The travel landscape for people with disabilities has changed dramatically in recent years. I remember spending countless hours phoning and emailing accommodation providers with questions to help determine suitability for my mum who has MS. Travel used to be very stressful. And, it prompted Grant and I to set up Accessible Accommodation, so you wouldn’t need to experience such stress. Airlines are far more accommodating nowadays, and the growth of Changing places bathrooms has also opened the scope to road tripping around Australia too. One of the most common messages I have received since launching Accessible Accommodation is just how many people thought that travel was an impossible feat, or simply too daunting a task to undertake. The excitement knowing that travel is doable is an absolute thrill to see.
So, when planning your next holiday, the first thing you should ask yourself is “Can I do it myself or do I need the expertise of a travel agent to manage our trip?”
Fiona Donaldson of Travelmanagers and I got chatting recently on this very subject. Fiona has a disability and over 20 years’ experience as a Travel Agent. So, I couldn’t think of anyone more perfect to help understand the value of the role a Travel Agent plays. Even more importantly, someone who understands the unique needs of a traveller with a disability. Fiona was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis at the age of 19 at a level of C8/T1 – which resulted in high-level paraplegia. That was 28 years ago and she has been in the airline and travel industry for 25 years. I couldn’t think of anyone better to entrust with your managed trip.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to travel as a person with a disability, or a carer of someone, then the expertise of a travel agent may be exactly the way to make it happen.
An Accessible Travel Agent will take care of you and your unique requirements from the moment you leave your house to the moment you arrive home. If you simply wish to book a self-catering holiday a few hours away, perhaps it is simple enough to plan.
Fiona and I have put together a checklist for both these options. We hope this helps and inspires you to get crackin’.
Start planning your stay at least 6 weeks in advance by getting an idea of which properties will suit your needs in the best possible way. The accommodation should be at the top of your holiday planning list, and once this is booked and confirmed, the rest of your itinerary can be built around it.
When choosing accommodation, make sure you consider everything from bed height for transfers, the height of the space under the bed if you will be requiring the use of a hoist, toilet height (will your commode fit over the top?), undercover car park or garage if this is a self-drive holiday, close to café’s or restaurants if you don’t intend to do much cooking, or close to a supermarket in case you do. Accessible Accommodation makes this easy in multiple ways. The first is over 50 questions and answers covering every conceivable topic. Furthermore, extensive photos particularly of the bathrooms, and some with video walkthroughs. Click HERE to learn more about the search options.
Are you ok with crowds, or would you prefer quieter times when it is also cheaper to book?
There are some aspects for NDIS where allowances for short term accommodation and equipment are covered. Each person is different, and NDIS changes the rules so frequently that I am keeping this to a recommendation only to check out.
If you require the services of a carer, would you prefer taking your current carer? Or, in some cases, you can engage the services of a short-term carer whilst on holiday. This is a new and growing aspect that Accessible Accommodation is working on to include if available. For example in the Geelong and Bellarine area, Heather Thompson at Life Is Worth Living can help you. Click HERE for more information.
Julie from Have Wheelchair Will Travel has written a brilliant article with excellent recommendations for airline travel. Her preference is Qantas. My experience with booking for mum has resulted in a preference for Virgin for domestic flights, and Singapore Airlines for international travel. All three airlines are very good, and the staff are very helpful. Julie’s article is a must-read if you plan to fly, and provides extensive advice. Click HERE for more.
Personally, I recommend the services of a travel agent if it is the first time you have flown.
How are you getting there? If you are driving, consider somewhere safe to stop along the way which has an accessible toilet – service stations are great for this. It’s also a chance to grab a coffee and recharge for the next stretch of road ahead. Leanne Watson, of Leanne’s Wheel Life, has written an excellent article on Changing Places, including links to their locations. Click HERE for more
Another option is good old McDonald’s. For two reasons, the first is their staff are required to frequently clean the toilets. The second is the sheer number of locations, and the fact they provide disabled toilets. Click HERE for an interactive global map of all the Maccas’ around the world.
If you are able, don’t forget to do pressure lifts in the car. The last thing you will want to deal with at the start of a holiday is a pressure area. If you cannot do a pressure lift, look at other options to take away some pressure from the car seat. Some examples are sitting on a sheepskin or a low-profile gel cushion – these can be easily bought online. Click HERE for a range of examples.
How active do you want your holiday to be? Is it a drop and flop kind of break, or are you looking to actively explore the area? Accessible Accommodation property listings include accessible activities and links to assist you.
If you are on regular medication it’s always a good idea to take a repeat script with you so that if for some reason you run out or misplace your tablets, you can get your script filled at a local pharmacy and not have to waste time by finding a doctors, making an appointment and spending your precious holiday time in a waiting room. This is from Fiona’s personal experience!
