There have been some major changes in our lifestyle over the past 6 months or so and one specific change has been to adapt to my new disability. At the moment I have a chronic knee injury, walk with crutches and am now driving and parking with a blue badge. We don’t know exactly what is wrong yet and I am undergoing regular tests at the hospital whilst the consultants try to figure it out.
It is a challenging time for me and beyond the physical pain, it has surprised me how much it has caused me to rethink the world around me, specifically when it comes to travelling. As travel is such an important part of our lives I am thinking about travelling with a disability in a new way.
Here are some familiar thoughts when travelling with a disability:
– will the staff understand my needs?
– will the staff understand my language if I need to explain?
– what additional equipment do I need to take with me?
– what medication do I need to take?
– what medication can I take with me?
– will I have to pay for a carer?
– will it cost me more because they have to make more effort with me?
– where can I park with enough space and be close enough to where I need to be?
– can I get off the transport?
– can I get on the transport?
– what will I not be able to do?
– should I even bother?
– do I even deserve to go on holiday?
– what’s the point?
I’ve only had a condition for a year so perhaps I’m still going through this stage of realisation and haven’t quite reached acceptance of the world that has now changed around me.
But I am starting to see that the world has changed and it has got a lot smaller.
To get some context about my disability – I am on crutches and can’t use my right leg properly anymore. My mobility is limited and short even short distances now cause me pain.
Considerations for Travelling with a Disability
Travel used to be easy
We’ve been lucky enough to have travelled a fair amount. There was Thailand in 2014, Australia in 2010, London in 2015 and a few other trips and I thought nothing of how easy it was to book a ticket and go. I am a very active person, or rather I was. I was the type of guy to cycle the length of New Zealand with a mountain bike, a tent and no map. I had been planning to cycle the length of the UK from John O’groats to Land’s End and the West Coast of Ireland.
Now a huge series of questions comes up when planning a trip and deciding what to do based on what I can do and then what is actually available to me travelling with a disability.
Right to Travel
Obviously, I am not the only nor the most disabled person who wishes to travel the world and that’s the way it should be. People in this modern world should be able to see more than their computer screen to say they have seen the world and I believe every person should have right.
So where do we stand with the travel providers that would usually facilitate such a thing? Well, so far it has been quite mixed.
Some countries like the UK and much of the European Union, have specific laws that state a facility must be disability friendly. This means they must install ramps or lifts and have doorways that a wheelchair can go over. There are specific companies set up to consult on these matters, made up of specialists and service providers to help a company accommodate people with special requirements.
These laws seem to have mixed reactions from service providers and while some are proud to say “we have 5 specially accessible rooms and you can get anywhere on the site without a single step” to others that say “we were made to have some disabled rooms which cost us a lot of money and no one uses them”.
Suffice it to say, the fact that no one uses the destination might have something to do with their awful attitude.
And this is really the crux of what I have found so far. There are companies and destinations that are proud to welcome everyone, especially those with disabilities, there are those that do it for legal reasons but accept that it is a good thing, and there are unfortunately those that do not think disabled people are worth their time.
I have been most surprised about sporting destinations from what I have found. I’ll name two that have changed my perceptions considerably.
First is the Isle of Man. As part of our Visit Every County in the UK Challenge, we plan to visit the Isle of Man as an extra. The Isle of Man isn’t part of the UK or the EU so doesn’t have the same laws. It is also old and has very few disability friendly attraction and facilities. However, as the home of the Moto TT, a huge motorbike race that attracts thousands to the island every year, it does have an intimate acceptance and culture of disability awareness because of the number of disabled people the race produces. An accident on a high speed motorbike can paralyse a rider and the islanders are very aware of the ramifications.
The other was Austria. I spoke to a hotel company there called Adlers and they explained how much they are proud to be a disability-friendly town and anyone can get anywhere and if they have trouble, someone will help them. Their hotels were adapted and custom built to make things easier and accessible. The surprising thing is that I would have written off the destination as a place to travel with a disability as I assumed it was only for skiers and very capable outdoor types. Never would I have considered it a travel with a disability destination.
These are old houses and estates or cultural sites that have been around centuries, if not more. These are often a travel destination that people with disability have to bite the bullet with unfortunately as it is difficult to retrospectively adapt an old building or site to accommodate lifts, stair lifts or ramps. I think it is fair however unfortunate.
What I do take happiness in is speaking to organisations like English Heritage, The Houses of Parliament and the Royal Collection who don’t simply sit and use this as an excuse. Between them they are adapting as much as they can and providing options for areas that can not be accessed. For example, where there is a old staircase to upper or lower floors, where it cannot be adapted, they are installing visual aids to still give those who cannot traverse the stairs a glimpse into what is up there. Or that there are specific days throughout the year that people with disabilities take centre stage, where they have more staff and help to make sure there are enough people are on hand to help if need be.
