March was Disabilities Awareness Month and this year, VISIT FLORIDA wants to make sure visitors know how accessible the entire state of Florida is. As part of its ongoing efforts to promote Florida as an accessible destination, VISIT FLORIDA wants to remind and encourage travelers to plan a getaway to the state no matter their abilities. Destinations throughout The Sunshine State are also focusing on becoming more accessible with Orlando recently being recognized by The Valuable 500 as one of the nation’s top three most disability friendly cities, underscoring how Florida is raising the national bar.
Cory Lee, founder of travel blog Curb Free With Cory Lee, created to highlight accessibility in the travel industry, says about Florida: “Every time I visit Florida, I am consistently impressed with accessibility. As a powered wheelchair user, I’ve been able to enjoy the accessible beaches of places like Panama City Beach and The Palm Beaches, sail the seas on an accessible catamaran in Miami, and explore great museums and attractions in cities like Sarasota and Tampa… just to name a few. Florida is a phenomenal destination for people with disabilities and I look forward to discovering more accessible things to do during my future trips to the state!”
VISIT FLORIDA produced and distributed the “Limitless Florida” series in 2021, with videos featuring local Floridians living with various disabilities enjoying activities, such as scuba diving and cycling. Experiences from the Panhandle to The Keys are welcoming all visitors to enjoy the best that Florida has to offer. Below are some standout examples.
Pensacola offers several Mobi-mats on Pensacola Beach to provide grip and easy access for wheelchairs, strollers and pedestrians on unstable surfaces. Beach wheelchairs, both electric and traditional, are available for rent. The Pensacola City Ferry offers some of the best views of the entire destination, along with easy-access transit between downtown Pensacola, Pensacola Beach and the Gulf Islands National Seashore, air-conditioned interior and covered exterior seating and easy ramp access for seamless travel.
The Pensacola Historic District features a restored colonial district along with a multicultural center and museum. Buildings with wheelchair access and accessible bathrooms include the Pensacola Museum of History, Voices of Pensacola, the Pensacola Children’s Museum, the Museum of Commerce, the Museum of Industry, Old Christ Church, the L&N Marine Terminal and the Bowden Building. Additionally, Pensacola is known for being home to the “Big Five,” including the Pensacola Opera, Pensacola Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Pensacola, the historic Saenger Theatre and the Pensacola Museum of Art. Each building includes accessible sVisieating options and complimentary hearing amplification headsets.
Amelia Island hosts a trove of accessible experience. The recently built SpringHill Suites Amelia Island, across from beautiful Atlantic beaches and Main Beach Park, provides offers accessible rooms, entries, routes, showers, pool entrance and pathway, self-parking and more. Main Beach is equipped with a Mobi-mat to allow for wheelchair access, or visitors can rent beach wheelchairs to use at Main Beach Park from the Atlantic Recreation Center. Getting on the water is just as accessible with tours from Amelia River Cruises & Charters. They are fully narrated through the backwaters of Amelia Island and Cumberland Island, up Egan’s Creek to the Amelia Island Lighthouse. Each vessel is U.S. Coast Guard inspected, bathroom-equipped, handicap-accessible and allows food and beverages aboard.
Jacksonville is committed to fostering a welcoming, accessible experience for all visitors. The Cummer Museum offers large print guides, pre-scheduled ASL services and touch tours for those who are blind or have low vision. iFLY Jacksonville features All Abilities Night the first Monday of every month, offering individuals with physical or cognitive challenges the opportunity to indoor skydive. The Museum of Science and History (MOSH) provides weighted wraps, noise-reducing headphones, a sensory map, pre-scheduled ASL services, raised versions of sky maps and more. Popular local state parks, such as Little Talbot Island and Big Talbot Island, both have a paved pathway, among other accessible offerings. Atlantic Beach and Jacksonville Beach offer free beach wheelchairs.
South Walton, on the Gulf Coast, is known for its sugar-white sands, turquoise waters and 16 unique beach neighborhoods. Seven of the county’s nine regional beach accesses are ADA accessible. Those with mobility issues can enjoy the breathtaking beaches of South Walton with the help of wheelchair-friendly mats from the Ed Walline Regional Beach access. The South Walton Fire District offers push, floating and motorized beach wheelchairs free of charge.
