Vancouver's former mayor, Sam Sullivan, is keenly aware of accessibility issues, having been a quadriplegic since breaking his neck in a skiing accident at age 19. He founded several nonprofit organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life for travelers with disabilities throughout North America. However, even before Sam Sullivan, Vancouver was working to improve accessibility.
According to We're Accessible, a newsletter for travelers with disabilities, Vancouver is "the most accessible city in the world." There are more than 14,000 sidewalk wheelchair ramps, and motorized wheelchairs are a common sight in the downtown area. The stairs along Robson Square have built-in ramps, and most major attractions and venues have ramps or level walkways for easy access. Most Vancouver hotels have at least partial wheelchair accessibility; many have specially equipped rooms for travelers with disabilities. Most SkyTrain stations and the SeaBus are wheelchair accessible, and most bus routes are lift-equipped. For further information about accessible public transportation, contact Translink (tel. 604/953-3333; www.translink.ca).
Many Vancouver hotels are also equipping rooms with visual smoke alarms and other facilities for hearing-impaired guests, while many crosswalks are now outfitted with beeping alerts to guide visually impaired pedestrians.
Victoria is similarly accessible. Nearly all Victoria hotels have rooms equipped to accommodate travelers with disabilities, and downtown sidewalks are equipped with ramps, though few intersections have beeping crosswalk signals for the visually impaired. The Victoria Regional Transit System (tel. 250/382-6161) has a downloadable Guide to Accessible Transit Services on its website, www.transitbc.com, which includes information on which bus routes are equipped with lifts and/or low floors. The most notable spot in Victoria that isn't readily wheelchair accessible is the promenade along the water's edge in the Inner Harbour, which has only one rather challenging ramp near the Pacific Undersea Gardens.
The government of Canada hosts a comprehensive Persons with Disabilities website (www.accesstotravel.gc.ca) with resources for travelers with disabilities. In addition to information on public transit in cities across Canada, the site also lists accessible campsites, parks, coach lines, and a number of links to other services and associations of interest to travelers with disabilities. If you can't find what you need online, call tel. 800/926-9105.
Outside of Canada, organizations that offer a vast range of resources and assistance to travelers with disabilities include MossRehab (tel. 800/CALL-MOSS [800/225-5667]; www.mossresourcenet.org); the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB; tel. 800/232-5463; www.afb.org); and SATH (Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality; tel. 212/447-7284; www.sath.org). AirAmbulanceCard.com is now partnered with SATH and allows you to preselect top-notch hospitals in case of an emergency.
Access-Able Travel Source (tel. 303/232-2979; www.access-able.com) offers a comprehensive database on travel agents from around the world with experience in accessible travel; destination-specific access information; and links to such resources as service animals, equipment rentals, and access guides.
Many travel agencies offer customized tours and itineraries for travelers with disabilities. Among them are Flying Wheels Travel (tel. 507/451-5005; www.flyingwheelstravel.com) and Accessible Journeys (tel. 800/846-4537 or 610/521-0339; www.disabilitytravel.com).
Flying with Disability (www.flying-with-disability.org) is a comprehensive information source on airplane travel. Avis Rent a Car (tel. 888/879-4273) has an "Avis Access" program that offers services for customers with special travel needs. These include specially outfitted vehicles with swivel seats, spinner knobs, and hand controls; mobility scooter rentals; and accessible bus service. Be sure to reserve well in advance.
Also check out the quarterly magazine Emerging Horizons (www.emerginghorizons.com), available by subscription ($17 per year in the U.S.; $22 per year outside the U.S.). The "Accessible Travel" link at Mobility-Advisor.com (www.mobility-advisor.com) offers a variety of travel resources to travelers with disabilities.
British travelers should contact Holiday Care (tel. 0845/124-9971 in the U.K.; www.tourismforall.org.uk) to access a wide range of travel information and resources for elderly people and individuals with disabilities.
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.