Most disabilities shouldn't stop anyone from traveling. There are more options and resources out there than ever before.
Inside Israel, there's been a slow but ongoing effort to provide access for visitors with disabilities -- even at sites famed for their inaccessibility, such as Masada. Atop the dramatic plateau of Masada, a new network of wheelchair-accessible pathways was completed in 2000. At least some trails in a number of Israel's national parks and nature reserves (www.parks.org.il) have been made wheelchair accessible over the past few years. In addition to Masada, other national parks and sites with special-access facilities include Ashkelon National Park, Gamla Nature Reserve, and the Hula Reserve, as well as the Knights Hall in Akko. National parks and sites that will have some amount of special-access provisions by 2009 include: Zippori, Tel Hai, the Soreq Stalactite Cave, and the Ein Fasha Beach at The Dead Sea. Street crossings and public restrooms throughout the country rarely offer easy access. Some institutions located in difficult sites, such as the Israel Museum and Jerusalem Cinémathèque, have provisions for handicap access, but you must call in advance to be able to use these facilities.
Access in Israel: A Guide for People Who Have Difficulty Getting Around, by Gordon Couch, in cooperation with the Pauline Hephaistos Survey Project, published by Quiller Press, is an invaluable guide to special needs accessibility conditions in airports, hotels, restaurants, parks, museums, and other sites in Israel. Sights in places such as Jerusalem's Old City are arranged according to location, so you can easily plan what places you want to visit in a given area. Note, however, that it does not rate all hotels, restaurants, and sites, and in a few instances, as new access projects have been completed, this edition is already out-of-date. Access in Israel can be ordered by contacting the Access Project (39 Bradley Gardens, West Ealing, London, W13 8HE, United Kingdom; firstname.lastname@example.org). There is no charge, but a contribution of $15 (£7.50) is welcome to cover mailing costs. This book is not offered for sale and is only obtainable by contacting the Access Project.
In 2004, the Israeli Association for the Advancement of Accessibility, in cooperation with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, published a more current and thorough book, Access Unlimited: Your Guide to Israel, by Dr. Judith Bendel, Zvi Gur, and Ariel Kalkuda. A complete labor of love, written by Israelis who know their country well, this book is extensive, professional, and savvy. I cannot praise this book too highly. Assessments for blind and visually impaired travelers are included. Entries are alphabetical, rather than by location, which makes it necessary to have a working knowledge of the neighborhood or area you are visiting. At present, this book can be obtained without charge through the Israel Ministry of Tourism in your region well in advance of your trip. For more information, go to the Access Unlimited website at www.access-unlimited.co.il, or fax 972-9-7650-430.
One caveat: There are a few errors in both these books. An example: In Access Unlimited, the pool at the Sheraton Moriah Tel Aviv Hotel is listed as accessible, when in fact a narrow spiral staircase presently in use makes access unusually difficult. Those who make reservations at the Sheraton Moriah and hope to use the pool may find themselves disappointed. Although these editions are extremely helpful as planning tools, readers should call ahead to confirm and clarify all information.
Many travel agencies offer customized tours and itineraries for travelers with disabilities. Access-Able Travel Source (tel. 303/232-2979; www.access-able.com) offers extensive access information and advice for traveling around the world with disabilities.
Avis Rent a Car has an "Avis Access" program that offers such services as a 24-hour toll-free number (tel. 888/879-4273) for customers with special travel needs; special car features such as swivel seats, spinner knobs, and hand controls.
Organizations that offer assistance to travelers with disabilities include MossRehab (www.mossresourcenet.org), which provides a library of accessible-travel resources online; the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB; tel. 800/232-5463; www.afb.org), a referral resource for the blind or visually impaired that includes information on traveling with Seeing Eye dogs; and SATH (Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality; tel. 212/447-7284; www.sath.org; annual membership fees: $45 adults, $30 seniors and students), which offers a wealth of travel resources for all types of disabilities and informed recommendations on destinations, access guides, travel agents, tour operators, vehicle rentals, and companion services.
For more information specifically targeted to travelers with disabilities, the community website iCan (www.icanonline.net/channels/travel) has destination guides and several regular columns on accessible travel. Also check out the quarterly magazine Emerging Horizons (www.emerginghorizons.com; $14.95 per year, $19.95 outside the U.S.); and Open World magazine, published by SATH (subscription: $13 per year, $21 outside the U.S.).
Accessibility Assistance -- Yad Sarah (tel. 972/2-644-4633 from outside Israel; www.yadsarah.org) is Israel's largest voluntary organization. It lends medical equipment, crutches, and wheelchairs; arranges airport and intercity transportation; helps prepare and equip hotel rooms for special needs; and offers advice for travelers to Israel with special needs. All services are free, although deposits are required for equipment. Advance planning and reservations are required to get the most help from Yad Sarah, but it's also a great resource for sudden or last-minute emergencies.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.