Travelling the world by wheelchair
26th February 2020
Travelling the world and exploring new countries brings joy to many, but for those in a wheelchair or individuals who struggle with accessibility, travelling can become a burden and the thought of having to make special arrangements can be daunting, but who says it has to be? Speaking to some of the world's best accessibility bloggers, this article looks at why it is easier than ever before to get away and enjoy the world, with some careful planning beforehand.
Whether you rely on your wheelchair, often use a stairlift at home or have to use walking aids, nothing is stopping you from enjoying the adventures you have always dreamt about. This article looks at some of the struggles those with a disability have to go through when planning to travel, the best ways to overcome these and some of the best destinations for those looking to head away.
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The main struggles of travelling with a disability
Accessibility can be an issue for those looking to travel, UK or worldwide. But with modern technology, a range of resources and helpful articles like these, travelling to some of your favourite locations doesn’t have to be difficult. Airports, cruise terminals and train stations are all making it easier for those in a wheelchair to access their facilities and use their services.
Finding relevant information
We spoke to Carrie-Ann Lightly, who loves to travel, she explained the issues she has previously faced when travelling:
“I think the main struggle disabled travellers face when going abroad, or indeed anywhere, is the struggle to find accurate accessibility information. There are so many interpretations of what an ‘accessible’ room might be, and a resort could tell you that they have ramps throughout, but when you get there you find that the ramp gradients are so steep you can’t use them independently.”
“While travelling as a mobility aid user can be challenging, that doesn’t make it impossible. One challenge I often encounter is a lack of accurate information regarding accessibility. A hotel room might be listed as wheelchair-friendly, for example, simply because it is step-free and located on the ground floor – despite lacking in accessible bathroom facilities. In my experience, I’ve also found travelling as a wheelchair user to be more expensive. If public transport isn’t accessible, for example, I’ve had to pay more for an accessible taxi. If hostel dorm rooms aren’t accessible, I’ve had to pay more for a hotel with an accessible private room.” Says Josephine from Able Amsterdam, a millennial providing accessibility information for those in Amsterdam as well as the rest of the world.
Sylvia from Spin The Globe explains a little about the struggles she has when travelling, including overcoming fear: “One of the biggest struggles for wheelchair travellers is overcoming fear. This could be fear of having their mobility equipment damaged or fear of not knowing what awaits them at their destination. So many times hotels and transportation companies get it wrong, which can make for a very disappointing and sometimes unsafe travel experience. Then, of course, is discovering that a place that was described to you as wheelchair accessible is, in fact, anything but once you get there.”
Accessible travel tips
If you or someone you know wants to travel but is worried about how they will do so easily with their wheelchair, here are a few simple tips that’ll help you during the planning process.
Do your research
Once you have decided where you want to visit, making sure you do your research is essential. Explore the accessible attractions around the location, what accessibility is like in terms of local transport and ear-mark some locations you know you want to visit and book your tickets in advance.
“My number one tip for wheelchair users planning a holiday is research, research and research some more. Spend time web searching, guide book reading and asking for recommendations. Make sure that you have everything documented – confirmations, mobility equipment manuals, medical prescriptions. Take out insurance which includes cover for any medical conditions you have, and your mobility equipment. Do what you can to protect your mobility equipment from damage. Allow time for delays, and don’t try to pack too much into your itinerary.” Says Carrie-Ann Lightly.
Emma, one of the UK’s leading disability bloggers at Simply Emma agrees that doing your research before travelling anywhere is essential: “The best advice I can give wheelchair users and family members is to remember to thoroughly research. Once you have picked a destination you can then research accessible hotels that best suit your needs. It’s also important to know the accessibility of public transport and attractions you want to visit. If public transport isn’t accessible, then you may find it very difficult to get around. No matter how much we plan, sometimes things don’t work out the way we expect them to and that’s okay. Always have a plan B that you can quickly and easily put into action if needed. The most important piece of advice is to embrace it all and have fun.”
Josephine also offered her top tips for those looking to get out of the country: “My biggest piece of advice is to research and ask lots of questions beforehand. Rather than simply asking if a hotel room is ‘accessible’, for example, ask detailed questions about the room and its facilities. Are there support rails? Is there a shower seat? Are doorways extra wide? I’ve learned over the years that the term ‘accessible’ can be widely interpreted and that different wheelchair users have potentially different needs. Make sure to ask specific questions to ensure the level of accessibility suits your personal requirements.”
Stay local and start small
Sylvia thinks that starting small and local is the best ways to gain confidence when it comes to travelling, “Travelling for the first time with a family member in a wheelchair is a daunting experience. However, it’s a fantastic way to build up your confidence, your expertise, and your travel routine by doing it more often. Stay in an accessible hotel room in the next town or city over. Take a public bus locally so you can get used to the process. Take a train ride a short distance away. This helps familiarise wheelchair travellers with any adjustments they need to make, or how to ask for the right kind of help.”
The world’s most accessible locations
There are a number of locations across the globe that have put accessibility at the forefront of what they do, meaning that all visitors can now access their unique and historic attractions, eateries and sights.
London is one of the most accessible locations in Europe and is the perfect accessibility-friendly place for those who live in the UK. Equipped with smooth streets, a lack of large, steep hills or steps and accessible entrances at almost all of the main attractions, there really is no better wheelchair-friendly city in the UK.