Sun, Sea and Sand
Again, we have to accept that some of these places are just not accessible for people travelling with a disability. We went to Newquay this summer and the path down to Fistral Beach is a nightmare to walk down and there were very few signs or people to help. There are other places that do however have ramps and assistance. When we went to Qatar, the St. Regis Doha was very well equipped and had ramps down to the private beach as well as lifts all over the hotel. There was sun, sand and (a man made) sea!
On our trip to Devon, we had to find a different beach to the rest of the group that was more accessible, so we checked the internet and found a list of wheelchair friendly beaches and settled on Westward Ho! and I still got my Devonshire cream tea experience!
We don’t go to many of these, we’re always too busy working! And when the knee started to get worse, I wrote off spas as a difficult and potentially dangerous place to be if I was unable to swim properly. This was pretty devastating for me as I am/was a very strong swimmer.
I didn’t consider a spa as a destination until we visited the Thermae Spa in Bath for our anniversary. My disability wasn’t too bad at this stage so wasn’t on crutches or looking at the accessibility options. I did however notice that on the rooftop pool, they did have a hoist in the corner to help wheelchair users get in and out of the pool. This was a huge revelation to me and now things are difficult, there is very little chance of my climbing out by myself. Realising this, I have started to ask spa’s and hotel with spa’s about accessibility options and a good number of them have said that they are able to accommodate most requirements, but to let them know in advance if possible.
Having been to a few concerts, ballets, musics festivals and dance recitals, I’m well aware of the options available to wheelchair users and take it as norm that these exist where the event is at a venue.
As my injury is a result of an outdoor music festival it resonated quite deeply, the need for options when it comes to these events. In my opinion, outdoor music festival organisers are awful at this.
I was surprised to find out that Ascot, the racing venue, has only been adapted properly in the last 2 years. Where previously, there was only a viewing platform, now there are lifts, special areas, better viewing and accessibility to the restaurants and now the tour.
I think it can be difficult to find entertainment that accommodates disability. Take tickets for example, some venues are fine with providing a free ticket to a carer, however this can sometimes mean they have to be a registered carer. Other times, the venue just flat our say no to having a concession for the carer. The cost of this, mitigates the value of going to an event as does the fact that some venue that will put the disabled area in the back corner where you can’t see.
Other venues are fantastic and do what they can, even if they suffer from being an old building and being an entertainment venue – Scala in London was the latest example of this where their staff we absolutely brilliant at helping us and the viewing platform was more VIP.
We haven’t actually been on a flight yet where I have needed any special assistance however now things are worse, I will need something the next time we fly. At present, my only thoughts are that it is going to cost more. As I have a leg injury, I need to keep the leg out stretched or at least be able to move the knee frequently. The blood pressure in legs increase during flights so I think it will hurt more. The only options to my knowledge are Aisle seats or Emergency Exit seats. I can’t sit in emergency exit seats as despite the likelihood of adrenaline kicking in to help people, a fully fit and capable person should be sat there. With aisle seats we have to consider whether we will be able to sit together and that these days it costs to book a specific seat. All adding to the cost of the ticket.
Flexibility will also take a hit as if a flight is cheap, we may not be able to travel on it if there are no seats able to accommodate. However, on our next flight, we will see how we fare.
This is a tough one too. Since getting a blue badge, the roads have changed considerably for us. There is some good and some bad. We have Deborah the Van for two reasons, to convert into a campervan and also because I find it hard to drive a car now. Stepping into a van is easier than sitting down into a car seat. The driving position is better and it doesn’t hurt my leg. However this means we have issues with height restrictions for parking. Sometimes we can find somewhere that is ok but at others we can’t and have to either abandon the trip, or like our recent experience at World Travel Market at the Excel Centre, London where we had to pay £20 for a trade space, while cars and hire vans were allowed to park for free.
This was disheartening but we were determined to start this new chapter in Awesome Waves travels with as much knowledge and experience as possible to make sure that the beautiful world we have managed to see some of, is still open to us and to others suffering with disability.
Not going to stop travelling
There should be nothing that is shut off to anyone and those capable should always endeavour to help those less capable. We are determined to carry on travelling and while it might take us a bit longer, cost us a bit more and require a little more rest in between, we hope that you stay with us as we hop-a-long on this journey.
Do you have any experience of travelling with a disability? It would be good to know your experiences of what works for you.