When my family travels, one of our planning constraints is mobility devices. Due to an injury suffered while in military service, we have a combination of canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and even a Segway provided by the fantastic personnel at Segs4Vets. We also bring along the disability placard issued by our state, which (so far) has not encountered any resistance when parking out-of-state.
Our case is straightforward. My travel companion is medically precluded from driving, so I simply need to make sure that any of her equipment we bring will fit in the selected rental vehicle. The vehicles always go in my name, I'm the sole driver, and there are no other "special accommodations".
Rental car companies are fortunately well-prepared to provide services for customers with disabilities if the services are requested with sufficient lead time (usually eight to 48 hours in advance for specialty devices like hand controls). And the rental car companies don't appear to distinguish between temporary and permanent disabilities; fears of rental car experiences can be lessened by planning for specific needs.
Provisions for Customers with Disabilities
Each of the major rental car companies publishes statements of their commitments to the needs of disabled customers. The policies are available for a good reason, as the rental car companies are considered public accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Budget Car Rental was one of the firms that ran afoul of ADA in the 1990s. In fact, the ruling against Budget led other companies to allow a substitute driver for visually disabled individuals with no additional fee.
Links to the policies of each of the companies are provided below:Avis Budget Dollar Enterprise Hertz National Payless Thrifty
What Services Are Available Before Renting?
For customers with reservations and require accommodations, almost all companies provide hotlines to serve customer needs better. At AutoSlash, we're able to request limited accommodations on a customer's behalf (such as hand controls) during the process of making reservations. Other requests should be made, confirmed, and reconfirmed directly with the rental car companies.
In addition to left-hand / right-hand controls, spinner knobs are also frequently available. With a more limited number of rental car companies, a left-foot accelerator, transfer boards, swivel seats, and panoramic mirrors can be found. These resources are ordinarily provided without a fee for local rentals; one-way rentals may incur additional costs with some of the rental car firms.
Note: With these modifications, the car companies tend to have few vehicles that can be safely equipped. There is little chance of getting a specific vehicle model guaranteed.
Upon arrival at airports, shuttle buses (if needed to reach the vehicles) are routinely accessible for wheelchairs and luggage storage. To avoid shuttle buses completely, customers can check their AutoSlash price quotes to identify the "In Terminal" rental options versus the "Shuttle" rental options. Some airports, such as Baltimore-Washington Marshall International (BWI), have a consolidated rental car center that's nowhere near the terminal - taking a shuttle is the only option for renters.
What Types of Services are Provided for Renters Who Can't Drive?
Customers who are unable to drive due to visual disabilities are frequently able to reserve a car, pay with their own personal credit card, and then have an alternate driver (age 25+ with a driver's license) added for free at the time of pick-up. The additional/authorized/split-rental/surrogate driver program - the companies use different terminology - is one of the few instances where rental car companies allow an individual other than the one paying with a credit card to drive a vehicle.
Note: While some companies expressly write their policies to specifically reference visual impairments, others - like Hertz - explicitly extend the program to visual and physical disabilities. As each company's policy varies somewhat, we encourage customers to review each of the rental car firms to see which would be best able to meet their needs.
Are there Any Ways to Make Returns Easier?
While we've personally received assistance from some of the rental car company staff when returning vehicles with unloading, the companies rarely describe special assistance being available at that time. One notable exception is Hertz:
All Hertz corporate locations have designated accessible parking at car return areas. When returning your rental car to a Hertz location, you should inform the Hertz representative of any special needs, and they will direct you to the accessible parking area.
We will be trying out this service at a few Hertz corporate-owned locations soon (and will report back if there are problems with the implementation of this service).
What Accommodations are Ordinarily Unavailable?
Many customers will encounter the need for a wheelchair accessible van. In fact, we often use a wheelchair accessible van if we have to transport the Segway (which weighs more than 100 pounds) on regional rentals. The traditional rental car companies likely won't be able to provide wheelchair accessible vans; while Budget does ask customers to call into their support line, most other providers steer customers toward one of the participating dealers at Accessible Vans of America or similar firms.
And while many rental car companies will allow the removal of a van seat to accommodate a service animal or scooter/Segway, rental scooters are not provided by the rental car firms. The rental car companies tend to have contacts with firms like Scootaround, Inc., which has a pretty broad geographic reach.
We've learned a few lessons along the way through personal experience. For instance, our standard-size manual wheelchair won't fit in the trunk of a Toyota Camry hybrid but will fit in the trunk of a non-hybrid Camry with room for luggage. And when we fall back on our default rental patterns of renting from National with Executive Elite status, we don't worry about storage space at all. There has always been a Chevrolet Impala or Chrysler Town and Country available on the Executive Aisle.
Rental car companies do their best to serve disabled renters. In fact, our personal rental car experiences have gone far more easily than the airport security experience. We've still achieved many shared travel goals through just a bit of advanced planning, which has been important for emotional well-being as well as physical recovery.