A Florida Keys vacation means getting away to a unique destination characterized by friendly people, seafood-based cuisine, laid-back atmosphere and warm and sunny weather all year long.
Most lodgings, attractions and recreational activities are specially equipped to enhance the participation and enjoyment of all visitors. However, in some cases, visitors with disabilities may need assistance from a member of their party to fully explore these areas.
Florida state statutes require all licensed lodging facilities to equip at least 5 percent of their guest rooms to meet certain handicapped-accessible criteria, including allowing service animals in the rooms.
Features may vary depending on a select hotel or resort, such as TDD lines (telecommunication devices for the deaf) for telephones or the availability of TTY (TeleTypewriter) kits at the front desk for the hearing impaired.
The Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West can provide helpful information for travelers looking for accommodations of varying types.
Visitors are encouraged to discuss their accessibility needs when they contact the individual establishments directly.
Florida Keys restaurants are ready to welcome visitors with disabilities and can provide prompt assistance in matters ranging from accommodating wheelchairs to bringing a bowl of cold water for a service animal. Although most restaurants do not provide Braille menus, servers in each establishment are available to read the menu to visually impaired diners.
Attractions and Areas of Interest
Florida Keys attractions offer accessibility for all visitors to pursue their passion and enjoy some of the most notable features of the Keys — the beautiful water, world-class fishing, natural wildlife and delicate marine ecosystem.
Each attraction is designed to offer fun for everyone, with resourceful staff to assist visitors with disabilities. Many are designed with wheelchair-wide entrances or front gates for ease of entry, wheelchair-accessible seating, convenient parking and ramps. Many offer specific printed information to help hearing-impaired visitors enjoy the activities and, where available, literature printed in Braille.
For example, Key Largo features a three-pool complex at Jacobs Aquatic Center, with a 24-foot by 44-foot ramp-accessible multipurpose MYRTHA pool (three to four feet deep) equipped with a lift and utilized for swim classes, water aerobics, aqua therapy programs and recreation.
Swim encounters or interactions with dolphins are made possible by nonprofit centers such as Key Largo’s Island Dolphin Care Center and Marathon’s Dolphin Research Center, each fully accessible and offering special-needs programs.
Water excursions, from fishing to diving to sunset sailing cruises, are an important part of the Florida Keys experience. Some vessels, such as Key Largo’s Tranquil Adventures, are specifically equipped for wheelchairs, have accessible bathrooms and offer a lift to lower disabled passengers into shallow water for snorkeling and swimming.
State and marine parks throughout the Keys offer wheelchair-accessible trails for bird watching, and glass-bottom, snorkel and dive boats, and a limited number of beach wheelchairs for guests.
Public theatrical venues throughout the Keys are ADA compliant, featuring wheelchair-accessible seating as well as convenient parking and ramps for people with disabilities.
Ground transportation in the form of shuttle buses is available from the Key West airport to area hotels. If an area accommodation does not provide its own shuttle, a local taxi company can provide accessible transportation between a visitor’s hotel and either the airport or another island destination.
Visitors are encouraged to confirm special transportation requests with their individual lodging property.
For getting around the islands, local public and tour transportation with wheelchair access is available. The Conch Tour Train and Key West Trolley Tours, which provide narrated guided tours of Key West, and the ferry transport service for day tours from Key West to the Dry Tortugas are wheelchair-accessible.
The city of Marathon has recently equipped the Boot Key Harbor City Marina with floating docks and additions for equal access to all marina services, including dinghy docks, boardwalks and parking facilities.
It is recommended that visitors travel with their own wheelchair, or rent and bring a collapsible model, to ensure availability during their stay as well as easy trunk stowage while driving around the islands. In general, individual attractions or retail businesses do not have wheelchairs available for public use.
While in the Florida Keys, visitors with hearing disabilities can use the Florida Relay Service, a communications link for people who are deaf, partially deaf, deaf and blind or speech impaired.
Through the Florida Relay Service, people who use specialized telephone equipment can communicate with people who use standard telephone equipment. To call Florida Relay, dial 7-1-1 or use the appropriate toll-free numbers listed at www.ftri.org/index.cfm/go/public.view/page/3.
Florida Keys businesses allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed, without segregation, regardless of any “no pets” policy.
Veterinary offices are conveniently located throughout the Florida Keys in case a traveler requires medical attention for a service animal or needs a portable kennel.
Whatever a traveler’s need — wheelchair access, special transportation, TDD, signers, interpreters or special medical equipment — it is best to plan ahead. Ask plenty of questions and always make requests and reservations well in advance.