Organising a holiday can be stressful enough without factoring in the many problems you might encounter while travelling with a disability. Whether you’re concerned if your guide dog or assistance animal can travel with you, or whether “accessible” means your accommodation will be accessible or actually means “a few small steps”, there are many more factors to consider and plan for when organising an “accessible” holiday.
There are options out there, however, that cater to most needs. Here is our pick of tips, resources, companies and destinations for disability holidays.
Should I book with a specialised travel agent?
To avoid the hassle of thinking about all the various factors to consider, many people opt to book their holidays with a travel agent who is well versed in the needs of those with different kinds of disabilities. While your average travel agent may focus only on getting you to your destination in one piece, the finer details are covered by a more specialised agent, which are often focused on particular disabilities.
Accessible Holidays, an Irish company based in Kimmage, Dublin, offers tailor- made accessible holidays to the Canary Islands, Italy, Majorca and Cyprus, in fully adapted hotels and including accessible airport transfers. Enable Holidays is a UK-based company that offers a similar service for a wider array of destinations around the world.
Traveleyes International offers group tours for blind, visually impaired and sighted travellers to all sorts of locations across the world, whether you’re looking for an adventure, a city break or sun, sea and sand.
For holidays for those with learning disabilities or children with disabilities, the Disability Holidays Guide allows you to sort holidays by your requirements, and lists everything from short activity breaks to trips to Las Vegas.
Specialised agents come at a price, so if you would prefer to book yourself, that’s more possible than ever given the choice online.
Travelling within Ireland
Four years ago, a new quality mark was established for disability access in tourism: the EIQA Able Tourism Award. This, in theory, should make identifying suitable accommodation a breeze. However, according to Anita Matthews of the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA), this hasn’t been “widely sought after within the hotel sector”.
The IWA is among few that have achieved the award for its national holiday centres: Cuisle in Roscommon, Carmel Fallon Holiday Centre in Clontarf, Dublin, and Claddagh Court Holiday Centre in Kilkenny. Each of these locations provides accessible, supported holidays for people with disabilities and their families and carers.
Although you can keep an eye out for the Able Award, Matthews says it’s important to research your holiday thoroughly and discuss your individual needs with the manager at your accommodation. Although many locations mark themselves as accessible, she says you may find that although you can get through the front door, the bar or restaurant may be inaccessible, or the bathroom facilities inadequate, so having these discussions prior to your arrival may save you an unpleasant surprise when you get there.
A site such as DiscoveringIreland.com/ ireland-by-wheelchair is a great resource for outlining some of the facilities available in accessible hotels.
Sites such as AccessibleIreland.com and WestCoastHolidays.ie allow you to search for places listed as accessible, although Matthews would still advise checking to see wherever you book meets your needs.
In terms of public transport, Dublin has a wide network of accessible transport options, with the entire Dublin Bus fleet now fully accessible as well as the Luas. However, each has limited wheelchair spaces.
Although the Dart and Intercity trains are said to be accessible, some preparation is required. Some stations have a gap between the platform and the train and those with mobility restrictions or visual impairments may need assistance from staff to board the train, and a member of staff is required if you need a wheelchair ramp. Iarnród Éireann requires 24 hours’ advance notice in order to ensure staff can be available to assist.
“There isn’t room for spontaneity, you have to plan your journeys well in advance and you have to contact the train station in advance and advise them you will be travelling on a certain train at a certain time,” says Matthews.
As you travel outside Dublin, public transport options become more limited, and this is especially true for accessible transport. Matthews also advises that the availability of taxis in rural Ireland is limited. This is a constant complaint the IWA receives from members, and one that should be kept in mind if planning to travel around the country without your own car.
GoAccessible365.com provides listings of all forms of accessible transport, including wheelchair taxis, car hire and bus hire.
Since 2008, European legislation (Regulation (EC) No. 1107/2006) has obliged tour operators, airlines and airport staff to provide practical help to disabled passengers with reduced mobility. Any assistance you receive must be free. However, you need to give the airline 48 hours’ notice that you will be requiring assistance in order for them to make the necessary arrangements for departure and arrival.
Airlines may carry only a certain number of mobility-restricted passengers at one time due to safety guidelines, but if they can’t accommodate you, alternative flights should be arranged.
“We would advise all our members to liaise directly with the airline about safe securement and travel for your wheelchair, where it’s going to be stored, how it’s going to be protected and information on your own seat on the plane,” says Matthews.
If you have a guide dog or other assistance animal, they are permitted to travel with you provided they comply with Pet Passport rules. You are also allowed bring any necessary medical equipment with you, as well as up to two mobility devices, which will be stored in the hold.
Take to the seas
Cruises can be a great holiday option for those with disabilities, particularly those in wheelchairs or with mobility restrictions. Research is necessary for the individual cruise ship you’ll be taking as not all ships are created equal and some may be better adapted for wheelchair users. However, due to the number of staff on board, including medical staff on duty, you will be well looked after assuming the ship meets your accessibility standards.
There are a number of cruise holidays that leave from Ireland, including cruises to New England and Canada, while cruises around the Mediterranean are a short flight away. More specialised cruises are available if you’re willing to travel to them, like Autism On The Seas, which runs cruises for adults and families with autism, Down syndrome and other disabilities.
Disneyland and Disney World are the most famous parks in the world for accommodating guests with special needs. An employee will rarely escort you around the park, but if you have a disability card or recent medical cert, you can receive a Priority Card which will allow you access to more accessible entrances.
The website lists a full range of rides, including those with mobility restrictions which require you to transfer from wheelchair to ride and those that allow you remain in your wheelchair, as well as a list of rides suitable for those with hearing impairments or visual impairments.
If your disability is such that waiting in queues is not possible, Disney’s Disability Access Service will allow you to schedule a return time that is in line with the current wait time so you can avoid queuing.
Legoland has a similar policy on queuing, offering Ride Passes to guests who cannot queue. The parks are fully accessible, although the website warns of steep hills which may require assistance or use of alternative routes. A list of rides that wheelchair users may stay in their wheelchair for is available on the website.
For those with mobility restrictions, the beach can provide some challenges, which means a beach holiday isn’t always the first option. However, more beaches are becoming wheelchair accessible, with the introduction of specialised beach wheelchairs, beach mats and boardwalks that go up to the water’s edge. Typical beach destinations in Europe, like the Costa del Sol, the Canary Islands and the Balearics, all have some accessible options.
Further afield, Hanauma Bay in Honolulu, Hawaii, provides free loans of beach wheelchairs, while you can take advantage of the Californian sun in San Diego on Ocean beach, Mission beach, Pacific beach and La Jolla Shores. A-One Pattaya Beach Resort in Thailand has been built with disabled travellers in mind, with ramps that stretch out over the water.
Many more similar options are available across the world, with a little research. Summerleaze beach in Cornwall and Skegness beach in Lincolnshire in the UK as well as Keem beach and Old Head beach in Mayo offer accessible beaches closer to home.
While safaris are typically portrayed as ventures for able-bodied outdoor enthusiasts, there are plenty of options out there for going on safari with a disability. Whether you have mobility restrictions and require accessible vehicles, are hearing impaired or visually impaired and need sensory assistance, or your safari needs to centre on something like a dialysis centre, there are options out there.
Safari Guide Africa will take you to Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia, while Epic Enabled focuses on Kruger and Cape Town. Go Africa Safaris will tailor your trip to east African countries such as Kenya or Tanzania to suit your specific needs, while Gorilla Forest Camp in Uganda offers customised sedan chairs on its walking safaris, which will allow you be carried into the rainforest to track gorillas.
Source: The Irish Times