Life with MS

AT Makes Cruising Smoother for Travelers with Disabilities

By MSFocus staff
During the past decade, hundreds of people with MS have discovered the joy of cruising with MSFocus: the Foundation aboard our annual MS Focus at Sea (formerly known as MSF Cruise for a Cause®). For many of them, assistive technology has not only made the trip possible, but it has also made the journey much smoother.
Special Needs Group, Inc. is the supplier of mobility and oxygen equipment for the MS Focus at Sea. Andrew J. Garnett, founder, president and CEO of Special Needs Group, recently responded to our questions about AT on and off the ship. 
Q: What are some of the most common obstacles people with disabilities encounter on a cruise? How can AT help? 
A: The most common obstacle encountered on a cruise ship is simply getting around the ship itself. With some ships being more than 1,000 feet long and almost the size of a football field, passengers are walking a lot more than usual to go from their stateroom to the dining room, to shows, and other activities. Add on to that the desire to visit the ports of call. 
A person may not need AT in their everyday life, but renting a scooter, wheelchair, rollator, or other walking device really comes in handy for a person with disabilities to not get tired and be able to fully enjoy their vacation. Other obstacles include getting in and out of bed without help, getting in and out of pools or Jacuzzis, and transferring from the ship to a tender to go ashore. It is very important that travelers or their travel agents check with the cruise line’s Access Department regarding what the ships provide/don’t provide for passengers with disabilities. 
Q: Other than scooters and the more common examples of AT, what other sorts of devices are available to meet various disability needs?
A: There are many types of devices to meet various disability needs. These include an assortment of oxygen equipment and bath safety equipment like shower chairs and transfer benches; bed safety equipment like patient lifts, lift chairs and bed rails; hospital beds; walking aides; hearing impaired equipment; as well as specialty items like mini-refrigerators to keep certain items cool, service animal relief materials, and more.    
Q: Do the cruise ships allow you to bring your own AT onboard? 
A: Yes, cruise ships allow most personal ATs to be brought onboard. Passengers need to notify the cruise line that they will be bringing onboard their own equipment, as some ships do not allow certain items (i.e. liquid oxygen or hospital beds) but others may. Additionally, many lines require specifications about the equipment to make sure it will fit in all the ship’s areas. However, if you rent equipment for your cruise from a specialty firm dedicated to providing special needs equipment for travelers, you avoid the possibility of personal equipment being lost or damaged.
Q: On average, what are some examples of cost for cruise AT?
A: Rates vary according to location, type of equipment needed, length of rental, the availability of equipment requested, and the firm itself.
Q: For bigger items, such as scooters, where are they stored on the ship?
A: All specialty equipment must be stored in the passenger’s stateroom. What many people don’t know is that all of Special Needs Group’s standard and heavy duty scooters and wheelchairs fit in a regular stateroom and an accessible stateroom is not required. Only heavy duty scooters, wheelchairs, and all power chairs require a traveler to get an accessible stateroom.
Q: When in port, are there other AT needs to consider if the traveler with a disability is getting off the ship?
A: For travelers that require mobility assistance, it is important to check which ports of call require tendering (transferring from the ship to a small boat, or tender, to reach the dock in port). For safety reasons, sometimes mobility scooters are not allowed to go on tenders. It is also important to do research about which ports are accessible (this includes no narrow sidewalks, uneven streets and steps, or curb cuts.) When booking an excursion, it is highly recommended to speak with the ship's shore excursion staff, a travel agent who knows about accessible excursions, and/or the tour company directly to find out which specific trips are appropriate if the passenger has wheelchair, walking, or step-climbing challenges. Additionally, when going to a beach destination, a traveler should ask if beach wheelchairs are available. If they are not available, they can choose to rent them.
Q: Does the Americans with Disabilities Act require cruise ships to meet certain accessibility requirements?
A: In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that cruise ships that call on U.S. ports are subject to the ADA Act. However as there aren’t any architectural standards for cruise ships, access features vary from ship to ship. The major lines are doing a great job with each new ship being more and more accessible and retrofitting older ships to be more ADA compliant. Typically, the newer the ship, the more accessible it is. 
Andrew J. Garnett, founder, president and CEO of Special Needs Group, Inc. has played an integral role in breaking travel barriers for individuals with special needs. Since founding Special Needs Group in 2007, Andrew has enhanced awareness among the travel industry and consumers about the importance of accessible travel. His goal is to make travel possible for everyone, regardless of special needs. He holds an economics degree from the University of Florida. 
Special Needs Group is a leading global provider of wheelchair, scooter, oxygen, and other special needs equipment rentals. Special Needs Group also services guests visiting hotels, resorts, theme parks, and convention centers. It is located at 2860 West State Road84, Suite107, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312. For more information, visit or call 800-513-4515.

(Last reviewed 11/2011)