Many of the main attractions are all clustered within zone 1, meaning you’re never too far from the next attraction. Some of the best accessible attractions include The British Museum, Buckingham Palace and The Tate Modern.
Much of London’s public transport is accessible for those in a wheelchair, with all buses and taxis having to provide a ramp. The city ranked highly for public transport gaining 8/10, a high score compared to many of the other European locations.
Lonely Planet describes the accessibility levels of London on their website, saying: “The quality of provision for people with a disability varies enormously between hotels, restaurants and sights in London. But many of the city’s top attractions and entertainment venues can be enjoyed with a limited amount of additional planning. The transport network is continually improving in regards to accessibility and there are a number of ways to ensure that getting around is as simple as possible.”
Not the first location you would think of when planning an accessible trip abroad, but this seemingly quaint location is actually rather favourable to those in a wheelchair. Known for its flat landscape and smooth streets, many wheelchair users flock to the capital for an easy and hassle-free getaway.
Many attractions in the city centre, including some of the canal cruises have been adapted so wheelchairs have easy access, the attractions are all within relative distance from each other too, meaning there isn’t going to be much travelling involved.
Wheelchair users can also board all the metro and subways, trains, ferries and some of the city buses, so getting around doesn’t have to be a worry.
Scoring a relative score, Sydney is a city that, in general, is great for accessibility. This vibrant Australian gem is full of interesting attractions, historical buildings and picturesque waterside vistas, a number of which offer great accessibility for those in a wheelchair. Many of these popular attractions offer assistance to those who need it.
“Compared with many other major cities, Sydney has great access for citizens and visitors with disabilities. Central districts and suburban centres are well endowed with kerb cuts and tactile pavement indicators.” Lonely Planet reports.
Many of the streets in the city have drop kerbs, smooth pavements and indicators for those who require it. Public transport is second to none with a plethora of accessible ferries, buses and trains, all featuring ramps and driver assistance.
The Austrian capital that has perused a barrier-free policy for a number of years now is Vienna. Offering accessible access so everyone can visit the beautiful city, ensuring the city is accessible is now a policy and is embedded in buildings regulations to ensure the continuation of the development plans. The streets are flat, smooth and well-maintained and public transport is excellent. All buses, trains and trams offer ramps and underground stations have lifts to take you down to lower floors.
Many of the main attractions including The Stephansplatz, The Spanish Riding School and The Belvedere Palace and Museum all have wheelchair access. The city centre is littered with interesting sights to explore and the close proximity means you never have to travel too far to see any of them.
A US city that takes accessibility seriously and allows its visitors to travel around safely, Washington DC, actually has a number of programmes in place to aid this task. Disabled on-street parking is made accessible to locals and visitors, the metro system prides itself on being one of the best for wheelchair users in the world and scooter rentals are situated in busy areas for those who require them.
Sylvia told us a little more about her favourite accessible city: “In the United States, I'm a huge fan of Washington, DC and Las Vegas for wheelchair accessibility. The former is our nation's capital, so it should be expected that accessibility at museums, government buildings, and public transportation should be outstanding, and I believe that it is. As for Las Vegas, they will accept money from anyone and everyone! They are very welcoming to wheelchair users and people with disabilities.”
Known across the globe as one of the most accessible locations in the world. Singapore has even officially adopted Universal Design Principles and has a long-term goal to make major improvements to its public infrastructure and transport.
The city in general, is one of the best in terms of cleanliness and its overall maintenance with smooth footpaths, drop kerbs and paving specifically designed for those in a wheelchair. Public transport is excellent with many of the MRT stations offering priority lifts, great signage and wheel-chair accessible toilets.
Spain and Barcelona
Spain, the European accessibility capital of the world. Spain is often mentioned as one of the best locations to visit for wheelchair users, Barcelona in particular.
Carrie-Ann loves visiting Barcelona and would recommend it to any wheelchair user: “Barcelona is without a doubt the most accessible place I’ve travelled to. The city’s Olympic legacy means that accessibility just is a part of everyday life, and I had no issues at all accessing accommodation, transport, attractions, beaches, and places to eat and drink. Exactly as travel should be, for everyone!”
Emma also agrees that Barcelona is an excellent accessible city: “One of my favourite accessible cities is Barcelona. I fell in love with Barcelona and have since visited a few times. It’s always a destination I recommend people visit because I know they will love it too. I usually stay at MICs Sant Jordi which is a fully accessible apartment. Getting around on public transportation such as the metro and buses is very easy and there are also wheelchair accessible taxis too. The architecture is stunning and great accessible attractions. Then there are the beautiful accessible beaches with beach wheelchairs and wooden paths providing access across the sand and down to the water. Some of my favourite memories are from Barcelona.”
Josephine highly recommends Spain in general for those looking to get away: “I absolutely recommend going to Spain. During recent trips to Malaga, Valencia and the Canary Islands I was amazed by the number of shops with entrance ramps, restaurants with accessible toilets, and even wheelchair-friendly beaches. Spain’s inclusive facilities and architecture mean I can put my accessibility worries aside and focus 100% on enjoying my holiday.”
No matter where you are planning to travel this year, the opportunity to see the world should be accessible for all. Explore some of the wonderful destinations recommended and take some of the top tips suggested by some of the UK’s top disability bloggers into consideration.
This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.