Pack your bags and take the passport out of the drawer – it’s holiday time.
If you have a newly acquired disability, going on holiday might seem like an unsurmountable challenge instead of a period of relaxation. There’s lots to plan and organise, and it can be hard to know where to start.
One barrier to travel can be lack of confidence, and it’s understandable to feel nervous about going to a different country, and dealing with an unfamiliar culture and language. Disability doesn’t have to stop you travelling: you can still explore new countries, try exotic food and see the world. The key to feeling confident about your trip is to be prepared.
Travelling with a disability means extra care when it comes to organising your holiday – luckily we live in the digital age. “When venturing abroad for the very first time as a disabled person or wheelchair-user, many underestimate the preparation and planning required prior to travel,” says Lynne Kirby, managing director of Enable Holidays, which plans holidays and excursions for people with disabilities.
It’s a good idea to heavily research where you want to go via the internet, and people’s reviews, pre-book everything and explain any support you may need. Depending on the country, accommodation and travel options available, there may be apps, specialist websites and forums with essential information.
“TripAdvisor has been invaluable to me,” says Shani Dhanda, a disability advocate and speaker with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as brittle bones,. “Looking at the images and seeing the lay of the land is so helpful.”
Security checks, queues and passport control – the airport can be stressful and understaffed: it’s imperative that you get to the airport early, so you don’t feel rushed. When visiting Israel, Natasha Lipman, a disability blogger, had trouble at the airport due to language barriers and having invisible disabilities. Her top tip is to ask for help at airports and book everything you need beforehand.
“It makes a huge difference to my ability to enjoy the holiday, as I haven’t used up a week’s energy at the airport,” she says. Shani agrees. “They always want to check the wheelchair in with the luggage,” she says. “You have to spend a lot of time educating people. What I find easier, especially in a foreign country, is to explain what support you need, rather than going into all the medical stuff which baffles them.”
Another good idea is to find out what policies the airlines has online as each will be different, and see what they can offer in terms of help and support.
Some destinations are better than others when it comes to accessibility. According to Lynne, the best cities for accessibility are Berlin, Amsterdam, Barcelona and New York. If a city break isn’t for you, Tenerife, Florida and Jersey all make excellent places for disabled holidaymakers to visit.
Berlin is often touted as the number one accessible city, but as Natasha points out, it’s still not perfect. “The train stations were accessible, but there were no drop curbs in Berlin. I wouldn’t have been able to go independently around the city,” she notes. Another thing to bear in mind is that other countries’ ideas of accessibility might not be the standard that you’re used to.
“I invited a friend out to India when I was travelling, she’s a wheelchair user,” says Shani. “I pre-booked everything to make sure it was sorted, but their understanding of accessibility is very different. The accessible hotel room had two steps up to it, and we couldn’t take her chair inside the Taj Mahal, she had to be carried by her sister.”
OUT AND ABOUT
For people with disabilities, a flying visit may not be an option when you have to factor in recovery time. “I generally go away for more than I would have liked to,” says Natasha. “I need to recover from flights and going out, too. I usually go on holiday for 10 days instead of five.”
As well as planning a longer holiday, matching up to-do lists is also a priority if you go on holiday with a non-disabled person. Natasha encourages people to take advantage of city bus tours as an easy thing to do together. She suggests scheduling in important rest time when your travel partner wants to do something that you can’t join in with.
“When we were in Israel, I had a rest day while my boyfriend went for a hike,” Natasha says. “Trying to find ways to do things together is important, too, but I don’t want him to miss out.” Choosing your destination carefully is important as well. While you may want to see the Eiffel Tower, Paris is notoriously difficult to navigate as a person with disabilities.
But there are also cultural issues to think about. “I have a very visible disability,” says Shani. “People’s reactions are very interesting when you’re travelling. People respond differently due to cultural reasons. In Asia, disability can be stigmatised, but it’s very much a generational thing. I’ve learnt to accept that people will notice me, and I engage with it. I love talking to people, but it’s annoying when people take photos without my permission.”
While you can’t control other people’s reactions to you, it’s something to be aware of and take into consideration. For Shani, nothing can dull the shine of travelling. “I’m passionate about travel,” says Shani, who has visited 29 countries. “There’s a whole world out there.”
ACCESSIBLE HOLIDAY SPECIALIST
If you would like an expert to organise your holiday, contact an accessible holiday specialist. They do the work on your behalf, thus saving you hours of emailing and numerous phone calls “If you do decide to go with an accessible tour operator or travel agent,” says Lynne. “Please check they are members of ABTA (the travel association) and ATOL (the aviation licencing body) for your financial security and peace of mind.”