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If you are disabled or have special needs you are in good hands on a cruise ship.

The cruise industry has certainly taken the lead when it comes to accommodating all travelers, including those with special needs, by adapting their existing facilities. Newer ships are being designed with passengers with special needs in mind.

The Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality (SATH), the New York-based non-profit organization whose goal is to raise awareness of the needs of all travelers with disabilities, believes the cruise industry has gone far and above any other segment of the travel industry in this area.

Although foreign-flagged cruise lines are not required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the cruise industry, including member lines of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), has taken it upon itself to make cruising comfortable and accessible for travelers with disabilities.

As new ships are built, design features have been added that take into account wheelchair access and facilities for the hearing- and sight-disabled and persons with other handicaps.

Features available on various ships in the CLIA fleet include the following:

• Specially equipped staterooms, with wide doors and large bathrooms.

• Wheelchair-accessible bathrooms, some with roll-in showers.

• Braille menus as well as Braille call buttons and stairwell banister deck numbers.

• Easy access on and off the ship – many lines will also arrange tours on shore that can easily accommodate people with disabilities, and some even provide accessibility ratings in their shore excursion booklets, so passengers can plan their tours in advance.

• Special health services, such as kidney dialysis machines and oxygen tanks, that can be accommodated when arrangements are made in advance.

• Menus to accommodate special dietary needs, such as low cholesterol/low fat, low sodium, diabetic and vegetarian.

• Assistance for people who are deaf or have a hearing impairment – cabins may feature TTY (text telephones) devices or vibrating alarm clocks as well as visual alerts for emergencies as well as door bells.

It is important that you discuss your special needs with your travel agent when you start planning your cruise. Your agency can notify the cruise line well in advance of any special needs, such as bringing a wheelchair on board or medical or dietary needs.

While the cruise industry is making great strides to provide services for passengers with disabilities, those with special need know that onboard they are never far away from modern medical care and trained staff

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