There’s a number of restrictions that face not only wheelchair users but the disabled community as a whole and some we can overcome but others, unfortunately, we can’t and we have to adjust and make the most of what opportunities we are given. I don’t know if I’m the only one but due to my disability and I have to spend the majority of my time in a wheelchair without being able to be transferred without a hoist. This limits locations where I and my dad could journey on holiday.
My dad and I have travelled to a number of locations abroad but we have to be very wary of where we go and complete a lot of pre-planning before we can go anywhere. We have to plan everything down to the last second otherwise things aren’t going to work out and we aren’t going to be able to make the most out of our holiday and enjoy the time away. I thought that based on what we have had to do in the past, you as the disabled person need to prebook everything from at least one month before. However, recently we were able to book a holiday for only one week in advance.
We need to consider the components such as the flights, the assistance that you are able to get during the flights, the transportation you could secure for disabled visitors during the holiday, how the apartment facilitates you and finally the return journey back home.
To my knowledge there are very few places which offer adapted vehicles for rental and Spain is one of them so this is why we go after tomorrow to Torrox Costa, plus it’s a beautiful location.
Once again we journeyed to Torrox Costa in Spain but this time we did our booking very last minute. Through the early summer, we were unsure about going abroad but we were desperately in need of sun so we threw caution to the wind and decided to go, but this meant quick decisions needed to be made. We found this worked out well as we already knew the location and we used the same car company.
Another reason why we go to Spain so many times it is because it’s a beautiful place with very usable apartments for wheelchair users but also offers wonderful beaches for a wheelchair user. As a wheelchair user, I do struggle to go on beaches as my wheels do not react well to the sand which is squidgy and I often sink and my wheel spin and it makes it very hard for me to get free. In Torrox Costa, there is a wood pathway which I can go all down the beach on and perch myself at any point underneath an umbrella without getting stuck or being in the way of other visitors using the beach.
To travel to Spain and back again we have to be very careful with the airline and the choices we make before we even get on the plane to ensure that the aeroplane is able to transport my type of wheelchair. My dad has to ring them ahead of schedule and detail the type of chair and everything that can be linked to the chair so the airline is fully informed for when we actually come to the airport. In response to this, each airline has their own entitlements for people to use particularly those in wheelchairs so my dad has to do a lot of research and pre-planning into finding out everything he can on my wheelchair so we can make sure we have the appropriate wheelchair to enable us to get on the flight.
Even though it’s great to go on holiday we get very anxious about other people dismantling my chair further than my dad does as we don’t want anything to get damaged or lost in transit. These scenarios would be disastrous for the operation of my chair and the overall usability of it. We have struggled with this a number of times and always have anxiety for it when we travel. An example of this was when we travelled to France previously and my electric wheelchair came back in pieces so had to be reassembled on the runway by my dad. This is made worse by the risk of having our Alan keys (spanner and screwdriver to put the chair back together) taken off us by security as we need them in our hand luggage for scenarios like this.
When we get to Birmingham Airport we give the car keys to a man in the car park who we’ve previously arranged to meet, he looks after the car while we are on holiday. After this, we move into the airport and check-in our luggage at the counter. We then have my chair checked against the paperwork we have submitted previously. They tie something to my chair to identify it’s model and make. Once we have checked in the luggage we go over to assisted travel and confirm they are prepared for us and that someone will meet us from the gate, with enough time to load away from curious eyes of other customers. After this, we go through security using the fast lane we are guided to. While Dad is unloading our hand luggage on to the scanner I am waved through the full-body scanner quickly or motioned to come around it as my chair sets off. Then a woman often asks if I am sore anywhere before doing a full body search on me. Some are more vigorous than others but they are all careful enough. The attitudes towards me can sometimes be very ignorant and patronising in the way they talk to me or don’t talk to me at all and aim their questions at my dad. Then between the time, it takes us to get through security and get to the gate before too many passengers our there, we only have a short amount of time to buy food before we get on the plane.
