Travel insurance for disabled travellers
Find out what you need to know about travel insurance and travelling with a disability.
Travelling can be stressful, and if you or someone you are travelling with has a disability, it can become even more so. But with an increasing number of attractions, facilities and accommodations offering disability-friendly service, your next holiday should be a breeze.
It just takes a little patience, planning and confidence.
To help you make the most out of your next holiday, we’ve put together a guide to help you navigate the challenges that come your way, from choosing the right destination to booking the perfect accommodation to securing the most appropriate travel insurance policy.
What is travel insurance and why do you need it?
Everyone who travels needs travel insurance, whether or not they have a disability. Accidents happen, trips get cancelled for a variety of reasons and bags get lost or stolen every day. Travel insurance is a form of protection that ensures you won’t have to foot the entire bill should the worst happen.
A typical travel insurance policy provides cover for four main areas of risk:
- Emergency medical treatment and hospitalisation
- Trip cancellation and delay
- Loss, theft or damage of luggage and personal items
- Personal liability
Choosing the right policy
Most disabled travellers won’t need a specialist policy because most travel insurers consider disabilities to be pre-existing medical conditions.
You need to disclose all pre-existing medical conditions and potential complications and disabilities to your insurer, or your claim could be denied. Even if the condition hasn’t given you any trouble for years, you need to declare it and try to get cover for it. If you don’t declare the condition and it causes you to become ill or injured on your trip, your policy will not cover the resulting medical bills.
Generally speaking, a pre-existing medical condition refers to any condition (other than cold and flu) that meets one of the following criteria:
- You have been receiving treatment for it
- It is of a recurring nature
- You were aware of it at the time you applied for insurance
Your insurer might request that you have a medical screening done to determine if your condition will affect your quote. But don’t fear, not all pre-existing conditions or disabilities will affect your ability to get travel insurance and your premiums won’t always increase.
Does travel insurance cost more if you're disabled?
Your disability could affect your quote in one of three ways:
Your condition is covered at no additional cost.
Some manageable disabilities like congenital blindness, congenital deafness and carpal tunnel syndrome are often included at no extra charge, provided you haven't experienced recent complications and you meet certain age requirements. Many insurers provide a list of these conditions on their website and in their PDS, making it easy for you to see if you will be covered. You may not even need to declare these conditions or undertake the screening. But if you are unsure, tell your insurer just in case.
Your condition is covered, but for an additional fee.
More serious disabilities are subject to individual assessment. These are not usually listed in the PDS, so make sure you disclose your condition so that it can be assessed properly.
You condition is not covered at all.
Conditions like terminal illness, cancer and organ transplants are usually not covered. You still may be able to take out travel insurance for things like lost luggage, but you'll have to forfeit any medical coverage.
Insurers can be a lot more strict when it comes to covering mental disabilities, with only a limited number of providers offering specialist cover. You can learn more about travel insurance for mental disabilities here, along with a list of providers who will cover certain mental conditions.
In general, the same advice applies: you need to disclose your mental condition upfront so the insurer can accurately assess whether or not they will cover you and how much to quote you.
How can I insure expensive items such as wheelchairs?
Most travel insurance policies will have a maximum limit they will pay out for any single item. Computers and phones have higher limits than most other items on the same policy. The limit for these “other items” generally runs anywhere between $500-$1,000.
This poses a challenge for disabled travellers whose specialised equipment can run into the thousands of dollars. If you have a piece of equipment that can’t be replaced for $500-$1000, you have a couple of options:
- For a higher fee, some policies allow you to increase your limits to up to $3,000 items in the “other item” category.
- You can add specific items onto your plan as “specified items” and pay an additional premium in line with their value and likelihood of damage.
In most cases the following medical devices will need additional cover:
- Mobility scooters
Tips for travelling with medical devices
Now that you’ve gotten your insurance sorted, it’s finally time to take off on your adventure of a lifetime. We’ve put together some tips to help you avoid hassle and travel in style.
