Traveling and the Disabled

Ticket, passport, wheelchair…
By Clive Gilbert
BBC News

Despite a new European law to prevent airlines from discriminating against disabled people, planning a holiday can be a fraught exercise for a wheelchair user.
A question which simultaneously evokes pangs of excitement and trepidation is “where are we going for our holidays?”

The answer for most families is often a careful balance between their dreams of exotic palm tree-lined beaches and the realities of a holiday budget that may stretch little further than the newly-formed lake that is the British countryside.

For disabled people burdened with mobility difficulties, there is a plethora of questions and practical considerations which need to be addressed before the suntan lotion and beach towels can be brought down from the loft.

Transport and accommodation have to be thoroughly researched to ensure that everyday tasks can be adequately performed.

These questions can vary wildly from one condition to the next. A blind person may be able to sit on an ordinary airplane seat whereas someone with more severe mobility impairment might require supportive adjustments to be made. Many would have to consider alternative forms of travel altogether.

Hotels have to be carefully vetted as the advertisements listed by holiday companies have been shown to be wrongly labelled as accessible to all.

According to the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), disabled people travel a third less often than the average citizen.

As a wheelchair user myself, I regularly have to contend with the limited accessibility of public transport even on British trains and buses. Taxi firms that cater for wheelchair users are few and far between.

Under new European Union rules introduced in July, airlines and holiday companies can no longer refuse to fly people because of their disability.

Campaigners such as the European Disability Forum widely welcomed the move, but questions have been raised about pilots refusing to fly if the number of disabled people on board raises health and safety issues.

Ryanair has provoked criticism for having a quota restricting the number of disabled passengers to the number of flight attendants because, it says, it must be mindful of the safety of all customers.

Cobbled stones

In 2005 the policy led to the removal of a group of nine blind and partially sighted passengers, sparking uproar from disability rights groups and calls for a boycott of the airline.

Disability Rights Commission spokesperson Natalie Salmon says: “DRC is not aware that other airlines have quotas as such. Each flight and each passenger are dealt with on their own merits”.

Disabled travellers gain rights
As disabled travellers are usually accompanied by a carer or family member, Ryanair’s policy does not make sense, she adds.

However, some wheelchair users are restricted to their own specially-adapted vehicles that make flying impossible.

When they reach their destination, mobility problems are likely to be a major consideration. Medieval towns with their cobble-stoned streets may be a magnet for most tourists, but they can create a difficult ride for wheelchair users.

I have had many punctured tyres during visits to French towns, resulting in several thorough tests of one’s knowledge of the native language.

Sinking in sand

The same applies to beaches, where wheelchairs tend to sink into the sand under the weight of their occupants. On such occasions, ramps – usually intended to help boaters carry their vessels down to the shoreline – can make a great difference.

Beaches can be a problem for wheelchairs
The DRC has recommended Sweden as a holiday destination which boasts a good reputation for disability issues.

Also, the Amsterdam tram system has been found to be accessible to users of reduced mobility, although some parts of the city may be more difficult to navigate.

In the wake of the Olympic Games, parts of Barcelona’s transport infrastructure have become more wheelchair-friendly.

Once all these diverse and complex matters have been factored-in and resolved, the only thing which would surpass the satisfaction of successfully scaling the mountain of issues is the smooth running of the holiday itself.

Buy travel insurance, which includes repatriation
Always declare any pre-existing medical condition to the insurers
Check that your accommodation has no access problems and whether good lifts are available
Check the suitability of staircases and bathroom equipment
Take special care with food and water hygiene, and avoid mosquito and other insect or animal bites
Source: UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Pragmatism and graft work are vital to the success of the holiday. However, these conditions also tend to limit the aspirations of many disabled people as they decide where to go and how to get there.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.