Organising a holiday with a disability takes planning – but whether you want a seaside break, a cruise, or even a safari, it can be done, says Frances Quinn
In a perfect world, someone with disabilities could ring any hotel or travel company, and find out precisely whether their chosen holiday was feasible (and in a perfect world, all of them would be).
But if you’re disabled, you’ll know that’s not how it works.
Even if staff are trying to be helpful, there’s the receptionist who tells you, yes, they have wheelchair-accessible rooms, but forgets to mention the steps to the pool.
Or the restaurant that says, no problem, they’re on the ground floor, only to reveal when you arrive (busting) that the loo’s in the basement.
The good news, though, is that if you know where to look, there is expert advice and good service out there – often put in place by disabled people themselves.
Some mainstream travel companies are great at arranging holidays for people with disabilities, but many take ‘wheelchair-friendly’ claims at face value, or don’t understand other disabilities.
If you don’t want to take any chances, or do lots of research for yourself, a specialist can be the answer.
✤ Disabled Access Holidays (0800 622 6000) specialises in holidays for wheelchair users (the owners started it after having problems finding holidays for their disabled son).
As well as accessible accommodation, the company can organise help at the airport, transfers and equipment rental. Cruises, city breaks, beach holidays and UK getaways are on offer.
✤ Accessible Travel (01452 729 739) was founded by a wheelchair user, and all the holidays are personally checked.
The company can advise on holidays for people with dementia, learning difficulties and head injuries, as well as mobility problems.
Holidays include cruises, city breaks, UK breaks, beach holidays and ski trips.
✤ Enable Holidays (0871 222 4939) audits every holiday it sells, using a 150-point checklist covering everything from door widths to floor surfaces. It can also arrange holiday carers.
Holidays include city breaks, beach holidays, breaks in the UK and trips to India and Egypt.
✤ Disabled Cruise Club (01457 833 444) has specially trained staff with detailed knowledge of individual cruise ships’ accessibility, and can book cruises with all the major lines.
✤ Endeavour Safaris (endeavour-safaris.com) specialises in safaris for people with disabilities, including adaptations to bring the experience alive for people with sight and hearing difficulties.
✤ Accomable was founded by two friends with disabilities, and offers accessible holiday rentals and home swaps around the world.
Like similar mainstream sites, it doesn’t vet properties, so you need to do your own checks by, for example, asking for photos of accessible facilities if necessary.
By law, EU airports have to offer people with disabilities (including sensory and learning disabilities, not just mobility problems) help with arrival, check-in and moving through the airport – but a Which? report found provisions can be patchy, and in some cases were abysmal.
You need to let the airline know your needs 48 hours before departure, but to minimise the chance of problems, notify them when you book, remind them 48 hours before departure, and make sure you have written confirmation of your request.
Some users say smaller airports tend to offer a better service than bigger, busier ones.
Outside the EU, services vary and you’ll need to check with the airline – again, confirm your needs in writing.
However, if you’re travelling with a UK tour operator, they are responsible for you, and should organise help as long as you notify them in good time.
If you want to check how disability-friendly an airport is, try posting a question on the Travelling with Disabilities forum at tripadvisor.co.uk.
Ferry operators have similar duties to provide assistance and have to let you take on board any mobility equipment that’s reasonably necessary; notify them of your needs when booking.
On a ferry with cabins, wheelchair-accessible ones may be limited, and operators can refuse to take you if they’re all booked, so plan well in advance.
Where strictly necessary (for example, if you need help using the toilet), they can insist you travel with a companion, but the companion must travel free.
In rare cases, a ferry company can refuse a booking, where the design of the vessel is such that they can’t carry you safely.
Eurostar offers assistance at stations and on its trains.
There are two wheelchair spaces on each train, near accessible toilets, and food and drinks are served at your seat. The spaces are in Premier class carriages, but you and a companion can travel for the lowest-priced Standard fare.
Assistance dogs can be carried on planes, trains and ferries, but you’ll need to comply with the rules on pet passports if travelling abroad (visit gov.uk).
Planning your trip
Once you’ve booked your holiday, you’ll want to know what you can do and see, and where to eat and drink.
If you’re staying in the UK, disabledgo.com can search for accessible restaurants, pubs, tourist attractions and even beaches, all visited by trained inspectors.
Or try euansguide.com, set up by Euan MacDonald, who has motor neurone disease, which has reviews of venues written by disabled people or their families.
At the moment its coverage is patchy, but it has the potential to become a TripAdvisor for disabled people – worth keeping an eye on.
If you’re going somewhere English-speaking (or where you speak the language), try googling for local sites, and again, Trip Advisor’s Travelling with Disabilities forum can be a useful source of tips.