How to travel with a disability: practical advice

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Lluís Enric Mayans


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Handis travel, and it is far from being a utopia. It is not always obvious but the point is that it is developing. When I had my accident and found myself having to live in a wheelchair, it took me two years to consider resuming the trips, which I had done in abundance before. 

Traveling with a disability: it's adapting and getting organized

Because before knowing if tourism is accessible where you are going, you still have to know yourself. Because each handicap is different, our needs are also very specific and if one is looking for a bathroom with an equipped bathtub where he intends to stay, the other will not be able to use it and will instead ask for a shower. Not by choice, but by necessity ofa body that functions in a unique way whatever we say about it.

Vienna (Austria): a city adapted to wheelchairs

So leaving your home to discover your country or another starts with this: know what is necessary for us, what are our limits and our capacities. Then, we rethink our desires. Although tourism is evolving in terms of welcoming people with disabilities, there are still some safer values ​​than others. Privilege the city to the wild life, the capital to the small lost corner, the culture to sport (although on this point, it is debatable)… 

Traveling with a disability is organization : for the "Come, tomorrow we leave" on a whim, we will come back. Provide medical equipment, medicines, accessible routes and visits, plans A, B and C - D if you're a little paranoid - it's work, it leaves time to save for the restaurant on the last evening! Fortunately for us, we live in the digital age: it is relatively easy to answer all our criteria and our questions by taking the time to look for them on the internet.

Transport and accommodation to choose from according to your disability

When we finally have the destination of our next trip, everything is ready on our side, we can go. By adapted car when we have one, That's what is best. But we agree, not to go halfway around the world. No, therefore obliged to opt for public transport. 

What is a TPMR car?
These initials designate a vehicle for the Transport of People with Reduced Mobility. These are generally cars (or minibuses, or even scooters) which have been adapted to accommodate people in wheelchairs, for example: access ramp, modification of the configuration of the seats, lift, or tie-downs are some examples of special equipment found in these vehicles. The manufacturers of TPMR often work in close collaboration with the main car manufacturers (such as Peugeot, Ford, Citroën etc.) allowing each disabled person to find a vehicle adapted to his needs.

Bus and coach? Sometimes suitable but if they are ideal for short trips, regarding long journeys it is not great from a logistical point of view (pee breaks, installation, seats, place ...)

The train ? Not bad, it still has to be reachable (freight elevator to get on board), that there is a space for disabled people where no one has had the good idea to put their suitcases, and that there are station agents who are at the familiar with how the hardware works (this is not always the case). 

The plane ? Luckily now most airlines offer a disability service, light or heavy. So adaptations as well. But there as for the train, I advise you to warn them in advance of our needs, to arrive an hour earlier than that indicated on the ticket and once in the iron bird and well ... find solutions for do without going to the toilet during the flight (I have never seen an airplane toilet large enough to be able to enter it with a chair, even a small one). We must continually reinvent ourselves and appeal to our Mc Gyver spirit. Ingenuity my friend.

Regarding housing, it is possible to take no risk by typing in the well-known chain hotels who by their notoriety are forced to adapt to all at best (it has also become a marketing argument). But you have to pay the price: it will always cost more than in an AirBnB (it is all the same, rare but possible) or a campsite (in which very few handicaps can really manage on their own, let's face it). Some youth hostels, depending on their age, are also accessible, but you have to accept living in a community with strangers and not be afraid of the indiscretion of some.

Preferred destinations

Now what about tourism itself? You can find everything and nothing there. Hyper-adapted, handi-friendly, benevolent ... like inaccessible, anti-inclusion, contempt ...

In Blois, most of the door sills of downtown stores have a reinforced ramp

What is quite obvious is to note the differences between countries and cultures on this subject.

Americans for example, have always been very patriotic in the sense that they love their soldiers and respect their veterans enormously. However, many men returning from the war come back with a handicap. So that's something they're much more used to: you blend in like anyone else, it's fun. Many places are accessible, the only concern is that the material is often quite old, with all that that implies. Nobody is perfect !

In Canada, cities and sites are difficult to adapt, which is largely counterbalanced by… the Canadians themselves! They bend over backwards to help us with their usual kindness and good humor.
I dare a comparison with my stays in Paris? No eh ...

The problem in Franceis that disability has long been taboo and it has only been put forward for a few years. However, we do not change mentalities or tourist structures (or other) in a snap. The Tourism and Disability label is being extended year after year and websites now include the issue of disability in practical information, but the road is still very long. If standards are imposed today, communication is not always there, many are reluctant to comply with them for the simple reason that they do not necessarily understand their usefulness / necessity / interest (and any other synonym of the genus). However, I take pleasure in noticing more and more small things put in place, especially for speech, sight and / or hearing disabilities. And it is not because I am not concerned that it should not affect me, whether by their presence or their absence, to these adaptations.

Chambord tactile model for the visually impaired

In the rest of Europe, everyone goes at their own pace but some are recognized as real joys (in wheelchairs in particular), which is the case in Norway for example. For my part, it was during my trip to Vienna in Austria that I felt free from my handicap because I had no trouble going where I wanted to go, which should be the case everywhere, right?

Good questions to ask yourself

Tourism professionals often think budget, which is understandable of course, only here they are from human lives that we are talking about when we talk about disability. It's a right we should all have to access any public domain, to go through the street we want when we visit a city, to be seated in a correct place when we go to see a show, to be able to shop in the stores that make us want to take public transport without having the impression of wasting everyone's day because the driver does not know how to use the necessary adaptations and it takes a long time ...

In short, we should have the right to be “a tourist like any other”!

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