Having a disability can easily deter people from taking off and seeing the world - Hayley Lawrence explains where, when and how to plan a trip and do it!
Any travelling takes a bit of get up and go – it’s easy to sit and daydream about Timbuktu but getting there takes saving, preparation and, let’s face it, some guts. Having a disability can easily deter people from taking off and seeing the world – especially when travel agents can be badly informed about the dos and don’ts of travelling with a disability, and even contemporary guidebooks offer little advice.
Surprisingly, Bogotá is one of the most accessible cities for wheelchairs as almost all the pavements are ramped, whereas Sydney and London are difficult for disabled travellers. But slowly, more destinations and travel companies are recognising the need to make the world accessible to everyone.
Taking a travel buddy is one way of eliminating some of the problems that crop up for the disabled traveller but, as many of us know, travelling alone can be an enriching experience which shouldn’t have to be passed up. Disabled or not, travel tastes and limits are ultimately down to each individual, but here are a few guidelines that will make global freewheeling a much smoother ride.
Insurance You shouldn't have a problem if you declare any pre-exisiting medical conditions (these cannot be covered by your premium) and get a medical certificate declaring that you are fit to travel. Travelcare organises cover according to each individual.
Visas Apply early. Medical boards won’t hesitate to send you on the runaround for reports from specialist consultants.
Packing There’s no room to be frivolous when deciding what to take. Once you have organised enough medical and personal care supplies for the duration of the trip, it’s unlikely there will be much room for that extra sarong. Even with an adapted iron-bar to hang her pack on the back of her chair (courtesy of the local blacksmiths), Nicki found that keeping the weight of her luggage manageable was essential.
Flying Always notify the airline/travel agent of any disability or special needs when you book and re-remind them a couple of days before travel. Many airlines will let you take a wheelchair all the way to the door, where you transfer to an aisle chair. If one of the toilets is accessible you will also be able to use the aisle chair during the flight, but you must be able to do all transfers and toilet duties yourself or have an assistant with you. British Airways and Qantas have been noted for their facilities for the disabled. For a full directory of access on board major airlines check www.everybody.co.uk/airline
By Boat Ferries are a relatively hassle-free mode of transport with reserved parking spaces, lift access and discounts for members of the Disabled Drivers’ Motor Club and the Disabled Drivers’ Association.
By Bus Bus travel has also been given the thumbs-up by disabled travellers – generally, someone will help you board and horror stories are rare.
By Train The South-East Asian train network can baffle any traveller, and turned out to be a challenge for Nicki. Eurostar, however, has excellent facilities including a wheelchair area in first class and assistance for travellers with walking, hearing and seeing difficulties, all at discounted rates.
Driving Hand controls that can be fitted to any automatic car are a useful accessory (www.lynxcontrols.com) but are a lot of extra weight to carry around. Car-hire companies have varying policies when it comes to hiring to disabled drivers but in main-gateway airports there is often at least one pre-adapted car in each fleet.
With growing awareness towards accessibility, hotels worldwide are adapting fast, with dedicated car-park spaces, ground floor rooms and staff disability training. But even in modern cities you may find yourself struggling, especially in budget accommodation. www.access-able.com has a useful directory of accessible accommodation across the globe.
A disability does not necessarily limit the type of travel you undertake, although you have to be aware of your physical limits. An overland trip with African Routes was one of the highlights of Nicki’s trip, but back in England she was hard-pushed to persuade any company to accept her on her next planned overland journey in South America.
Taking a mixture of both able and disabled people on activity trips can be a rewarding experience for both parties and disabled participants often end up demonstrating capabilities and confidence beyond the others. Try The Scuba Trust, for underwater adventures, or the Uphill Ski Club and Back Up for international ski trips.
Wherever you intend to wander or wheel, Tripscope will help you organise your journey from door to door. They are not a travel agent, but offer specialist advice and contacts. To put together your own tailormade itinerary try Accessible Travel and Leisure. But if you prefer the ease of pre-organised tours try Can be Done, ATS or the Winged Fellowship Trust – which organises discovery trips worldwide, including the Caribbean, Brazil, India and New Zealand.