Travel insurance, especially for overseas travel is an important consideration. Our followers on The Accessible Group Facebook page most frequently recommend Covermore.
I strongly recommend if you have complex needs, the service of a travel agent to ensure you have the correct coverage.
On arrival at your destination, stop off at a local Visitor Information kiosk for first-hand local knowledge. The volunteers are a wealth of knowledge and you usually also find that they are quite well versed in recommending wheelchair accessible activities & sightseeing in order to get the most out of your holiday. Or phone/email ahead after you have decided where you are staying.
Accessible Accommodation provides two important assets here. The first is a list of equipment that is already provided by the accommodation. The second is full contact information on equipment hire within 15 km. Or, you may prefer to bring your own. If you are driving it is of course easier. My recommendation is to take with you a few adjustable suction cup grab bars. They are about $38 from Bunnings and really handy to have in the car if you find grab bars are not positioned in the spots that suit you.
If after reading this, you feel a bit daunted by it all, read further and see how simple it can be with engaging the services of a good Travel Agent.
Probably the most discussed topic in our Facebook Group- The Accessible Group is flying and the challenges it presents. If you are a first-time flyer, I do recommend the services of a travel agent, as there is quite a bit to arrange. Furthermore, each airline is different. Some offer hoists such as the Eagle List (Click HERE to see how it works) . Others offer transfer boards and narrow wheelchairs that fit down the aisle.
Remember each airline differs. So the question is, do you speak to guest services before or after booking? I generally book mum’s flight (Virgin is our preference for domestic, Singapore Airlines for International travel) and then contact special guest services to arrange the boarding and disembarking. Mum has flown around 30 times from Melbourne to Sydney. What is consistent among airlines is the narrow wheelchair to transfer you at check in (where your own chair is packed away with luggage), and you use the chair all the way to the seat. You are first to board, and last to disembark.
Then there’s arranging safe travel of your chair if you use one.
An Accessible Travel Agent will take care of you and your unique requirements from the moment you leave your house to the moment you arrive home. It is ideal if you have multiple destinations to see, if you haven’t travelled with a disability frequently, and especially if it seems a daunting task.
Your trip planned by a travel agent includes liaising with the airline’s special assistance department directly. (Fiona has these numbers on speed dial!) She provides them with the specifications of your wheelchair (manual, powerchair, battery type, dimensions and weight), whether you can self-transfer, if an aisle chair is required to board and disembark, if an eagle lift is required to transfer you in and out of the aircraft seat etc. It is so very important to relay the correct information to the airlines as you do not want any delays when checking in due to insufficient information flowing through to the ground staff.
If you’re a first time flyer, an Accessible Travel Agent can give advice, tips and tricks for flying with a wheelchair including the airline’s policies and procedures, the time you should arrive at the airport to check in, what happens upon arrival at your destination and where your chair will be.
Most importantly, your agent will manage any flight schedule changes and will be able to adjust the rest of your itinerary accordingly if there are any major delays.
If a hire car is required, an agent can prearrange this and have a car waiting for you at the airport on your arrival. Hand controls can also be sourced if required and subject to availability.
Accessible transfers can be pre-arranged if you prefer to be picked up from the airport and taken to your destination and back to the airport.
A travel agent will do the research for you. If the itinerary you have in mind seems overwhelming and you don’t know where to start, call an agent who specialises in this area and asks them to put together an itinerary/package for you to suit your needs and budget. A package can include everything from flights and accommodation, transfers or hire car, accessible activities/tours/sightseeing, restaurant recommendations. They will save you time.
If you require rental equipment such as shower chairs, hoists or pressure relieving mattresses, a good agent will know exactly how to source this out and have it delivered to your accommodation and picked up after your departure. Accessible Accommodation includes an extensive list of equipment that is included free of charge.
If your NDIS plan includes short term accommodation, Fiona provides you with an invoice with the description of services you are asking for reimbursement on.
Travel Insurance is quite a minefield, (especially with people who have a disability) and by law, authorised agents can only give “general advice” not specific advice. A good travel agent will provide you with guidance to help you ensure your complex needs are covered. It is important you read the fine print of the PDS to ensure the policy is right for you and your needs. You can, of course, ask Fiona as many questions as you like, however, the final decision lies with the client. Fiona is authorised to sell Cover-More and NIB travel insurance. Insurance can also be arranged as a part of your package too. If your health needs are complex, it is so important to get the right cover.
To get in touch with Fiona Donaldson of Travelmanagers, click HERE or save the following info:
To explore accessible accommodation click HERE.
Can you think of anything we have forgotten? Click HERE to email me with your suggestions. And thanks for reading!
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