Disabled access vacation advice



Martin Heng, Accessible Travel Manager & Editorial Adviser, Lonely Planet (Australia): “Planning is so important when you have access needs. I never use to plan anything. I used to buy a ticket, pack my bag and go, and of course now that is impossible. And so you do need to plan. Think about the most important things that you need when you are away. They are to have a bed, and to have a bathroom. Those two things are absolutely essential. Everything else you can probably manage, one way or another. So, the most important thing is to make sure that the place you stay is going to accommodate your needs, and the only way to do that is to talk to them directly. If possible get them to send you photos of their so-called accessible room, because standards vary from country to country. “

Stay open

“You can generally rely on the help and kindness of strangers. When I did my round the world trip last year, In India, which is a hard destination for anyone to travel, for a matter of a dollar, I could hire someone for three minutes and they would pick up my power chair and put it in the back of a van. In San Francisco, I have never seen so many homeless people in all my life. I was cruising around in the evening with a $1500 Go Pro camera strapped to my wheelchair and a bag on the side of it, and I have never felt safer. I wouldn’t have done that had I been able bodied. I was very much accepted by that homeless community and vocally welcomed. That was an eye opener to me and a good lesson.”

Where to go

Martyn Sibley, co-founder of leading disability lifestyles magazine disabilityhorizons.com is a font of knowledge when it comes to disabled access vacation advice: “My top tip is, no matter who you are, whatever your perceived limits are, just do it! It might take a lifetime of planning, but you can get there. And that is my next tip – decide where you want to go and what you want to do when you get there. Don’t let your disability plan that for you. “


“Choosing the right accommodation and knowing that they have been able to answer all your questions, is fundamental. After that I recommend pushing your boundaries just a bit. I am a bit of an adventurer, and been lucky enough to fly a plane, abseil, scuba dive, hot air balloon and so much more. But you don’t have to do all that straight away. Take baby steps and get braver with each trip, or on each day of your trip even. Just don’t go stale because others say its best and safe.”
Brian Seaman, accessible tourism expert, who worked at leading charity, Tourism for All UK for 19 years: “Be a bit braver - you can go bungee diving or a zipwire in a wheelchair if you want to. The opportunities are there, it is just making those contacts so that you know that the place you are visiting has those facilities.”


Fiona Smart co-founder of our supplier Mas Pelegri, a superb sports hotel in Girona Spain: “We are sports coaches and all about getting fit whoever they are. It isn’t all about working with people with disabilities here, we work with everybody. Everybody has issues. It doesn’t matter who you are, you just have to work out a way of getting around them. We set out originally to do cycling and triathlon coaching, but there are lots of athletes who are disabled in some way or other. So, if you are part of athletic coaching, you will always meet people who are disabled. There is no separation between the two in sport. “

Checking details

“We had to rebuild our property to make it into a hotel, in 2007, and we realised that the Spanish rules for door sizes didn’t even accommodate a wheelchair! Thankfully the law has changed now, but so many people built their places with these rules. So, you need to check in Spain that when a business says that it has access, this is in keeping with the contemporary laws.

Ask questions and say exactly what you need. So if you need a rail on the right hand side, or the left hand side, do say. Also, beware of sinks which are at a lower position to cater for people in wheelchairs – there is often a metal pipe which takes the water away, and if it is hot the tube becomes hot too. If you don’t have feeling in your legs and touch the hot pipe, you won’t feel that you have been burned. So you need to be careful of that. “


“Be brave and try new things. If you are just going and seeing a place, it is just one part of the experience. If you are going and doing an activity in a different country, you are taking part in the culture of that country. You can go and view an art gallery online. But you can’t go and kayak or swim in a beautiful lake online.“

Asking for help

Chris Veitch, accessible and inclusive tourism consultant: “Guests have a responsibility to be upfront about what their requirements are. They can’t expect businesses to be mind readers either. Sometimes it is low cost things that make all the difference, but unless businesses know that, they won’t invest in them”.

Taking help

“I think it is a two way thing and disabled people also have a responsibility to help. And if a disabled person is rude to someone offering help, then that isn’t helpful. You may want to be independent, but you can just say very nicely, I’m fine thanks. If you are aggressive or horrible, then you will put people working in hospitality off approaching another person with disabilities, as you they don’t know what the reaction is going to be.”

Teaching the industry

Julià Montero Ortega, founder of our supplier, Barcelona Zero Limits: “Try and teach the industry what else they can do to help. This is important. Don’t let them continue to have this fear of the unknown. But help them learn how to do it better. And to show them that you are really a normal person. OK, you might have a wheelchair, but you are still a normal person. Sometimes people in the industry just don’t get that, so it is good to show them that”.

Travel options

“Disabled people often don’t travel as much as others, and so they are less aware of the prices, opportunities and issues. So, they don’t always realise that it is costing them more. Sometimes they think that going to a four star hotel is the only option, for example, but that isn’t true. That is why we are trying to give much more information about what is out there. I think that sometimes people are shy about saying what their needs are, especially when they are very specific. And they often feel uncomfortable about inconveniencing people, or ask them to spend money on such things. But don’t be. Be braver and seek out other options, and know that a small locally owned house is just as good to stay in as a chain hotel”.
Responsible Travel would like to thank Catalunya for their sponsorship of this guide
Photo credits: [Stay open - Martin Heng: Son of Groucho] [Activities - Martyn Sibley: Ed Dunens] [Fitness - Fiona Smart: Michael Foley] [Activities - Fiona Smart: John Seb Barber] [Taking help - Chris Veitch: Memphis Tours] [Travel options: Catalunya.com]
Written by Catherine Mack
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