With the notable exception of Croatia – and to a lesser extent BiH – which has improved wheelchair access due to the large number of wounded war veterans, the region does not cater well to travellers with disabilities. Steep cobbled streets, ancient lifts and anarchic traffic all make life difficult for wheelchair-using visitors. Wheelchair access is often limited to the more expensive hotels and major airports; public transport is usually woefully ill-equipped, and tourist sites rarely cater well to those with disabilities.
However, it's not impossible to travel the region, even independently. If you're going it alone, pre-trip research and planning is essential:
- find out about facilities on public transport;
- work out how to get to your hotel or hostel;
- check if there are care agencies available and how much they cost;
- give your wheelchair a thorough service before departing and prepare a basic tool kit, as punctures can be a problem;
- national support organisations can help; they often have libraries devoted to travel, and can put you in touch with travel agents who specialise in tours for those with disabilities.
Other useful resources include:
Flying with Disability (www.flying-with-disability.org) Comprehensive and easy-to-use site covering all aspects of air travel – pre-trip planning, navigating the airport, boarding the flight, on the plane etc.
Global Access (www.globalaccessnews.com) A worldwide network for wheelchair users with a monthly e-zine and tons of reader-generated articles.
Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com) Check out the Travellers with Disabilities branch on the Thorn Tree travel forum.
Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality (www.sath.org) Has loads of useful information, including a need-to-know section and travel tips.