of your needs.

On board, you can ask for help to find your seat and to transfer into and out of it. As always, it is best if you have requested this help ahead of time so that the company is ready to assist you. You can also ask for help to put away and retrieve your carry-on baggage.

If you travel with a service animal, the transportation company should seat you in a row with enough space for your animal to lie down.

Note: There are safety regulations that do not allow certain travellers to be assigned emergency exit row seats. For example, children, pregnant women and passengers with disabilities and service animals cannot be assigned emergency exit row seats.

1. Air

In general, larger airports use a covered ramp, called a bridge, between the terminal building and the aircraft cabin. At some airports, passengers must go outside and use a staircase to board the aircraft. If you need help or cannot use stairs, you should let your transportation company know when you make your reservation. As an alternative to stairs, some airports may use a mechanical lift or carry you by hand onto the airplane.

Many seat armrests along the aisle are moveable to make it easier to get in or out of the row of seats. Sometimes the armrests are latched in place. You can ask for help from the cabin crew.

2. Rail

If you request assistance at least 48 hours before your travel, the railway will help you at the ticket counter and to get on the train, including navigating stairs or step boxes on the platform. Lifts are also available at some stations.

Larger stations usually have a crewmember available to help you if you made a request ahead of time. Smaller railway stations may have only one employee, or even none. You may need to get from the terminal to the platform on your own if you haven't made arrangements ahead of time.

In the passenger car, some aisle seats may have moveable armrests to make it easier to get into and out of seats.

3. Ferries

Ferries often have two or more decks that are connected by staircases. Some have wheelchair-accessible elevators, but not all do. There may also be times when large waves roll the ship and make the elevator unsafe to use. You can ask the crew at any time for help.

4. Buses

Many buses have lifts or ramps for boarding and can allow you to travel with your mobility aid. Other buses have low-level floors which allow access from the curb, but some buses do not have any boarding devices. In some cases, a traveller may have to transfer to a boarding chair provided by the bus company.

If you need help, it is best to let the transportation company know at least 48 hours before your travel. The transportation company will ensure that an accessible bus service that meets your needs is provided. You can also ask that the company help you get from the ticket counter, through the terminal and onto the bus.

Getting there

1. Announcements

Once you've settled into your space, take a moment to find a briefing card with safety information. Most transportation companies will provide a safety demonstration before departure. Anyone with a disability can request a personal safety briefing. It's a good idea to do this when you make your reservation. You can also ask that the employees keep you informed about announcements regarding weather, delays, baggage retrieval, and connections.

2. Meals or snacks

The on-board crew can offer limited help with meals or snacks. They can describe the choice of food and how it is laid out on a tray, pour salad dressing and other liquids, open packages and cut food.

3. Washrooms

All washrooms are expected to be accessible for travellers with disabilities, with grab bars, call buttons and other amenities. Not all washrooms have enough room for persons using their own wheelchairs. Some washrooms can accommodate on-board wheelchairs while others cannot and it may be necessary to pivot on your own using the grab bars. Ask ahead of time what kind of washroom you will find on board.

4. Medical equipment

If you travel with medical equipment such as respirators or ventilators with power supplies, ask your transportation company what its policies are as there may be restrictions.

You may be able to bring personal oxygen equipment on board, such as a portable oxygen concentrator or oxygen cylinder. Some companies may provide a personal oxygen supply while you travel. Ask ahead of time about the charges and conditions that may apply to your requested service.

5. Mobility aids

All rail passenger trains should be equipped with at least one on-board wheelchair that can access all the cars on the train. As well, all passenger trains should offer at least one wheelchair tie-down in a coach car with a wheelchair-accessible washroom.

Rail cars and ferries often have lounges and cafeterias where you can relax and dine. You can expect to find at least one table accessible to persons using a wheelchair. You may have to use an on-board wheelchair if space is limited.

6. Sleeping accommodation

Overnight trains and ferries offer accommodations for travellers who use wheelchairs. The rooms usually include a washroom big enough for a wheelchair to get in and out easily.

On arrival

You've arrived at your destination. Now it's time to gather your baggage and head towards the exit of the terminal building. You can ask the staff to help you from your seat through the terminal all the way to the exit. You can also ask to be guided to an area where your service animal can relieve itself.

Many large communities have a variety of accessible transportation such as taxis, buses and rental cars, whereas smaller communities may offer fewer choices. The best bet is to have arranged your ride ahead of time.

1. Mobility aids

Your mobility aid should be returned to you at your destination in the same condition as when you checked it in. If your mobility aid is lost or damaged, the transportation company is expected to provide you with a suitable temporary replacement until either it finds your aid, repairs or replaces it. The company is also expected to pay for any replacements or repairs. It is best to report damage to your mobility aid before leaving the terminal, otherwise it may be difficult to establish that the damage was done by the transportation company.

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