Buying Time

Booking a holiday should be an exciting process. Choosing a destination and checking out the hotel ratings should be fun and help to build the anticipation.

Saying that, as we know, a mistake at this point could cost you dear when you turn up and find that things aren’t quite as you imagined.

Lots of disabled people find the idea of going away on holiday a troubling notion. They may have been away before and had a bad experience in any number of ways or they may just be frightened that they’ll be the victim of bad luck or poor service in a land where they don’t know enough of the language to even complain. Perhaps that’s why, according to the latest Able Magazine readership survey that 31% of respondents said that they had not been on a holiday in the last three years (23% said that they’d only been once in that time.)

It’s a shame because, for whatever reasons disabled people decide not to go on holiday, they’re missing out. A holiday combines a mixture of adventure and relaxation – surely, just what the doctor ordered.


One of the initial choices that consumers have to make is from whom to purchase their holiday. There is a proliferation of travel agents of one sort or another, on the high street, advertising in newspaper travel sections or based online but essentially there are two choices: specialist or generalist.

A (disability) specialist holiday provider will usually charge a premium but makes certain guarantees that the accommodation and any attractions or activities booked as part of the holiday are accessible (to you). A generalist on the other hand does not make any such claims but will clearly have a larger choice and be able to give you a general idea about the environment you’ll be experiencing – whether it’s hot, if the buildings are old and what the food’s like. It’s then down to the consumer to pick their own way through the detail, in order to find any ‘devils’, or so it seems.

With all that in mind, it might seem like a ‘no-brainer’ to simply go with a specialist provider. After all, it’d be totally unwise and potentially a disappointing waste of time and money to go on a holiday with the risks of nasty surprises attached to it.

That’s very true as general advice for the ‘average disabled person’ but the problem is that I’ve yet to meet an average disabled person. Access, for example, can relate to sensory, physical, intellectual or mental disabilities. What is accessible to one may be completely out of the question for another. Surely, with that in mind, it’s worth including non-specialist providers too. After all, if a person with a hearing impairment is able to stay in a hotel with an induction hearing loop system, he’ll have no problem enjoying all the benefits available to all of the other guests.


This might well be the case with many other types of disability. Naturally, if you outline your needs with a travel agent they may be able to give you advice based on customer feedback. The thing to note is that the feedback may well be sketchy or sporadic and that it won’t be backed up by expert opinion or a disability audit. The other thing to mention is that you won’t get your money back if the induction loop system is out of order on the day you arrive. The best advice that the non-specialist travel agent is able to give to you is to at least select specialist travel insurance.

A specialist on the other hand lives or dies by their knowledge, advice and application of skill and specialist adaptations. The booking process is likely to be far longer and much more in-depth. This might make some people slightly uncomfortable since disability can be highly personal. The payoff is that the more detail you’re able to give about your needs, the better equipped your specialist travel agent will be able to tailor a holiday to you.


Although you’ll pay a premium for the expertise and specialist adaptions in the accommodations etc, this doesn’t have to blow a hole in your ambitions to have a great time away. There are specialists in all aspects of the holiday industry, from people that have small holiday cottages in the Scottish countryside to organisations that run accessible safaris in Africa. There’s plenty in between too, including holiday organisations run by charities specialising in opportunities for disabled young people or for those looking for respite.

It’s clear then that there are options for everyone in terms of destination, level of advice and adaptation and budget. Since we live in an era of an aging population, more and more generalist agencies are becoming disability friendly, simply because many of their holidays are angled towards older people (who might have age related mobility or sensory issues). Saying that, if you require specific adaptations, you can’t beat a specialist who knows their onions.

Decisions, decisions – answers on a postcard please.


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