Travelling with a wheelchair or mobility scooter
If you’re planning to travel with a wheelchair or mobility scooter, the following tips may help your trip go more smoothly:
- Avoid overseas hire. While you can hire wheelchairs overseas, it can be expensive. Most airlines will allow you to bring your own wheelchair without extra charges.
- Have it serviced. Make sure it’s in good condition because it may be more time-consuming and expensive to get it repaired overseas.
- Label it. Put your name and contact information on your wheelchair or scooter and on every removable part in case it gets lost.
- Bring a tyre repair kit. If your wheelchair or mobility scooter has rubber air-filled tyres, bring along a repair kit. You can find compact tyre kits at any bicycle shop.
- Check before booking flights. Check to see if there are others with wheelchairs on your flight, as many airlines have a limit on the number of wheelchairs they will allow onboard.
- Be prepared to check it in. Most airlines won’t allow you to take an electric wheelchair or scooter in the cabin, so take everything out of the storage compartments before checking it in. Check in advance to make sure your device adheres to the airline’s weight and dimension limits.
- Take pictures. Take pictures of your device before checking it in. If the airline damages it, you will have proof of its original condition.
- Make yourself known to airline staff. This ensures you’ll get preferential treatment when you board the plane and for any special meal or seating requirements.
Travelling with hearing aids
If you rely on hearing aids, there are a few tips that can help you avoid unnecessary setbacks:
- Bring extra batteries. Pack some in your carry on and in your checked luggage.
- Keep them dry. Carry an airtight plastic container to store your hearing aids in case it starts to rain.
- Take them off in flight. The cabin can get quite noisy, so remove your hearing aids for some peace and quiet (except during safety announcements).
- Leave them in at security. You’re not required to remove your hearing aids when going through security, and the scanners will not affect them in any way.
- Decline the exit row seat. People in exit rows need to be able to hear instructions from the attendants at a moment’s notice. Notify staff if you find yourself in an exit row.
Travelling with prosthetic limbs
- Inspect them before departing. Keep an eye out for signs of damage and undue wear and get your prosthetic serviced before your trip if needed.
- Bring contact information. Jot down the phone numbers for your prosthetist and prosthetists from the local area you’ll be visiting so you’ll know who to call in case of an emergency.
- Request extra legroom. If you need the extra legroom, you may be able to secure bulkhead seating for no extra cost if you ask in advance. Otherwise, some airlines offer more legroom as a standard, or allow you to upgrade for an additional fee.
- Bring extra gear. If you use a tool kit to maintain your device, make sure to pack extra tools in case something gets lost. Put a kit in your carry on and a kit in your checked baggage.
- Bring a doctor’s note. A note from your prosthetist may come in handy when explaining your situation to airport security and airline staff.
- Disclose your condition. One woman broke her prosthetic limb while on holiday and expected it to be covered as a medical expense rather than a baggage item. She originally disclosed that she was an amputee, but not that she used a prosthetic that she expected to be covered under medical. She ended up being covered, but not without a fight. When it comes to grey areas like this, it is important to disclose everything up front even if not asked about it directly. That way the insurer can price the policy accordingly.
General tips for travelling with a disability
Taking medication on holidays
If your disability requires you to take regular medication, there are a few things to keep in mind when carrying drugs overseas:
- Make sure it’s legal. Different countries have different rules for different medications. What may be legal in Australia could be a banned substance in other countries. Check with the embassy of the country you are travelling to before you purchase flights.
- Keep it in its original packaging. This makes it easier to identify and can save you a lot of time and embarrassing questions at customs.
- Have enough to last your entire trip. Australian prescriptions are not recognised overseas.
- Speak with your doctor. Ask your doctor to write you a letter describing your disability and confirming that your medication is for personal use only.
- Take it in your carry-on. Carry your medication with you in your carry-on luggage to avoid losing it if your checked bag goes missing.
- Contact your travel provider. If your medication needs to be refrigerated, notify the airline ahead of time. Some airlines won’t allow you to use the plane’s cabin fridge.
