Disabled Access: We’re all going on a summer holiday (well, most of us)
For most people the process of choosing and booking a holiday is fairly straightforward; location, sightseeing, sunbathing and whatever other pursuits you fancy, but throw a disability into the mix there are a number of other considerations and costs.
If you’re able bodied it is so much easier to hop on a plane and stay with friends and family, though I have friends and family all over the world, I can’t accept offers to stay with them as most of their homes aren’t accessible and it costs a fortune to stay in hotels. It’s nearly impossible to find a reasonably priced accessible hotel; the large chain hotels are pretty good at providing accessible rooms but their rates are usually too high, especially for a solo traveller. I’ve even been told that I would have to book the executive king suite in a hotel as that was the only room they had converted with an accessible roll in shower. I’ve nothing against staying in a suite but the price they wanted me to pay was stratospheric and I felt I was being financially penalised because of my disability and access requirements.
Accessible means different things to different people; my needs are not going to be the same as a guest with a visual impairment or a guest of small stature, so before booking it’s important to clarify your needs with the hotel’s concept of accessible. My personal requirements aren’t excessive, simply enough space to get around the room, I won’t need the small sofa, two armchairs and the desk chair so it’s ok to move them out of the room to increase the floorspace.
While on the subject of the floor…deep pile carpets…the bane of a wheelchair user’s arms. I know they feel soft and luxurious underfoot but they are annoying and exhausting underwheel. Last year I did revolutions of glee when I discovered a gorgeous boutique hotel in Paris that had black wooden floorboards throughout the room; such simple details can bring immense joy!
The biggest problem I encounter tends to be accessible bathrooms. The width of the door frame used to be the most obstructive issue; I can’t count the number of hotels I’ve arrived at only to find I cannot fit my wheelchair in the bathroom. This has led to some fairly stressful yet comic moments, including a feeble attempt to grip the bathroom walls, only to slide to the floor in a heap of giggles; evidently I’m not Spiderman. You’ll find most physically disabled people tend to be extremely resourceful; we have to find creative ways to overcome impossible physical logistics.
Thankfully most door frames are now wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, but not enough hotels include roll in showers, transferring in and out of a bath is incredibly awkward and roll in showers are so much easier to use. Though often shower heads are set at the highest level, making it impossible for me to reach, usually the kind of thing I only notice when I’m undressed and in a rush in the morning. Generally resulting in a hurried rush for a towel and a panicked phonecall to reception to send someone up to drag the shower head back down to within my reach.
Until I arrive at my destination and get inside the room there is always a worry that the room won’t be as described, there is no one stop shop travel resource, the main travel websites aren’t reliable, so it requires a lot of online research before calling the hotel and speaking with someone in reservations who you hope understands the meaning of wheelchair accessible and roll in shower.
One aspect that can cause anxiety when travelling is transport assistance, very often wheelchair users rely upon transport authorities to provide some form of special assistance, the standard of which can vary greatly between providers; no matter how many times I request and confirm my specific assistance needs the majority of the time something goes awry and the assistance isn’t provided. Most disabled people who travel frequently will agree it can be the most stressful and humiliating element of a trip whether it’s by train, plane or bus.
For those who enjoy outdoor activities and high octane sports there are many organisations geared up with accessible facilities, personally they’re not for me, I prefer to explore a new city independently, to go beyond the sightseeing and absorb a new culture or alternatively lie in the sun with a good book and an accessible pool. I’m ridiculously squeamish so camping is unlikely (though I would consider glamping), I’m more inclined to stay at sexy little boutique hotels or an indulgent spa!
No matter what the access hurdle I’m not deterred from travelling, I’m not allowing the built environment to curb my wanderlust, irrespective of any physical obstacles I face, the warm and welcoming attitude I receive in most countries more than compensates. There has been improvement, hotels are increasing their access and there are more online reviews to enable disabled travellers to make an informed choice – but progress is slow. I’m not sure if hoteliers and tour operators realise how much money there is to be made if they improved their access and listened to their disabled guests. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “If you build it, they will come”.
Most accessible city I’ve visited: Las Vegas.Tagged in: Accessibility, disability, holiday, summer
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