TRAVEL / A guide for the disabled holidaymaker

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
IN the last few years, the information and services available to disabled travellers have improved dramatically. It is possible to find out, for example, whether there is ramped access to the central post office in Jerusalem, or how to go about hiring hand-controlled cars at a range of destinations abroad.

Those travelling independently can get good advice on such things as financial assistance for trips, and the best kind of travel insurance to take out. Another option is to leave all the hassle to companies which provide complete packages for disabled travellers.

INFORMATION

The Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation (Radar), 25 Mortimer Street, London W1N 8AB (071-637 5400) publishes the comprehensive Holidays in the British Isles ( pounds 5) and Holidays and Travel Abroad ( pounds 3.50), covering more than 100 countries. The Directory for Disabled People, available in libraries or in local disability centres, has sections on holidays at home and abroad.

The Holiday Care Service, 2 Old Bank Chambers, Station Road, Horley, Surrey RH6 9HW (0293 774535) provides information and support for anyone with special needs, and is the accommodation specialist for disabled people. Tripscope (081-994 9294) is the transport specialist, a telephone-based information service for people with a mobility handicap.

Other worthwhile publications include Door to Door (HMSO pounds 3.95), a booklet with sections on all aspects of travel for disabled people. The Spinal Injuries Association has produced a readable introductory booklet, The World Wheelchair Traveller (AA pounds 3.95).

The Rough Guides' Nothing Ventured (Harrap Columbus pounds 7.99) is best on far-flung places. Contributors include a 76-year-old man, paralysed from the hips down, who celebrated his golden wedding anniversary in the Amazon.

BEFORE YOU GO

Money: Disabled people often have little disposable income, because of the extra costs of living with a disability. Any disabled person, or family with a member who is disabled, may apply to their local social services department for financial assistance for a holiday. Radar indicates potential sources of finance. The Holiday Care Service produces a Guide to Financial Assistance Towards the Cost of a Holiday.

Insurance: Disabled travellers must ensure that their insurance policy does not exclude people with any 'pre-existing medical condition'. Check out insurance companies catering specifically for disabled people. The Holiday Care Service offers its own travel insurance, and Radar has contacts for others.

Helpers: Radar has a list of organisations, such as the Red Cross and the British Nursing Association, providing escorts.

PACKAGE HOLIDAYS

For those disabled people who prefer to holiday with the able- bodied, it may be best to select an operator which mixes both groups. Carefree (0604 34301), for example, providing UK and Continental breaks, has fully accessible coaches and offers an escort service for a fee. It stresses, however, that accommodation used hasn't been adapted for disabled people. Specialist companies offer a varying degree of care, taking those with a varying level of disability. Chalfont Line (081-997 3799) offers a three-tiered service, ranging from the usual level of attention you'd expect from a rep, to one-to-one care (which doubles the price of the holiday). Its exciting range of destinations includes the Seychelles and an Elvis Presley Tour.

Across (081-783 1355) takes holidaymakers other agents can't handle - such as the terminally ill. Its coaches, called Jumbulances, are specially built and equipped and are staffed by trained volunteers. Many of its Continental coach tours are to pilgrimage sites. The guidebooks and organisations listed above have details of many more specialist operators.

TRAVELLING IN BRITAIN

Transport: Radar's Guide to British Rail for Disabled People ( pounds 4.50) covers the network's principal stations: its reliability depends on staff availability.

Accommodation: The Holiday Care Service has excellent accessible hotel and self-catering accommodation leaflets (50p), also available in tourist information centres. Its reservations helpline may get you discounted accommodation rates.

Sightseeing: Does an access guide - sometimes a book, sometimes just a sheet of paper - cover the town or area you're visiting? Radar hopes to be able to tell you where to get any guide available. Radar's Historic Buildings of England ( pounds 3) and The Countryside and Wildlife for Disabled People ( pounds 3) are useful.

TRAVELLING ABROAD

Getting there: Air travel can be particularly traumatic for disabled people, not least because of the lack of suitable lavatories. Many airlines, such as Virgin and British Airways (which carries over 40,000 wheelchair users annually), now have adapted lavatories and on-board wheelchairs on their wide-bodied planes. Difficulties are more likely on smaller planes. There are many considerations for disabled travellers when flying: get the Care in the Air booklet, published by the Air Transport Users' Committee, available from Radar, and seek more information in the guides above.

Almost all ferry routes are now good for disabled people travelling by car (foot passengers should expect more problems). Superferries have large lifts and universally accessible amenities, and access at most ports is reasonable. A number of ferry companies give discounts to members of disabled drivers' organisations.

Getting around: You can hire hand-controlled cars from Avis and Hertz: they may need enough advance warning to allow time to adapt the car. If you're motoring in Europe, find out about reciprocal arrangements for Orange Badge holders from the booklet On The Move (RAC pounds 3.99).

Destinations: The quality of facilities for disabled travellers abroad largely matches the consumer progressiveness of individual countries in other spheres. So, leading the pack are Australia, New Zealand and northern European countries such as Sweden. The US has good facilities, but poor information about them. The situation in southern Mediterranean countries is improving.

The Holiday Care Service provides factsheets for many countries around the world: its information on Spain is excellent and the most detailed, with help on local car and wheelchair hire, suitability of resorts and full details on accessible accommodation. For remote destinations see the Rough Guides' Nothing Ventured. Tourist boards are likely to have only basic information, though some northern European tourist boards have lists of hotels and sites inspected by disability groups. And if you happen to be visiting Israel and want to post a letter, get a copy of the superb Access guide (Pauline Hephaistos Survey Projects), available from Radar. There are similar guides to Paris and London.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments