Life with MS

Destination Europe

By Constantine Zografopoulos
Europe is vibrant, beautiful and exotic. With its mix of traditional villages, palaces and countryside, as well as historical sites and new technology, the region has much to offer.
The European Union has 27 member states with a population of nearly 500 million people, 10 to 15 percent of whom are estimated to have disabilities. Although Europe has no legislation equivalent to the Americans with Disabilities Act, accessible travel there has improved. This is due, in part, to an aging population, a competitive tourism market, local activism, and the participation of the European Union.
When traveling to Europe, it is important to have realistic expectations. People with disabilities need to do their homework and plan ahead to overcome obstacles and barriers. The European region still has many cobbled streets, as well as uneven sidewalks and walkways. Do not believe all of the access symbols you see in guidebooks – if possible call or write to your destination ahead of time. There are variances in many aspects of services and accommodations in each of the European states.
I am delighted to share my knowledge in an effort to make your trip to Europe memorable.
In 1995, I was injured in an auto accident. I lost both of my legs above the knees, thus beginning my journey into the world of accessible travel. The son of Greek parents, I often travel through other regions of Europe and have been impressed by the improvements in accessibility. Attitudes towards individuals with disabilities have improved, and stigmas and barriers are diminishing.
Planning your trip: Think ahead
You can plan your trip to Europe independently through guidebooks and websites, or work with a travel agency.
I recommend books and other resources by Rick Steves, whose travel tips are featured on public television and public radio. His book Europe through the Back Door offers a wealth of great information on all aspects of traveling to Europe. A message board at provides personal insights from travelers.
For those planning their trip on the Web, the European Union recently commissioned a project called One Stop Shop for Accessible Europe, starting with information on Greece and the United Kingdom. The resulting website,, is multilingual and provides national and regional information about accessible tourist venues, sites, and accommodations.
If you’d prefer professional help planning your trip, a number of European travel agencies provide great guidance about the regions. Many can provide personal attendants and registered nursing assistants to those who need them. Whether you wish to have a romantic, cultural, or adventurous experience, a travel agency can help.
Accomodations: Reviews and pictures available online
European hotels are becoming more accessible, but they do vary. Call or email employees at your hotel before traveling. Many properties have websites and will be glad to send you digital pictures. Accessible Accommodation European-wide ( has inspected many hotels, apartments, resorts, and spas throughout the European Union. It also provides a full service of travel tours.
You may also want to consider an accessible hostel, an inexpensive dormitory-style room that offers a warm and friendly atmosphere. For more information, visit Hostelling International U.S.A. at
Transportation: Planes, trains, and automobiles
Driving a car in Europe offers more flexibility than taking planes or trains. European countries honor disabled parking placards from the United States and Canada. Make sure to display your documents inside the car’s windshield, showing the international symbol for disability and the name of the document holder. Remember, however, that while there are accessible parking spaces in Europe, rental cars with hand controls are hard to find and many rest stops are not accessible.
Methods of public transportation tend to be more accessible in larger cities. Taxis have become more accessible over the years and taxi drivers are more comfortable accommodating your needs. The Euro Pass ( will take you far for a reasonable price. The rail system is clean, modern, and fast. Be sure to specify if you need personal assistance, whether with boarding or with an assistive device.
Most flights on international airlines have accessible lavatories and airport service staff is better trained to handle the needs of people with disabilities. There are special disabled waiting areas, as well as places where a service dog can relieve itself.
Consider a cruise: See Europe by sea
Cruises have become very popular with travelers with disabilities as they often are highly accessible, with barrier-free staterooms and public areas. Ships often have assistive equipment, closed captioning, listening systems and Braille communications. Service dogs are welcomed and many ships are equipped with pool lifts. Medical attention is excellent and cruises even are available for people on dialysis.
Vacations To Go recently created a new section dedicated to travelers with disabilities that has a comprehensive, ship-by-ship guide to facilities, services and amenities.
There are countless options for ships and destinations, making cruises a great option, but there are still challenges. Accessibility can be an issue at various ports of call with both tendering and tour excursions.
Medical needs while traveling: Pack with this in mind
Meeting your medical needs is essential on any trip. Wheelchair repair shops are not common in Europe, but bicycle shops can assist you. If necessary, bring along a wheelchair repair kit, new tires and inner tubes. Oxygen supplies are becoming more readily available but service animal regulations vary from country to country. Contact the consulate office or embassy of each country to determine any restrictions.
With new airline restrictions, advance planning is important. Pack medicines and other medical supplies in one carry-on bag and declare them when passing through the security checkpoint. Restrictions on carry-on bags and checked baggage do not apply to medical supplies, equipment, mobility aids, or assistive devices. To learn more, visit the Transportation Security Administration website or call 866-289-9673.
Travel timing: The best time to visit
Travel during the low season in Europe, spring and fall, is attractive to many people. Airfare, accommodations, rental cars, and tours are less expensive and the weather is still very pleasant. There are fewer tourists and you can interact with many of the locals. Museums and local hang-outs are less crowded. You simply have more time and space to enjoy the destination. Many museums offer free admissions to individuals with disabilities and their companions throughout the year.
Europe On the Web
Accessible Europe is a company comprised of a pool of European travel agents from various countries with more than 20 years of experience in accessible tourism services.
Accessible Journeys has more than 21 years of experience in comprehensive travel needs.
Great Britain, which has a law similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act, is among the most accessible European destinations. Much information can be found at
Paris On Wheels offers entire travel services to the city of Paris and beyond. Their motto is “Take the DIS out of disabled travel in Paris!”
Accessible Italy has been organizing tours and tourism services for individuals with disabilities since 1995. Its employees have first-hand experience in the region and have invested a portion of their revenues make accessibility improvements.
Accessible Portugal is a tourism company that operates from Lisbon and services the entire country of Portugal. A wide variety of tours are available.
Constantine Zografopoulos is founder of the Kostas Z Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Illinois dedicated to providing information and promoting participation and integration among people with disabilities worldwide. With degrees from DePaul University and Roosevelt University, “Z” has used his ability to speak English, Greek, Portuguese and Spanish to participate in international projects and lectures. In his free time, he is a competitive swimmer and basketball player with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago’s sports program. He was involved with the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games and that same year carried the Olympic torch in St. Louis. Visit
(Last reviewed 7/2009)