Washington DC
Jim's Wheelchair Traveler Tips & Information


I've been fortunate to have traveled to many corners of the globe. Although planning comes to me fairly easily, traveling in a wheelchair necessitates becoming an even better planner. Experience has taught me many lessons. I've been to hotels where the wheelchair could not fit through doors or into an elevator, and visited too many restaurants without an accessible restroom. While traveling, I've had wheels, axles, the wheelchair frame and footrests break or fall off. And getting into a taxi or renting a car was far easier 30 years ago when vehicles were considerably larger.

With today's car rentals being more compact, it is much more difficult to fold up my wheelchair and throw it in the backseat. Although Hertz and Avis have specialty reservation desks for wheelchair accessible vehicles, neither provides vehicles that easily accommodate independent wheelchair travelers and both are incredibly unreliable.

Today I plan my hotel and restaurant reservations with great care, calling and emailing and following up well in advance. It is now possible to arrange almost everything including taxis and van rentals across the globe in advance. Every location can be put on speed dial before departure. It's also nice to know the location of the local wheelchair repair shop and have access to medical supplies when and where needed. We have attempted our best to provide you with some helpful hints throughout our website including some local contacts below that you might find helpful.

Booking your Hotel Room

Booking a hotel room online is convenient, but more often than not it results in arriving to the hotel only to find out they did not properly reserve an accessible room, or even worse - they have no accessible rooms in the hotel. Before booking a hotel room, we recommend reviewing our extensive list of certified Seattle hotels, hotels to avoid, plus a directory of wheelchair accessible hotels in and around Seattle. When booking a hotel room, WCJ highly recommends the following:

  • Call the hotel directly and "block" your wheelchair accessible room for the desired dates of travel.
  • Have the hotel email or fax you a confirmation, noting the accessible room and bring this with you at check-in.
  • Call the hotel directly 24-48 hours in advance of your arrival to re-confirm your wheelchair accessible room.

When calling the nationwide reservations call center for many hotel chains, they do not have the ability to "block" wheelchair accessible rooms with individual hotel properties. We recommended to call the hotel directly, and speak to the front desk to properly reserve and block your accessible guestroom.

Pack You Airlines Bags Carefully

Wheelchair passengers are always last to exit the plane, sometimes 30 minutes or more after all other passengers have departed. Since I'm generally the last person to the luggage carousel, I'm always concerned someone will steal my bags (yes, this has happened). As a result, I always pack a special carry on bag with anything I might need for 2 days if my luggage is lost or stolen. This includes critical medical supplies and medications, an extra seat cushion cover, lightweight wheelchair repair tools, handy wipes and plastic bags.

I always bring large black plastic bags to collect my detachable wheelchair parts at the end of the jet way. These should be placed in the over head luggage rack, not in the cargo area.

You should also know that the Air Carrier Access Act mandates that fold up wheelchairs have priority for on-board storage if a closet is available. Keep your wheelchair on-board if possible. Demand your rights!

Jim's Comments: 

Plan Your Visit to Washington DC carefully. The Office of Congressional Accessibility Services (OCAS) provides a variety of services for individuals with disabilities, whether they are staff or visitors. These services include adaptive tours of the Capitol building, wheelchair loans, and interpreting services for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. OCAS prepares and distributes several brochures and lends sensory aids to visitors with disabilities. OCAS can assist with questions regarding accessibility issues in the Capitol, the House of Representatives, and the Senate. The website http://www.aoc.gov/accessibility-services provides excellent details on accessible building entrances, parking, tours and much more. Telephone 202-224-4048 for additional details.

The use of public transportation, including taxis, in Washington is recommended. Available street parking is extremely limited.

Visitors With Disabilities:

  • Wheelchairs may be requested from Capitol Visitor Center staff wearing red vests or at one of the Information Desks in Emancipation Hall.
  • Family Restrooms are available throughout the Capitol Visitor Center.
  • Listening devices with audio description of the orientation film and exhibition are available at the Information Desks in Emancipation Hall.
  • Sign language interpretation for tours is available when booked in advance. All films have open captioning.
  • Service animals are allowed in the Visitor Center and the Capitol.
  • A public TTY is located near one of the gift shops on the Upper Level.

Visitors Requiring Shuttle Service to the Capitol Visitor Center Entrance

For your convenience, the Capitol Visitor Center Office of Visitor Services provides an on-demand shuttle service for those with mobility issues or in manual wheelchairs. The shuttles run from the southwest corner of Capitol Square at Independence Ave. and First St. SW to the Capitol Visitor Center entrance at the center of the Capitol’s East Plaza. Please inquire about this service from the Office of Congressional Accessibility Services at 202-224-4048, from any Visitor Services personnel in a red shirt or vest, or at either of the Visitor Services kiosks located at the southwest corner of Capitol Square or on the east side of the Capitol near the corner of First St. NE/SE and East Capitol Street. Please provide as much advance notice as possible to help facilitate your request.

If you are traveling with a large group requesting mobility assistance, we strongly recommend that you contact the Office of Congressional Accessibility Services at 202-224-4048 prior to your visit. Please provide as much advance notice as possible to help facilitate your request.

Medical Supplies & Repairs

Sometimes things go wrong. Items get lost or broken, wheelchairs lose a screw or fall apart, or you just need something that you forgot to pack along for the trip. Not to worry, the Washington DC area has some great medical supply and wheelchair repair companies ready to give you a hand.

Medical House
(Medical Supplies & Equipment)
440 S. Washington St.
Falls Church, VA   22046
Phone: 703-533-2290
Website: http://www.mymedicalhouse.com

BW Surgical Supply, Inc.  
(Medical Supplies, Wheelchairs & Equipment)
10556 Metropolitan Ave
Kensington , MD 20895
Phone: 301-358-0714
Website: http://bwmedi.reachlocal.net

DC Medical Supply
(Medical Supplies & Equipment)
5922 Georgia Avenue Northwest
Washington DC 20011
Phone: (202) 722-4720

Swift Scooters
(Wheelchairs & Repair)
7600 Georgia Ave, Suite 206
Washington DC, 20012
Phone: (877) 419-4114