Wheelchair user Elissa Fischer, 64, has ataxia, a brain disease that affects her speech, coordination and ability to walk. Nonetheless, the retired Floridian and her husband recently spent eight days exploring Iceland, the Nordic island nation known for its rugged landscape and challenging outdoor adventures. Their itinerary included taking a dip in the country’s famous Blue Lagoon. Fischer couldn’t have made such a trip without the help of Iceland Unlimited, a Reykjavik-based travel company that specializes in accessible tours.
Companies like Iceland Unlimited work hard to make travel accessible to people with all types of physical challenges, including those that come with age, such as less stamina and balance problems. They host their own tours to bucket-list destinations, focusing primarily on making travel easier and doable for their clients by carefully vetting hotels, restaurants and attractions to ensure truly accessible accommodations; using accessible vans with lifts to eliminate transportation issues; arranging for wheelchairs, scooters, walkers and other special medical equipment, as needed; securing accessible cabins on cruises, and more.
In addition to their guided tours, some also provide travel agency services, such as booking trips their clients want to take on their own — always focusing on their clients’ special needs.
Below is more information on Iceland Unlimited, as well as four other accessible-focused companies.
Easy Access Travel
Debra Kerper, a bilateral amputee, found few options when looking for travel experiences she could do given her disability, so she founded Easy Access Travel in 1995. Since then, the Carrollton, Texas–based company has hosted a variety of trips both on land and at sea. Plus, as a travel agency, it helps clients plan and book both domestic and international travel, with Hawaii and New England topping the list for U.S. getaways.
Kerper’s philosophy for serving her special client base is simple: “Eliminating surprises and informing clients of possible situations remain paramount for successful planning,” she says.
Just two of the many ways the company ensures client satisfaction are by using guides in each locale who are accustomed to working with special-needs travelers, and by following routes for various excursions that are specially designed to be easily navigated by wheelchair users. It currently has accessible staterooms set aside for an Alaskan cruise this summer and for a Mediterranean cruise in October, both with Royal Caribbean. Itineraries for 2023 are still in the works; check the site for updates.
Join today and save 43% off the standard annual rate. Get instant access to discounts, programs, services, and the information you need to benefit every area of your life.
Jón Gunnar Benjamínsson, a former tour guide, launched Iceland Unlimited in 2010 when he began using a wheelchair following a serious car accident. The Reykjavík-based company offers three types of trips: self-driving tours, tours with private drivers and guides, and small-group guided tours. Trip planning begins with a phone consultation to determine which of the three fits a client best.
No matter the physical challenge, everyone is accommodated. “No one is ever turned away,” says Lisa Zacchia, the company’s managing director. For example, a recent client who uses a wheelchair wanted an adventurous tour with his family, so the company arranged for them to ride atop a glacier in a modified Jeep. From there, they went snowmobiling atop Langjökull, Iceland’s second-largest glacier, a thrilling experience for the entire family. Guides helped the man into a snowmobile that one of them then drove.
Clients can book either day trips or multiday tours ranging from five to seven days in length. Besides glacier exploring, adventure activities include taking a wheelchair path to a nearly 200-foot-tall waterfall and touring an active geothermal area.
Morocco Accessibility Travel
Morocco may seem like an unlikely destination for physically challenged travelers due to the country’s centuries-old buildings (not built for elevators) and its lack of accessibility requirements. Enter Jeremy Schmidt, a U.S. physiotherapist who moved to the African nation and founded Morocco Accessibility Travel along with a partner in 2016.
The company offers day trips and five- to 14-day guided tours. Clients can visit imperial cities and venture into the Saharan Desert and other rural areas of the country. Other possibilities include wheelchair trekking through 1,200-year-old Fez Medina structures, chilling on an Agadir beach, riding on a camel with the help of an adapted saddle, and more.
“I will never forget sitting on that camel and looking out at the sand dunes in the Moroccan desert,” says Cory Lee, 32, whose usual ride is a powered wheelchair. “It was an experience I never thought would be accessible for me, but in that moment, I realized just how accommodating the world actually can be.”
Lee’s mother, Sandy Gilbreath, 52, who traveled to Morocco with him, is grateful that companies can make such adventures doable for her son. “When I see Cory showing others that anything is possible, regardless of one’s abilities, it makes me incredibly proud,” she says.
For those who prefer to travel independently, the company also provides accessible airport transfers from several Moroccan cities and rents medical equipment, such as wheelchairs and bedroom and bathroom mobility aids.
Years of volunteering with an organization providing outdoor adventures for people with disabilities led spouses Aïcha Nyström and Laurent Roffé to launch San Francisco–based Tapooz Travel in 2012. “While I volunteered as a sea kayak guide and Aïcha served as a ski instructor, we were continually inspired by how much the disabled could do with a little help,” Roffé says, adding that they decided to open up more of the world to this community by starting a travel company focused on this market.
The company offers a comprehensive selection of individual and hosted trips. They range from five to 21 days and take clients to 30 domestic and international destinations, with California wine country, the Pacific Northwest and national parks ranking among the U.S. favorites. For getaways abroad, the Netherlands, Nepal, Scandinavia and Switzerland are popular.
Given the couple’s background, the trips feature adventure aplenty, including hot-air ballooning, kayaking, skiing, skydiving and surfing. Adaptive equipment and guides with extensive experience working with the disabled and seniors make such activities possible. “Having guides that truly understand the psychological and physical issues makes all the difference,” Roffé says.
Wheel the World
Even though paralyzed by a spinal cord injury, Chilean Alvaro Silberstein trekked through the mountainous terrain of Patagonia’s Torres del Paine National Park in 2016 with the help of friends and a modified wheelchair. “Reaching the top of the mountain provided a boost in my self-confidence,” Silberstein says, adding that it taught him he could do anything, despite his disability, with the right attitude and a little help. That revelation led him to launch this four-year-old company that gives other people like him the assistance they need to have amazing travel experiences.
In its short life, Wheel the World has grown quickly and now provides multiple travel services. Coming up in 2022, the company has accessible group tours to five destinations: New York City, Costa Rica, Greece, Israel and Morocco. On this summer’s five-day Big Apple trip, travelers can take an accessible stroll through Central Park, visit St. Patrick Cathedral, wander the streets of Little Italy and much more. The international trips vary from seven to 10 days.
For those not interested in a group tour, the company maintains an online platform travelers can use to book hotels, activities and multiday packaged trips in more than 80 destinations in the U.S. (Maui, Miami and San Francisco are especially popular) and abroad. The platform provides detailed accessibility information based on exhaustive vetting by the company’s own customer service team. Among the information included in hotel listings, for example, is whether front desks have lower check-in counters, whether restaurants are step-free, and how much turn space there is in guest-room bathrooms. Activity listings note the availability of accessible bathrooms, whether wheelchair users will encounter any obstacles, and more.
New York City–based freelance writer Terri Marshall contributes to Girl Camper Magazine, World Footprints.com, TravelingMom.com and other publications and websites.
Also of Interest