Flying with a disability
As all airlines are required to provide services for passengers with disabilities, air travel should be reasonably straightforward and uneventful if you do a little forward planning:
- Contact the airline ahead of time to make sure it’s aware of your disability and will have the necessary facilities and assistance available to you.
- Contact airport authorities if you require assistance getting around the terminal and checking your bags. Most major airports have electric vehicles that can deliver you to your gate.
- Make sure the gate you are departing from or arriving to has aerobridge access (some smaller budget airlines may require you to use steps).
- Make sure you book an aisle seat and that cabin crew will be able to assist you if you need help getting to and from the toilet.
- If you use an assistance dog, make sure it will be allowed on the plane and into the country you are travelling to (there may be quarantine issues to address).
- Try to fly with a carer who can make you trip more comfortable by helping you with your medication and any mobility issues.
- Drink plenty of fluids and exercise, even if only in your seat, to prevent the risk of deep vein thrombosis (blood clots).
- If you have a stopover destination and your mobility aid is checked in, make sure you have access to a hired one while you are waiting to continue your journey.
- Try to book two shorter flights with a stopover in between if you want to avoid long-haul flights.
Standards of accessibility can vary widely from place to place, so forward planning is definitely required if you want your holiday to be as smooth as possible. Here are some accommodation tips:
- Visit websites such as Hotels.com, which have specific disability search criteria.
- Contact the accommodation provider and ask about its accessible facilities. If there is any doubt, request an email with pictures of access ramps, accessible parking, elevators and bathrooms.
- Avoid organised tours as they often require you to have a carer accompany you and the accommodation may not be disability-friendly.
- Visit disability-focused websites for accommodation reviews.
- Consider one of these cruises that cater toward people with disabilities.
Travelling with disabled children
Many of the tips provided above also apply if you are travelling with a disabled child. But here are a few more tips to help you in your particular situation:
- Prepare your child. If this is your child’s first flight, it pays to help your child understand what to expect. Read them stories and show them videos about flying. Consider taking them to the airport a few weeks in advance to watch the planes take off and land.
- Choose the right seat. Your child may not need the extra legroom offered by an aisle seat on an airplane, and an overly active child might be distracted by people going up and down the aisles. Make sure you choose the seating arrangement that best suits your child’s personality.
- Look for carers benefits. In some cases, companion carers can receive free admission to various attractions when they accompany a disabled person who purchased a ticket. For travel within Australia, the National Companion Card Scheme helps with situations like these.
The following disability and travel-related resources may also prove useful:
- National Information Communication Awareness Network (NICAN). NICAN provides information on recreation, sport and tourism for people with disabilities.
- Can Go Everywhere. Can Go Everywhere is a comprehensive source of information on accessible tourism.
- The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). CASA is the aviation governing body.
- AQA Victoria Ltd. AQA Vic is dedicated to improving the quality of life of people affected by physical disability.
- Disabled Motorists Australia (DMA). DMA is a not for profit organisation for motorists with disabilities.
- People With Disabilities (PWD). PWD offers information to Australians regarding disability rights and advocacy.
- The National Companion Card Scheme. The National Companion Card Scheme is a joint effort among Australian states and territories that allows companion carers to obtain free admission at participating attractions nationwide.
- Vision Australia. Vision Australia is a comprehensive resource and advocacy network for blind and low-vision Australians.
What if you’re refused cover?
If an insurer refuses to cover your disability or pre-existing medical condition, you can appeal directly to the insurer. If you feel you have been discriminated against, contact the Australian Human Rights Commission.
You will need to provide medical reports showing that:
- Your condition is under control
- It is listed as a pre-existing condition for which cover is normally provided
- You don’t suffer from any other major health problems
- You are not likely to need medical or hospital treatment on your trip
You can make a confidential complaint by visiting humanrights.gov.au or by calling the Australian Human Rights Commission on 1300 656 419.
Which travel insurance brands provide disability cover?
Because disabilities are considered pre-existing conditions, most insurers will at least consider you for coverage. You can use the engine below to compare policies, but if your condition is not listed in their PDS your best bet is to talk with the brands directly for a personalised quote.
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