AARP Eye Center
Traveling with an invisible disability can be a challenge. The Invisible Disabilities Association defines an invisible disability as “a physical, mental or neurological condition that is not visible from the outside, yet can limit or challenge a person’s movements, senses, or activities.” Such disabilities can include, but aren’t limited to, blindness, hearing loss, autism or epilepsy.
According to the Open Doors Association’s 2020 Market Study, more than two-thirds of adults with disabilities took at least one trip from 2018-2019, spending $58.7 billion.
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Peter Slatin, 68, was born with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare genetic condition that first destroys night vision, then peripheral and finally central vision. In his early 40s, he developed early onset macular degeneration, which destroys central vision. Combined, the two have effectively obliterated everything but light and shadow in the very small window of his remaining vision.
“Traveling as a blind or deaf person means being prepared for strange encounters with service professionals, many of whom lack training and become immediately uncertain, fearful and awkward when face to face with a blind or deaf person,” Slatin says. “I am misunderstood, mishandled, patronized and literally almost violently pushed and pulled. It’s unpleasant and exhausting.
“Yet I travel because I love to visit both new and familiar destinations and even to experience the latter with vision that has deteriorated significantly from a prior visit so that I can sense the place anew.”
The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) supports the civil rights of disabled people in public accommodations and transportation in the U.S., among other areas. The law doesn’t extend outside the country.
“While other countries don’t have laws as sweeping as the ADA, there are versions in Europe, the U.K. and Canada,” Slatin says. “Most people and places have welcoming and open attitudes to all travelers. However, there is still plenty of stigma around disability that can lead to unpleasant and sometimes demeaning interactions. This kind of behavior is also present in the U.S.”