We usually are found otherwise we find someone from the assisted travel team to take us through to the gate. We ask to be loaded first before other passengers as this decreases the possibility of being stared at while I get on the plane. It also decreases the chance of disrupting other passengers. As I cannot get the shuttle bus they lead us on to a scissor lift and drive us over to the plane. Before I get off the scissor lift truck they transfer me onto a smaller aisle-seat wheelchair. The assisted travel often transfer me onto this seat and load me on to the plane while dad slowly dismantles the chair as best he can to be put into the hold. Depending on the assisted travel member they are either very helpful in keeping me upright or there are others that leave me to slide down the chair. They roll me to my seat then will either load me on to my chair or wait for my family to arrive so they can do it. Whoever lifts me onto the chair needs to be able to get a good grip on myself so they can safely move me to the middle seat and get me as comfortable as they can for the duration of the flight.
I always struggle to be out of my wheelchair for longer than 10 minutes without getting severe cramps as my chair is moulded for my comfort. Because the aeroplane seat isn’t moulded to me I am often left in severe pain, to the extent of being in tears because I cannot feel my legs. To cope with this during the flight I have to either lean onto the people either side of me to relieve the pressure.
The ‘FlyingDisabled’ campaign, is working to encourage airlines to allow wheelchair users to go onto planes with their wheelchair so as to make travel more accessible. Because of the physical pain of travelling on a plane, I massively support this movement.
We have been to Spain a number of times, this year getting an apartment on the beach. Previously we have gotten apartments up in the mountains of Spain, which gives us a lot more privacy and time together as a family. This does mean we can only go to places using a vehicle but individuals who own the apartments up in the mountains are always very nice and were able to fully assure the apartments were disability-accessible. One thing that we struggle with is a showering facility because we cannot manage baths but often a private outside shower is available.
This year we had an apartment in a small complex which the owner reassured us was fully accessible. In this complex, we were on the 6th floor, as this venue provided lifts. Both of the lifts remained fully operational throughout the holiday. The doorway into the apartment was quite wide as was the apartment living room. However, the corridor was very thin and I had to be lifted onto a plastic chair that was provided as my wheelchair wouldn’t fit. That this is how I must get through the apartment is not ideal, but as this is the best and only solution I didn’t mind too much as it’s only a few times a day and small price to pay to be able to go to Spain. The space in this apartment and in the different rooms is the same as in other accommodations around Costa in Spain. The important thing is that the rooms have level access with everything easily reachable
Within this apartment, there was an overhead shower. However, this was positioned over a bath as opposed to a walk-in shower, which we needed it. We made it work by having me sitting in one of the plastic chairs and positioning it directly in front of the bath and aiming the shower over myself to wash me that way. Again it wasn’t great but it was fun to invent such solutions and it saved us from showering by the pool.
We didn’t spend very much time in the complex surrounding the apartment as we liked going to the beach but the one thing we did enjoy it was the pool. We had to share with other tourists staying at the apartments but we didn’t mind it as it was a beautiful pool and very wide – with the extra positive of there being another smaller pool which was made for kids. Another aspect that was good about the pool is they had a chair which the lifeguards on duty were able to crank down into the pool. This allowed me to sit safely and be taken down in the pool without my dad and my PA having to lift me onto the edge of the pool and then in and then doing the reverse.
I did miss the privacy of not having an apartment in the mountains however it was a nice apartment with only small adaptations to be made and the complex was quaint and beautiful. When we did struggle people were helpful in assisting us with whatever we needed.
In my opinion, I think there need to be more steps to acknowledge the disabled community in the travel industry and around the world, to educate both the countries and the disabled community relating to what locations cater best. It would be helpful if disabled access was advertised in the same way that kid-friendly or no-kid venues are advertised. The advertisements also need to be specific as to what types of disability they can service. Overall individuals need to be better educated in schools in the future.