In Tampa Bay, both Zoo Tampa and the Florida Aquarium are partners with the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) program, ensuring inclusive programs and exhibits. Busch Gardens offers its Ride Accessibility Program (RAP), designed to allow guests to fully participate and enjoy the parks while adhering to the safety requirements of the rides and attractions. Through RAP, guests can enroll in Special Access, which allows guests with disabilities to enjoy the attractions without waiting.
Fairgrounds St. Pete, located in St. Pete, Fla., was created in collaboration with over 60 artists, creating an accessible experience inviting guests to explore an immersive world of playful art and technology exhibits based on original Florida stories. Visitors are encouraged to escape reality, experience interactive story-driven installations, and engage in a world of art, play, joy and discovery.
Getting out on the water has never been more welcoming. In Mount Dora, a part of Lake County, Rusty Anchor Boat Tours offers accessible cruises along the shoreline of Lake Dora and through the beautiful Dora Canal. Take a relaxing narrated journey of your choice and learn about the flora, fauna, past and present of this historic city. The spacious pontoon boats are easily accessible for everyone including electric scooters.
In Ocala/Marion County, Silver Springs State Park added an accessible boat to their fleet of glass bottom boats. The boat is named Chief Potackee Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, after the only female Seminole Chief, and is officially taking passengers. The benches on this new boat lift up and down, making it accessible for wheelchairs and making it easier for every passenger to see the glass viewing area.
New Smyrna Beach, just south of Daytona, is now offering a more accessible way to experience Florida's national parks with pedal kayaking offered through Viking EcoTours in Canaveral National Seashore. This innovative new kayaking experience is powered by a pedal system instead of paddles, allowing guests to use their legs to power the kayak while freeing up their arms for other activities. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced kayaker, the pedal system is easy to use and is steered with a rudder. This allows guests to comfortably explore the waterways at any speed.
In Orlando, a new game at the Escape Game Orlando, “The Depths,” is fully accessible to guests. The Depths is a 60-minute escape room adventure, where you and your team will board a submarine voyage to an undersea laboratory. Nearby, Discovery Cove has doubled down on offering a variety of accessibility options throughout the park, including wheelchairs and service animal accommodations. The park is a Certified Autism Center and offers specialized service to guests with autism and special needs. Discovery Cove ambassadors have received specialized training to cater to children with special needs and understand that sensory processing issues are to be taken very seriously.
On Florida’s Space Coast, Crabby’s Beach Wheels is the largest beach wheelchair rental service and beach wheelchair and stroller retailer, with six different chairs to rent for extended periods. Brevard Zoo offers the treetop walkway in Rain Forest Revealed and the EZ Launch Accessible Transfer System, both allowing kayaking in the Wetlands an accessible activity everyone can enjoy. There are even designated quiet zones and sensory bags available to help all guests enjoy their time at the zoo. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex offers wheelchair and Electric Convenience Vehicle (ECV) rental to guests, as well. The attraction includes wheelchair ramps, large bathrooms and plenty of space to cool off.
Also on Florida’s Space Coast, Mikey Goodwin Playground at James H. Nance Park includes all safety surfacing that is wheelchair-accessible and will include ramping so children can play with elevated components. It is also built with "parallel play" features, allowing kids of differing ages, physical abilities, and cognitive abilities to play alongside each other. Additionally, there is a communication board to assist children with limited language skills express themselves. After some fun, visitors can dine in one of the many accessible restaurants on the Space Coast.
In Punta Gorda and Englewood Beach, a plethora of parks and kayak launch points are ADA compliant, making it a convenient choice for outdoor adventure enthusiasts. Oyster Creek Environmental Park and Port Charlotte Beach Park are just a few of the many accessible options.
In Fort Myers, The Edison and Ford Winter Estates is ADA compliant and committed to making its facility and programs accessible to all visitors. Visitors can tour the 15,000 square-foot inventions museum, the botanic research laboratory along smooth pathways using ramps with sturdy metal railings for easy access. Artifacts in the museum are spaced apart and labeled with large text so guests may view each gallery feasibly. The Edison Ford app with narration is compatible with common audio accessibility devices and contains written bullet points, as well as visuals. Service animals are welcomed.
