Helping Adults with Intellectual Disabilities Travel Safely this Summer

Categories: ASD and DD, Adult-focused; COVID-19 Topics

By Margaret Walsh, M.A., BCBA                        

[This column was published in the West Springfield Republican on June 17, 2021, in the Stoughton Journal, Randolph Herald, Canton Journal, and Holbrook Sun on July 16, 2021, in The BeaconWeymouth News, and The Norwood Transcript & Bulletin on July 22, 2021.]

This past year has been long and difficult for all of us because of COVID-19, but it’s been especially scary, confusing, and lonely for many people living with Intellectual Disabilities (ID). Now that summer is here and more and more people are vaccinated, it is not surprising that adults with ID, just like the rest of us, are eager to get out and see the family members and friends they have not been in physical contact with for so long.

We all have a renewed appreciation for the ability to travel freely to see loved ones, or the luxury of spending time at our favorite vacation spots. Having a vaccine has helped diminish the fear of traveling in the United States during COVID-19. Even so, all of us, including adults with ID, should still be cautious about travel plans because there is not a sufficient percentage of the population vaccinated to end the pandemic.

If you are vaccinated, it is less likely that you will become seriously ill or spread the coronavirus. If you are notvaccinated, it is of the upmost importance that you know the COVID-19 test requirements before or after you travel because it is more likely you could contract and spread this dangerous virus. According to a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst, people with ID are more likely to contract and die from the coronavirus than the general population. 

Even if you are fully vaccinated, you will still need to know what the local, state, and federal rules are for the places you plan to visit.

If you are traveling with an individual with ID, it is important to go over all the expectations before you head out. That’s because it is hard for some adults with ID to switch gears and be open to unexpected changes to rules or schedules. For example, it may be fine to not wear a mask when walking around outside, but everyone still needs to wear masks on any form of public transportation. When in doubt, wear your mask, wash your hands, and social distance. This will not hurt anyone, and it reduces the risk of illness for you and the people around you.

Many individuals, including many adults with ID, have medical conditions that make travel risky. People with conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, weakened immune systems, and cancer are at high risk of serious illness or death if they contract COVID-19. It may be best for these individuals to stay home for now, especially if they are unvaccinated. If you must travel, it is a good idea to talk with your doctor about other steps to take to keep yourself and others safe. 

When you pack your bags, make sure you have clean masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes. This preparation is important because you will need these items any time you ride on public transportation, stay in a hotel, eat at a restaurant, or use a public bathroom. Make using these items a part of the routine again if these have stopped being an immediate priority because of the current ease in COVID-19 restrictions.

Some adults with ID struggle with wearing a mask. If this is the case, it may be best to arrange for them to use private transportation to get to their destinations. If wearing a mask for long periods of time is hard, plan frequent mask breaks and choose masks that are relatively comfortable. 

Adults with ID can travel safely, especially if they are vaccinated, but it is important to have realistic travel plans that take into consideration the reality of COVID-19. With a little education and some creative planning, a vacation with friends and family is possible and a welcome sign of hope and gradual return to normality.

Margaret Walsh, M.A., BCBA, is the Director of Clinical Services for the May Center for Adult Services in Western Massachusetts. She can be contacted in West Springfield at

About May Institute
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis and evidence-based interventions, serving autistic individuals and individuals with other developmental disabilities, brain injury, neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded nearly 70 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit