Access all areas: holidays for people with disabilities
Passport, euros, sunglasses, wheelchair … people with disabilities here tell their inspiring travel stories
IBIZA STAG PARTY
This summer I flew to Ibiza for 10 days for my stag party with a load of mates. Following a snowboarding accident, I am a C4 tetraplegic – I have no control of my arms or legs and very little stability in my torso, so I rely on my head-controlled power wheelchair and assistance from others.
Although usually I’m petrified of my wheelchair being damaged in baggage handling, I was reassured by friendly Monarch staff (who were capable but not used to manoeuvring someone without any arm movement) that they had treated the wheelchair with care. In Ibiza, after the customary uncomfortable transfer back to my wheelchair from the aircraft, we were escorted to the taxi rank by bubbly and friendly “airport wheelchair assistants” wearing fluorescent jackets with large wheelchair symbols emblazoned on the back.
I was concerned about transport around the island, but we found it easy to pre-book adapted taxis, though reversing the wheelchair into them with the joystick occasionally required nerves of steel in the early hours of the morning.
We went clubbing a lot on the do, but the first, and my favourite club, was Space. After talking to the friendly door manager and explaining we were looking to see how accessible it was (because we had tickets to the next day’s opening of “We Love”), he let the four of us in free. This unprecedented generosity gave me an instant liking for Space, and its layout made for a pleasant wheelchair experience, as all the main areas were accessible. We partied in Space until closing time another four times on that trip.
The Hotel Sirenis Goleta (sirenishotels.com) in Playa d’en Bossa was as accessible as we could have hoped, with a walk-in shower, enough room to manoeuvre, understanding and friendly staff and entirely wheelchair-friendly grounds. Although the pool had no specific facilities I still managed to get in for a quick dip.
Other trips in the past couple of years have involved a friend’s wedding in France, Switzerland every July (for five years now) for Paléo (paleo.ch), a world music festival, and visits to the mountains around Davos, in particular to our friends in Malans.
The Cinque Terre in Liguria, Italy, is my favourite destination thanks to the food and breathtaking coastline. I’ve also been to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, hosted by some friends in the VIP area (that would be very uncomfortable without the VIP hospitality).
I’ve also enjoyed skiing (or being steered in a ski cart) in Sweden with the Back Up Trust (backuptrust.org.uk, a charity supporting people with spinal injuries). Various visits to the extremes of the UK have included Devon and Scotland, most recently to experiment with my head-controlled Boma off-road wheelchair.
One of the most important factors for me is care: I do almost everything through the help of others. The more closely I can work with a personal assistant, the more efficient performing most tasks becomes. I therefore spend a significant amount of time making sure I have reliable help throughout my holiday.
Packing is critical; the number of places you can purchase specialist equipment and supplies is limited. I always have two or more people compile independent lists (or use a previous list) and cross-reference to ensure I don’t forget anything vital.
Dealing with attitudes when travelling is another interesting issue. I find that in countries where independent living for people with high-level disabilities is an unknown concept, disabled people tend to draw a lot of attention. Occasionally the attention has a negative taint, but usually it’s blatant curiosity, which doesn’t bother me most of the time.
Tom Nabarro, tomnabarro.com. Another version of the Ibiza story first appeared in Mixmag
For more than five years I have been dependent on a carer for mobility. I travel with my able-bodied carer, Karl, and have a Motability car. We have done quite a few road trips. When I’m on holiday I love to be outdoors in nature, so camping suits me very well. We love cooking our evening meal on the barbecue while soaking up the sunset and birdsong.
In the summer I explore in the UK. I always look online for places that have easy-access walks in beautiful scenery, and Accessiblecountryside.org.uk is a very helpful resource. A recent Devon trip that worked well included riding the Tarka Trail on a wheelchair tandem (bidefordbicyclehire.co.uk), wheelchair walks on the South West Coast Path at Westward Ho!, a day trip to RHS Rosemoor Gardens in Torrington (rhs.org.uk/rosemoor), camping on a farm and more wheelchair tandem fun at Haldon Forest Park (forestry.gov.uk/haldonforestpark).
Around Chichester, I recently enjoyed harbourside wheelchair walks and a balloon-wheel beach buggy ride on West Wittering beach. Next time I’d like to take a cruise on Solar Heritage, a wheelchair-accessible solar-powered boat (conservancy.co.uk).
For trips to the continent I use camping specialist Acsi (acsi.eu) to find campsites with accessible facilities. This year we visited the Ardèche, the Camargue and Lake Annecy in France. Voiesvertes.com is one resource that I’ve used to find countryside easy-access walks there.
I have found it a lot more challenging and time consuming to do research for accessibility in Europe, mainly because of the language barrier. So when I do find beautiful places with good access, it makes sense to share my research and experience on my blog. I would love to hear from anyone who knows of good online accessible travel resources for western European countries, especially sites with accessible countryside walks.
Marina Beaumont. Follow her on Twitter @wheeltravelblog and read her accessible travel tips at wheelchairaccesstravel.com
THE WHEELCHAIR DIARIES
After sixth form most of my friends were looking forward to university, or looking for a job in London. I had other thoughts. In November I flew to Lima, Peru, to embark on a three-month trip around South America, with only my electric wheelchair and reading material for company.
I was born with cerebral palsy and my parents were told by doctors that I would have difficulty ever being able to walk. Nevertheless, from my father’s upbringing in Nigeria and my mother’s trips to Jamaica and Lebanon in her teenage years, I had travelling in my blood, and by the age of 18 was off on my own adventure.
After reaching the town of Aguas Calientes, I took a bus up a mountain road, until the ruins of Machu Picchu came into view. I abandoned my wheelchair at the entrance to the site, which promptly drew the attention of the entrance guard.
“It is OK there, no?” I asked, somewhat harshly. The guard nodded, bewildered at my intentions.
Already hot from the beating sun, but undeterred, I made my way on foot, deliberately taking the longer of the two routes to the top. I have never been a person to turn down a challenge, and this was a physical one harder than most I had ever faced. A few hours later, I was standing at the very top, gasping for breath and staring in wonder across at Huayana Picchu.
At times, however, being separated from my wheelchair happened by necessity, rather than choice. When I arrived in Buenos Aires, it took only a matter of minutes for the spring of the joystick which controlled the wheelchair’s movement to snap out of place, rendering the vehicle obsolete. After a few moments of despair, I was on my feet again, pushing the wheelchair (of considerable weight) along the street. It was a tiring few days in Argentina, and being offered money in the street as if I was a beggar was not particularly heartening, but I made my way to the Iguazu Falls, on the border with Brazil. The beauty and power of the waterfalls washed away most of my worries. A friend from London flew out to Rio de Janeiro for a Christmas rendezvous, and brought a spare part for the wheelchair with him.
Brazil was the last stop in a trip that also took me through Chile and Bolivia. I enjoyed Bolivia most out of all the countries I visited. It was also the place with least provision for disabled people, in the conventional sense, with high pavement kerbs and bumpy roads.
However, it was something else that helped me get around: the kindness, generosity and patience of the people I met. How can I forget the descent down one of the steepest hills I had ever seen, on my way to La Paz, cramped inside a minibus with my wheelchair precariously balanced on its roof, praying that it didn’t fall off!
Disabled people aren’t “supposed” to do things like this. Which is precisely why I did.
Jody McIntyre, jodymcintyre.wordpress.com/about
ACTION AND RELAXATION
One consequence of my spinal injury, the result of a helicopter crash in 1985, was that I missed my brother Nick’s wedding in Australia. Keen to make up for that at his first anniversary, my new wife Linda and I pumped up the wheelchair tyres and headed off to Queensland. Since then I have travelled widely, to places such as Tokyo and Los Angeles on business, and on camping holidays to France with our three children.
I swim and handbike, a sport coming to a Paralympics venue near you soon. I love scuba diving, though I have difficulty with currents, and I’m also planning a canoeing trip down the Wye next year. Most of our family trips have involved making concessions. Once, a large bathroom said to be accessible turned out, on day one of a two-week holiday, to have a door too narrow for my chair. So for our recent silver wedding anniversary, I was determined that no stone would be left unturned.
I wanted direct flights, big bathrooms, an in-house Padi centre and stuff for Linda to do while I was underwater. The Calabash Hotel in Grenada (calabashhotel.com, doubles from $710 B&B) ticked all the boxes. It offers ground-floor suites and level access to the Scubatech dive shop, which takes you to the local sites in a pirogue, saving wheelchair users having to bum-shuffle down the beach.
Back in the UK, we’ve just come back from a post-Olympics visit to Jersey, my home town. We took our own car on the ferry from Poole. Local hire companies have yet to be convinced to adapt some of their fleet for disabled drivers. We ate at the very swish Sumas restaurant at Gorey Harbour (01534 853291, sumasrestaurant.com), which – I know from experience and thus plan for – has no disabled toilet, and the ever-reliable Pizza Express at St Brelade’s Bay, which does. It is all a question of space but I’m not aware of any encouragement or legislation to make all island establishments look at improving access.
After 27 years in a wheelchair my spine had become quite bent out of shape, and I was unaware, until I visited Grayshott Spa in Hampshire (grayshottspa.com), that it might be the cause of some additional nerve pain. Massage therapist Elaine Williams is rated as one of the top 10 in the UK and she certainly knows her muscular-skeletal stuff. As a regular customer now I feel like a new man.
The Lee Valley White Water Centre (visitleevalley.org.uk, rafting £49pp) reopens on 8 September, the first of the London 2012 venues to do so. Last year my sons and I took a rafting trip on its foaming torrents and had the time of our lives. It’s great as long as you don’t mind wearing a yellow “special needs” helmet that identifies you as a priority, I trust, if a rescue is ever required.
I think you just learn to travel. You make mistakes, you figure out and next time you will be better prepared. I remember my first proper holiday after my accident. We had flown into Marrakech with no money, none of my bank cards were working and we had bartered a hire car with the last pounds we had. So we sat in the car with my wheelchair and luggage loaded in the back and my assistant turns to me and says, “So where are we going?”
I hadn’t booked a hotel for that night and didn’t really know where to start. I just thought, “I’m in a wheelchair – what the fuck am I doing in Africa?” But it was one of the best holidays I’ve had, such a big adventure and so much fun.
I have occasionally learned the hard way – what I need to take, what I need to do, and the sort of person I like to travel with. I have a pretty hefty first-aid kit with all the general plasters and water purification tablets, and just-in-case stuff such as antibiotics for diarrhoea. I’ve also always got a credit card with a limit high enough to book a flight home, plus a necklace with the tag that has my travel insurance details engraved on it so that they are always with me. Luckily I have not often needed such things, but it gives me the security to be adventurous.
Developing countries are often the most fun to travel in – there is little of the health and safety nonsense that can inhibit us in the west. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, even if you have to travel in the luggage compartment on a train in India. I think just the presence of a western disabled person in these places can inspire the disabled community there. There is often a preconception that there is little disability in the west because we can just pay to be fixed.
So, in 2010 I set up a charity, Vitality (vitalchange.org.uk) to provide training for carers of people with spinal cord injury in developing countries, improving the quality of life of the individual and their families. The work is truly vital: the World Health Organisation estimates that the life expectancy of a spinal cord-injured person in a developing country is only two to three years. Further research from India shows that nearly four out of five carers of people with a spinal cord injury are psychologically distressed.
We provide a peer group programme to help carers overcome the emotional and physical demands of looking after a person with a spinal cord injury.
Lucy Robinson, vitalchange.org.uk