Previous slide
Next slide

Summer vacation
By Jennifer Allen

A family enjoying a day at the beach. A mother in a swimsuit pushes a child in a beach wheelchair through the shallow water while another child walks alongside them. Another child stands nearby, wearing blue swim trunks. The sky is clear and blue, and the beach is visible in the background with a few other people enjoying the sunny day.
Listen to this Article

My early early vacation memories as a family with disabilities are not fond. I remember carrying my 40 lb son, along with the beach umbrella, toys and chairs… and then adding his little sister to my arms when the sand became too hot to walk. I remember his scraped up legs and feet from trying to navigate the sand without being able to walk. I remember getting back to our room and carrying him upstairs in the hotel with no elevator and where there was no space in the room to store a wheelchair. I remember feeling furious with my husband for his “helpful idea” of heading back early so he could pick up pizza and have it ready when we returned. Everything hurt. I was tired and overwhelmed and just wanted to go home.

Maybe part of that was the growing pains of adjusting to a new lifestyle, but mostly we were just doing it all wrong. I had never heard of a beach wheelchair. I didn’t know to search for mobimats. I didn’t filter my search for accessible beaches, because I had never seen one and didn’t know they existed. The ocean is a miserable experience for wheelchair users who aren’t at an accessible beach. 

We’ve come a long way since then! We can even say that most of our vacations actually feel like a vacation. Here are some typical summer vacations that can be done in an accessible way to make them feel like… well, vacation!

THE BEACH

There are nearly endless accessible beach destinations for wheelchair users. A good accessible beach should have at least a beach wheelchair, accessible paths, and a handicap restroom. Of course, it’s even better if there are additional amenities like accessible picnic pavilions, adaptive sports, or direct accessible access from your hotel.

Here’s a list of accessible east coast beaches in the U.S., categorizing what’s available at each location.

There are also great options along the west coast. California has an ever increasing list of beach wheelchairs available. The accessible amenities go far beyond beach wheelchairs at their most accessible options.

Galveston, Texas hosts adaptive festivals and events at their accessible beaches.

Accessible beaches aren’t limited to the U.S.! The Greek islands are becoming known for their unique track chair that moves in and out of the water by remote control.

Queensland has several accessible beaches, and they’ve made disability inclusion a priority in all areas.

Even the pebble beaches of Croatia have multiple accessible options!

Wherever you’re headed, try a search for the destination + “accessible beach.” You may be surprised by how many options you find.

 
A woman in a wheelchair is practicing archery with assistance. She is wearing a white T-shirt with a colorful design and glasses. The instructor beside her is holding a yellow bow, wearing a green shirt with the "National Ability Center" logo, a plaid shirt over it, and a cap. They are both smiling and engaged in the activity, with a background showing an outdoor setting with another person in the distance.

FAMILY CAMPS

There are plenty of camps for kids with disabilities, and endless options for siblings, but finding an option that takes both is tough!

Many disability-specific camps welcome the whole family. My kids chose to return to Camp NSF this summer, rather than take a family trip to Hawaii. Search camps for your child’s disability and you may find unforgettable options for everyone.

Another great option is the National Ability Center in Utah. The camp offers family stays on a variety of dates and offers fun for all abilities. They have adaptive rock wall climbing, kayaking, skiing, biking, archery, and much more. All of these activities are adapted for the whole family to participate.

NATIONAL PARKS AND NATURE STAYS

A summer at the cabin isn’t what comes to mind for an accessible holiday, but there are plenty of accessible ways to soak in the outdoors!

I have a dream for this summer of living in nature, spending our days outdoors with the freedom to play and explore at our own pace. I’m not sure what that will look like with our family needs and disabilities, but I know we can find accessible accommodations, camping options, and trails to get us on our way.

Three children are posing together in front of a scenic waterfall on a rainy day. The girl on the left has curly hair, is wearing a pink and gray hoodie, and is smiling. The boy in the middle is wearing a blue Oshkosh hoodie, jeans, and is also smiling. The boy on the right is sitting in a wheelchair, wearing a blue jacket and camouflage pants, and is smiling broadly. The background features lush greenery and a powerful waterfall cascading over rocks, with a misty atmosphere.

National parks

National parks are one of the best ways to find an accessible path into the wonders of nature. Most national parks have at least one accessible camping spot and one accessible cabin, if there are overnight amenities at that park. Because national parks draw in visitors, you can also find a variety of lodging options near the parks. Tenaya Lodge is just outside of Yosemite and offers a barrier-free stay, along with accessible park experiences.

National parks will almost always have accessible trail options, as well as drive-up views.

Accessible trails

National parks don’t hold the only claim over accessible nature. Search your state parks and you’re likely to find other good options. Some of the parks that can’t be accessible, like Staunton State Park in Colorado, have track chairs or other equipment to get you through. Rail trails are another great option – winding through all types of terrain, usually on a paved surface. These trails are spread out around much of the globe. 

Glamping 

Glamping is the perfect middle ground for immersing yourself in nature without having to set up camp. Glamping sites are not typically wheelchair accessible, but there are accessible glamping options all around the world. Many state and national parks also offer an accessible cabin option.

While van camping is not nearly as glamorous as
glamping, it can add ease and comfort to a camping experience. Accessible
camper vans can also be hard to find. We do a cheap, temporary van conversion, enabling us
to stay in the comfort of our minivan.

 

While I only covered the three big summer vacation destinations, these aren’t your only options. If you’re not sure where to begin, start with a destination that already has a reputation for accessibility and inclusion. Accessible Journeys features incredible options around the world. A disability travel agent can take the load off and plan your accessible trip for you. Whatever your vacation dream is, there’s an accessible way to achieve it! 

Read Jennifer’s blog at wonderswithinreach.com.

A little boy in a wheelchair is on a dirt trail in a desert landscape, with large boulders and Joshua trees in the background. The sky is clear and blue with a few wispy clouds. The trail is marked by small rocks lining its edges.
Scroll to Top