Some innovative companies are making travel easier for the disabled
Having a disability in 2022 shouldn’t hold you back. But the reality is access difficulties, cost and a lack of choice mean the able-bodied are still travelling far more than disabled holidaymakers.
The National Travel Survey carried out just before the pandemic found disabled adults in England made on average 26 per cent fewer trips and travelled 41 per cent fewer miles than the non-disabled.
Thankfully, some innovative tour operators, airlines, hotels and self-catering companies are trying to redress the balance. Here’s a few places to look.
Best for… the blind and sighted
By the age of 18, Amar Latif had lost 95 per cent of his sight. He went to Canada anyway, for his last year of university, then went jungle trekking in Nicaragua for a BBC documentary about travellers with disabilities. Now Amar runs his own tour company where, uniquely, each group trip has a mix of blind and visually impaired holidaymakers plus sighted travellers.
Each day, a sight-impaired person is paired up with a sighted group member, who will describe the sights in destinations such as the U.S. Deep South, Armenia, Menorca and Northern Ireland. Sighted travellers get up to 50 per cent off.
BEST FOR… variety of assistance
Limitless Travel organises holidays with many types of assistance to destinations including the Cotswolds. Pictured is the village of Castle Combe in the area
Founded by Angus Drummond, a former investment banker who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at the age of 22, Limitless Travel offers many types of assistance for holidaymakers. These range from help carrying luggage to a full one-to-one carer package to cover everything from getting dressed to a swimming partner.
Destinations include Rome, Crete, the Netherlands and Jersey, as well as cruises and UK stays: a five-day Cotswolds break is priced from £949.
BEST FOR… safaris
2 BY 2 HOLIDAYS
Even able-bodied people can sometimes find a safari holiday challenging, but 2 By 2 is one of the few UK operators which offers trips to see the Big Five — leopard, lion, buffalo, elephant and rhinoceros.
The company has been organising wheelchair-accessible safaris to Africa for more than 20 years. It offers tailor-made trips to Kenyan, Namibian and South African game reserves. Vehicles fitted with ramps for power chairs are used on journeys into the bush.
A typical seven-night stay in Kruger National Park, South Africa, costs from £1,395pp for seven nights, excluding international flights.
BEST FOR… self-catering
Independent Cottages has a far wider range of accessible properties than most UK self-catering providers. More than 250 have at least partial wheelchair access.
The company’s website also has a wonderfully opinionated guide as to which parts of Britain are best for accessible breaks.
Surprisingly, given the age of many of its buildings, Oxford scores highly with above-average wheelchair access, as do the beaches of Dorset and West Wales.
Prices for accessible cottages are reasonable too. At the moment, Driftwood Cottage in Combe Martin, North Devon, which sleeps four, costs from £249 for seven nights.
BEST FOR… once-in-a-lifetime trips
Responsible Travel offers a 10-day trip to Kerla, above, for travellers with access needs
Kudos to Responsible Travel for noticing that the vast majority of accessible hotels and resorts are of the mega-chain variety.
This bespoke tour operator has gone in the other direction and specialises in smaller, characterful accommodation in places that are often difficult to go to for those with disabilities.
Its ten-day Kerala trip, which you can take either solo, with a partner or in a small group, is one of the most popular, opening up the mountains, houseboats, forts and beaches of this part of India to travellers with access needs.
It’s not cheap, though. Prices start at £2,092pp, excluding flights. But, as Responsible Travel puts it (rather brilliantly), ‘an accessible holiday is still a holiday. It just has special trimmings.’
BEST FOR… package vacations
Most of the big airlines offering package holidays don’t provide much inspiration or help beyond the bare minimum when it comes to accessible travel.
TUI is the exception; it has more than 150 accessible hotels to choose from — with a strong focus on the Caribbean.
The company has a specialist customer phone line for people who want to have a more in-depth chat about their access needs before making a booking. It also has four types of specially adapted vehicle for transfers from the arrival airport to the hotel.
MY LIFE AS A VISUALLY IMPAIRED TRAVEL WRITER
Intrepid: Rob Crossan in Hong Kong
‘You don’t look like you’re dressed for Alaska,’ said the woman at the boarding gate, before checking my ticket and furrowing her brow even further.
And I wasn’t. The idea had been to traverse New York’s JFK airport and catch a connecting flight to Atlanta. I was in shorts and flip flops in anticipation of the Georgia heat and was already confused as to why so many in the queue were carrying ski gear.
As the United Airlines representative explained patiently, I was in the line for Anchorage, not Atlanta and I really needed to leave the queue quickly.
A four-hour wait, a disgusting pizza and $325 lighter for a new ticket to Atlanta (I’d long missed the original flight) meant I had time to reflect on the perils of being a visually impaired traveller who is often unwilling to ask for help.
That’s long rankled with me, as someone with a disability (albinism and nystagmus since you ask). If airports, train stations, ferry terminals — even restaurants used just a little common sense, I wouldn’t have to seek help. I’d get to where I wanted to be without breaking my male pride or British reserve.
Why are so many destination boards printed in a script so small I would need the Hubble telescope to read it? Why do tannoys still broadcast muffled announcements about where we’re going and what boarding gate I need to be? Why are seat numbers so tiny I need to get to within French-kissing distance to read them?
I’ve been a travel writer for two decades now and it’s infuriating how little has changed in this time. Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad the days of wheelchair users being put in the guards van on trains and visually impaired people like me being mollycoddled (‘You’re a very brave boy’ a tour guide in Wales once told me — I was 31) but I’m still waiting for travel to be super-sized.
Screens, seat numbers, menus, doorways, lifts. Can everything be a bit bigger please? Because I don’t want even the slightest risk of a weekend in Alaska wearing board shorts ever again.