Just as in Sinbad the Sailor’s day, there’s a lot of myth making surrounding travel. We’re spun salty yarns about travel companies, airlines, rail operators and tourist boards that don’t really care about disabled people and that at best, do things as no more than ‘tick-box’ exercises. It’s time to rewrite those tales.
Disabled people are becoming more confident about travel than ever before, to the point where any organisation involved in tourism can’t ignore them. I’m not just talking about the UK either, I’ve seen first-hand, excellent provision for disabled people in Europe and further afield.
So which organisations support disability travel options? Well, most of them. You’ll certainly find that airlines, including the ‘cheap flight’ specialists have measures in place for disabled people. This is usually part of the boarding process that might see disabled people invited to board first – a polite and practical measure that means they don’t have to manoeuvre themselves into a seat when everyone else is watching (and when there’s less room). It’s also common practice for any mobility aids to be waiting for disabled passengers on the tarmac when they disembark and for them to be scooted through terminal buildings on ‘golf carts’ to avoid what can be a half-mile wander to the departure gate
Railways are easier to apply accessible measures to and with careful pre-planning staff assistance and ramps are available for entry and alighting. This is supported in the UK by an excellent disabled persons railcard scheme that gives disabled passengers access to a healthy discount of a third off ticket prices. I can also heartily recommend Deutsche Bahn (in Germany) and Eurostar as rail operators that treat disabled passengers very well indeed.
This is just the tip of a very large iceberg. Tourist boards, both international and regional are fighting for every pound and providing options to encourage a diverse visitorship. Such organisations make small tweaks and significant structural changes alike to ensure that anyone and everyone can have a great experience on their patch.
The bottom line is that it makes good business sense. If a hotel or attraction isn’t accessible to a wheelchair, it’s not going to be accessible to parents with children in pushchairs either. The idea of universal design and full tourist inclusion is one, therefore, that has to be taken seriously. Improvements in disability travel will always be an ongoing process.
Organisations involved in travel have begun to recognise that numbers of disabled travellers are increasing and that they need to start investing. The great thing is that generally speaking, universal design only needs to be implemented once, then we all get to play.
Able contacted the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish tourist offices to find out why disabled people should visit their regions.
Here’s what they said:
Each year England’s most accessible hotels, B&Bs, museums and attractions compete to win the Access for All Tourism Award both locally and nationally. The award recognises businesses that go the extra mile to provide access for all visitors, particularly those with impairments and other physical and sensory access needs.
This year’s national VisitEngland Awards for Excellence ceremony, taking place in Manchester in May, will crown another five winners. To mark the occasion, VisitEngland is producing an attractive free booklet, giving you great ideas of where to stay and visit on your next holiday in England. In showcasing many of the award’s winners since 2009, readers can gain an insight into the facilities and customer service each business has to offer.
Be sure to also look out for VisitEngland’s accessible tourism campaign broadcast through a range of local and national media channels. The campaign brings to the table a whole host of exciting itineraries, featuring top class accommodation and attractions that provide a warm welcome for all visitors, including those with access needs.
The hotels and attractions featured in our campaign are currently undertaking improvements to their accessibility information, disability awareness and facilities, to ensure they provide you with the best visitor experience possible. So prepare yourself for trips to the seaside, escapes to the country, cultural city breaks and more.
The booklet will be available online from April at: www.visitengland.com/accessforall. The VisitEngland website also has a whole host of tips, ideas and useful sources of information to help you plan your next holiday break in England.
This is the place that traditionally links being British with being ‘Celtic’ and to that end is happy to play host to events that feature both sets of heritage. On one day you might choose to see the Pipe Band Championship whilst on another you could come across the Comber Potato Festival.
Belfast in particular, has been busy marking the hundredth anniversary of the ill-fated maiden voyage of the Titanic. The city has used the timing wisely to invest in new, world class, inclusive infrasructure, including the incredible ‘Titanic Belfast’ museum. The fact that the ship sank is viewed as tragic, but many will say to this day that, “it was alright when it left here”.
One of the big draws to Northern Ireland during 2013 was that (Derry) Londonderry was made the first UK City of Culture. Lots of the events that took place in 2013 were ‘festival’ based and open to all, though one of the most important was the ‘Turner Prize’ exhibition in December – the first time that it has been staged outside of England.
While a great number of Scotland’s accommodation providers and visitor attractions provide excellent facilities and warm welcomes for visitors with access needs, there is still some work to be done.
More than 200 people attended VisitScotland’s inaugural Accessible Tourism Conference, which took place in the Edinburgh International Conference Centre in March last year.
During the conference, Scotland’s national tourism organisation gave the industry ideas with which to make the most of the accessible tourism market. This is particularly pertinent as, in 2014 Scotland will be thrust into the global spotlight like never before. The country is busy preparing to welcome the world when it hosts the second Year of Homecoming, the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
Research has shown that the accessible tourism market has loyal followers who, if welcomed with a great first impression, will come back time and time again. For some time now, VisitScotland has been suggesting to the tourism industry that they look at accessible tourism in a different light. After 20 years of disability rights legislation across most of the western world, there is a lot of accessible infrastructure but sometimes a lack of information available to the tourist with accessibility needs.
One of the perceived problems is that ‘access’ is enshrined as a compliance issue, not a market issue. People with physical disabilities, mental health issues, older people, families with young children and those with other access requirements are viewed under risk management – requiring potentially expensive adjustments and investment in infrastructure, rather than being seen as valued customers.
VisitScotland’s conference explored this market, asking the people that matter. VisitScotland did some consultation with more than 100 people with physical disabilities, and the results will be fed back to Scotland’s tourism industry. If potential visitors are given the right information they will come to Scotland and, if they are given a warm welcome, they will keep coming back.
Popping Over The Channel
If you do feel like leaving the UK behind for a week or two, there are now numerous holiday companies specifically suited to disabled tourists. One of our favourites is ‘I need A Holiday Too’.
La Roche Derrien is a tiny French town on the Cotes d’Armor’ in Brittany. A mere 400 metres away are six wheelchair accessible apartments pleasantly converted from the structure of an 1880’s cotton mill on the banks of the River Jaudy.
The apartments are all spaciously laid out and contain every convenience for disabled visitors. Bathrooms, kitchens and bedrooms are all properly kitted out and accessible without the need for stairs.
The terrace and garden are ideal for relaxing during the day or watching the serene sunsets that occur almost every evening.
Tel: 0800 949 6801
If you’re feeling like a breath of fresh air, you might try the stunning Snowdonia National Park (pictured above) and the accessible Mawddach Trail – considered one of the best trails in Britain. It follows the beautiful Mawddach estuary, giving visitors the chance to experience some of Snowdonia’s splendour, striking scenery and beautiful wildlife. It is part of the SusTrans cross-Wales cycle route No. 8.
There are several accessible benches and picnic tables along the path. The wide gates are accessible for wheelchairs, pushbikes and pushchairs.
The trail can be joined from many points, including Dolgellau, Morfa Mawddach, Penmaenpool and Barmouth. Wheelchair users are recommended to begin the trail from the Snowdonia National Park Authority car park near Pont y Wernddu, grid ref. SH SH 715 183.
Tramper all terrain powerchairs can be hired by prior arrangement as can a mobility vehicle.
Tel: 01766 772 269