Travelling should be fun as well as disability-friendly, but you probably need to know where to look… In this article, MANDY LATIMORE explores several travel websites and how they can help you properly plan the perfect getaway.
As the “go-to” person for travel advice within the disability sector, I’m often asked where travellers with disabilities can find accessible accommodation. Many well-known local websites have sections labelled “Wheelchair Friendly” accommodation, and if you call to check, you might be assured that there are no stairs, but that might be the only wheelchair-friendly feature! What about the most crucial issue of all – accessibility within the rooms and the bathroom? Other important features are accessible dining and conference areas and general-areas WCs. For those of us who generally travel alone, the absence of these facilities can make our stay extremely uncomfortable. We really don’t want to have to rely on staff to assist us!
So to help you choose, here are several websites, what they offer and how to access them. Once you have chosen a potential establishment, please contact them directly and ask specific questions, such as the width of doorways, height of beds and toilets and space within bathrooms or access to showers. A photo is often more descriptive than words, so ask them to send pics of the facilities before you book.
My local favourite is www.disabledtravel.co.za, a site managed by Karin Coetzee, an occupational therapist in Hermanus. It does not grade the level of accessibility, but rather lists the facilities and includes relevant pictures. The site is easy to navigate, with the tabs at the top of the home page. After selecting “Accommodation”, you can select a province and a list will pop up with various cities and towns and suburbs with individual establishments. Some provide their names and contact details, and others just have a number (contact Karin to book). I’m constantly sending my assessments to Karin in order to grow the site.
www.sanparks.org is the official website for SA National Parks, and Chris Patton and his team have done a comprehensive job of offering descriptions of facilities for people with disabilities at all their properties. To access this info, select the tab “Special Groups” and scroll down to the section People with Disabilities. Select this link and then select either the online link or the printable document (which was compiled for Rolling Inspiration as an insert for the May/June issue).
www.sa-venues.com has a Special Needs section on their home page. Select this, then on the next page, select a province and scroll down to select the “wheelchair friendly” category. Their description of this category states: “SA-Venues.com presents a selection of wheelchair friendly accommodation in South Africa. Hotels, Guest Houses, Bed & Breakfasts and Self Catering establishments which have been equipped for wheelchair-bound holidaymakers (As claimed by the Establishments). Please double check with the establishment of your choice that your needs will be accommodated.”
The “as claimed by the Establishments” part is exactly what needs to be clarified. The best approach is to select the establishment you may be interested in and read their description and check out their pictures – these should give you a feel of the place. Please contact the manager and ask specific questions.
The website www.wheretostay.co.za is also helpful. Select the province from the home page and then the “Town or suburb” from the drop-down box. Then use the drop-down box to select “Wheelchair friendly” from the “Select a type of accommodation” box.
On the home page of www.safarinow.co.za, select from one of the categories: Countries; Cities; Popular Locations or Popular Searches. On the next page scroll to the “Refine your search” area and select “Accommodation Type” and then scroll down the “Must Have” section and select the “Wheelchair Enabled”.
When searching for establishments in other countries use the phrases “wheelchair friendly”, “wheelchair accessible” and “disabled” in your search to bring up various websites.
A package-holiday site for persons with disabilities is www.accessiblepackageholidays.com. You will need to book your own flights to reach the particular starting-point city. They also feature various hotels that have good facilities for people with disabilities: check these out if you are looking simply for accommodation and not a tour.
www.disabledholidays.co.uk offers accessible facilities not only in the UK but in Europe as well. It is often easier to deal with an English-speaking company rather than trying to communicate with establishments where the first language is not English.
www.hotelsuk.com/disabled offers a very comprehensive list. Again, contact the individual establishment to check the facilities for people with disabilities before confirming a reservation.
www.australiaforall.com offers a one-stop shop for accessible accommodation, equipment rental and repairs information as well as an “International Section”, which offers recommended sites within various countries as well as an “International Cruise Lines Section” with all the major operators and their facilities for travellers with mobility, hearing and visual impairments.
So … if travel is on your mind, remember to put as much effort into planning as possible, so as to reduce the possibility of discomfort and disappointment once you’ve set off. And if you have any good or bad travel experiences, I would love to hear from you. Happy websurfing and travels!
Mandy Latimore is a consultant in the disability sector in the fields of travel and access. email: firstname.lastname@example.org