Because we enjoy the summer, we enjoy holidays and we enjoy sharing advice for and from our disabled community we decided that we wanted to put together the definitive guide of travel tips for people with disabilities. We’ve broken down some tips into four key areas for anyone planning a holiday. Take a look and add your own top tips in the comments below!
Finding a Hotel
Don’t simply trust the hotel website stating they have an accessible room – this can often just be a room on the ground floor. Ask for photographs of the disabled facilities so you know what to expect. Some hotels are funny about doing this so call and ask complex/detailed questions – they’ll usually capitulate and send you a photo.
If they won’t provide photos, take as much time as necessary to call the hotel and ask questions that require thorough responses. Don’t ask yes or no questions as they won’t help as much and it’s possible that the person you speak to can just guess the answers.
Listen between the lines, if they don’t seem to know the answers to your questions it suggests that the hotel is not used to having disabled guests. There may be a reason for that.
Accessible hotel rooms with style. There is such a thing!
Tell them about your needs. You don’t have to tell them your entire medical history but a rough idea will help them gauge if their access is appropriate for you.
You probably know best what to ask for but there are a few things to check for that hotel staff may not necessarily consider themselves:
- Is there step free access and/or lift access to main entrance and automatic doors?
- Level, ramped or lift access to public areas and above ground floor accessible rooms.
- Are room doors wide enough (750mm min for wheelchair) and is there space to move around inside?
- Do they have a walk/wheel in shower with grab rails and seat?
- Emergency cords, how many and where are they located?
- Is everything you need to use – the bed, the sink, the toilet, wardrobes, switches, plugs etc. – at wheelchair height?
- Is there a designated person to give assistance to wheelchair users, sign language, blind guidance, please comment. What training if any have they done?
If possible find a hotel which isn’t on a hill. It will save unnecessary effort or worse…
What To Take
Make sure your phone has all the essential numbers in it. If it’s got our App installed you will have details of cool venues to visit across Europe!
Keep a copy of booking confirmation emails so you can prove you booked assistance, a disabled room, an accessible taxi etc.
Don’t forget your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) lets you get state healthcare at a reduced cost or sometimes for free. It will cover you for treatment that is needed to allow you to continue your stay until your planned return. It also covers pre-existing conditions, apparently??
My checklist is now money, passport, tickets, and medication. After forgetting some drugs when I went to Cyprus, due to customs implications and in desperation, I went to a local doctor who gave me an equivalent drug which was so strong I kept falling asleep mid-sentence. Although most drugs are the same as those from the NHS and more readily available than you’d think, in the EU at least, it’s far easier to remember the medication. It may be a holiday but you don’t want to drift off at inopportune times.
Preparing Your Wheelchair
To reduce the chance of something breaking, if your chair has not been serviced recently, send it to a repair shop for a general check over.
If you’re going further afield or expecting rough access it might be worth customising your wheelchair to make it a bit more practical on uneven environments (for instance, you may want to see if you can rent a power pack so you can travel around more in your chair). Take your wheelchair to a shop and see what they recommend.
Take a pump for your tyres – it will also be useful for your pool inflatables! I always take a rubber ring with handles as we’ve found it makes getting into and out of a pool easier if there’s no pool lift.
Have copy of your wheelchair’s assembly manual with you. Also take an allen key kit and some water resistant grease spray to avoid water damage to bearings etc.
Carrying luggage is tricky but one method is to take a backpack that fits on the back of your chair (make sure it’s secure to avoid pickpocket problems) along with a day bag with essentials (drugs, wipes, phone, sunscreen & sunglasses – they make you look glamorous even after a difficult flight) on your lap or underneath your chair. Or get assistance and they can carry it for you.
If you’re taking more than a backpack’s worth, you may need assistance
Remember to take disability aids. Airlines let you take at least 2 extra pieces of luggage (no weight restrictions). I always take a portable grab rail (only works on glass unfortunately but useful for an unfamiliar shower cubicle), portable bed rails for assistance into and out of bed and a portable toilet frame (see our post on portable travel equipment here) just in case the facilities are not as described.
Airport staff are there to help wherever assistance is necessary (and in some cases where it’s not). Call the airline to buy your ticket and tell them about your requirements. Then notify them of your arrival again 48 hours before your flight.
It’s hard to recommend any particular airline as it comes down to the staff rather than the company policy. However, it’s probably fair to say that budget airlines – where rushing everyone on and off the plane as fast as possible is the modus operandis – will provide a less comfortable experience, although in my experience Easyjet is now much better and is as good as BA.
In the case that your wheelchair is lost or damaged make sure you fill in the Property Irregularity Report at the airport and at EU airports demand a replacement.
Take your wheelchair cushion on the plane to sit on and to make sure it doesn’t get lost.
This is a good site for airport information, along with our previous post on airline travel.
When you’re there
Accessibility doesn’t necessarily mean ramps and lifts in other countries and their approach may be more physical (i.e. lifting you up themselves) so be ready for that.
“If it’s the only way to the toilet, it’s the only way to the toilet”
Make sure you know how to say disabled, accessible, wheelchair/blind/deaf, etc in the language of the country you’re going to or at least have the words written down
If a museum lacks elevators for visitors, be sure to ask about freight elevators.
Bike shops are excellent for tire repairs if your wheelchair gets a flat.
Please let us know if you have any helpful tips for less able people who are going on holiday. We want to share ideas with as many people as possible!