The Palm Beaches are flushed with indoor and outdoor experiences that welcome all abilities. Boca Raton Museum of Art features elevators and ADA-accessible doorways, facilities and galleries, free handicapped parking, wheelchair-accessible restrooms and complimentary wheelchairs are featured on the museum premises. Service animals are welcomed in the gallery and sculpture garden. The Cox Science Center & Aquarium operates in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and is equipped with accommodations for all guests with varying physical and mental capabilities. On the first Saturday of every month from 9:00 a.m. until 10:00 a.m., Sensory Saturdays take place, specifically designed for families with members who have autism, sensory processing or cognitive challenges, or other guests requiring assistance for disabilities.
Jupiter Flatwoods Trail, also in the Palm Beaches, is a free autism-friendly natural area in Jupiter, offering hours of safe and sensory outdoor exploration for all, and is especially popular amongst children on the spectrum. The trail offers a visual scavenger hunt with a sensory scavenger hunt map. The Busch Wildlife Sanctuary offers large print maps and braille books in the welcome center and features wheelchair-accessible walkways throughout the premises with flat walkways and ramps. Loggerhead Marine life Center has a beach wheelchair perfect for use in the Turtle Walk, Hatchling Release and Sunrise Nest Excavation programs. For guests with specific sensory needs, the center offers sensory backpacks available for checkout containing headphones, sunglasses, gloves, fidget spinners and communication boards. Multilingual programming in American Sign Language is also available upon request. Morikami Japanese Museum and Gardens, Mounts Botanical Garden and the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society are all committed to providing all guests with experiences in their natural beauty, regardless of one’s ability.
In Naples, LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort is committed to exceeding requirements for the Americans with Disabilities Act. The staff is trained to accommodate guests with special needs so that all are able to have an enjoyable and safe stay. Facilities include roll-in showers with hand-held shower sprayers, entry doors with 32-inch width, lowered peepholes and accessible routes to all parts of the room and hearing accessible rooms with visual arms and notifications devices.
In Miami, restaurants and attractions are generally accessible, and even the great outdoors are open to all travelers, regardless of their abilities. As the nation's third-largest parks system, Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces (MDPROS) boasts more than 250 parks and 12,000 acres of land. Visitors with disabilities have a variety of opportunities to enjoy it all. Accessible golf carts are available with prior arrangements at golf courses. The department provides a variety of accessible park amenities including tennis and basketball courts, swimming pools, campgrounds, dog parks, fitness zones, shelter rentals, marinas and walking paths..
The EcoAdventures Division in Miami offers a variety of nature-based programs, many of which are accessible, including educational programs and boat tours that can accommodate wheelchairs with prior notice in advance. The Redland Fruit and Spice Park provides guests with the opportunity to stroll along accessible routes while they explore a variety of tropical and subtropical fruit trees. An accessible tram tour is also available at the park. The Therapeutic Recreation and Inclusion Division provides specialized programs for children and adults with disabilities, from archery and wheelchair basketball, to adapted aquatics and handcycling.
In May 2021, Miami International Airport even became the first airport in the United States to install wheelchair charging stations airport-wide. The charging stations offer people with electric mobility devices the opportunity to enjoy travel without the stress of low batteries.
For more information on accessible travel in Florida, please visit VISIT FLORIDA’s Accessible Travel Ideas website.
About VISIT FLORIDA
VISIT FLORIDA is the Sunshine State’s official tourism marketing corporation and travel planning resource for visitors across the globe. As Florida’s No. 1 industry, tourism was responsible for welcoming over 137.6 million visitors in 2022, the highest number of visitors in the state’s history. VISIT FLORIDA promotes tourism through sales, advertising, promotions, public relations and visitor services programs, and serves more than 13,000 travel industry partners throughout the state. To learn more about VISIT FLORIDA, follow @FloridaTourism on Facebook and Twitter, or go to visitflorida.org. For inspiration in the Sunshine State follow @VISITFLORIDA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or visit www.visitflorida.com. For media resources, visit www.visitfloridamedia.com.