Monday, 18 August 2014

Access all areas!

A GREATER awareness of disability issues following the 2012 Paralympics and this year’s Commonwealth Games has resulted in more accessible tourist facilities and accommodation in Britain, writes Kathryn Liston.

Racers competing on the track in the Olympic Stadium by Thomas Davies

The legacy is good news for the ten million disabled people in the UK, who have often struggled to find information about accessible holidays and travel specialists who can meet their needs. Carrie-Ann Lightley, information officer at Tourism For All UK, says that awareness caused by the Paralympics has prompted UK accommodation providers to adapt and promote their accessible facilities more extensively.

‘We used to spend most of our time persuading accommodation providers to become members and make adaptations to their properties,’ she says. ‘Now, having recognized the value of adapting and marketing their accommodation and facilities, they are approaching us out of the blue.’

This has been helped by the wealth of information now available online. Tourism For All UK also operates a helpline.

Brian Seaman, a consultant with Tourism For All UK, said: ‘The Paralympics created awareness of the needs of other people, and that has helped to develop facilities, although the main catalyst for change still comes from family or friends who have had personal understanding of the difficulties.’

Brian says the most accessible self-catering accommodation in Britain is often found on farms in specially-adapted barns and piggeries.

Farm Stay UK has adopted the National Accessible Scheme’s symbols to denote levels of accessibility on its member farms. Users can search for accommodation that is suitable for hearing (H1/H2) and visual (V1/V2) impairment, Motobility (M1/M2/M3), assisted mobility, and other disabilities.

Also in Britain, Forest Holidays offers holiday cabins that have been adapted for wheelchair users, while Disabled Holiday Directory offers cottages, caravans and log cabins that are wheelchair accessible. Some of the Disabled Holiday Directory properties have hoists, electric beds, lowered kitchen and bathroom units and accessible wet rooms.

Overseas, it’s the most popular holiday destinations such as the Spanish Costas, Portugal and the Canary Islands that cater extensively for disabled travellers, with accessible rooms, adapted transport and specialist care services. Benidorm on Spain’s Costa Blanca is one of the best. As well as ramped access to the beach, there is a wide wooden path enabling wheelchair users to get to the sea.

In Cyprus, Access Travel has self-catering studios and apartments in Polis, where all rooms have wheel-in showers and the swimming pool has a hoist for easy access.

One person who is well aware of the difficulties that can arise when organizing travel is Richard Thompson, a member of the Travel Counsellors consortium and founder of the Good Access Guide. He has specialized in disability travel for the last 15 years, the majority of his clients being wheelchair users.

Richard says he can organize anything, anywhere. ‘I don’t accept no from the travel industry – that is an easy option,’ he says, adding that because it is time-consuming, there are few specialist companies willing to do it.’

Richard says that airlines carry hundreds of wheelchair users every day, so all of them are generally efficient, although the low-cost carriers might have limits on the equipment they can carry.

Legal responsibility for providing special assistance for travellers with disabilities lies with the airport under European Union legislation introduced in 2008. In order to ensure a smooth transit through the airport, it is essential to book assistance at least 48 hours before travel. Information on special assistance can be found on airport websites.

Finding travel insurance is a minefield for travellers with disabilities. Thompson says it can often be ‘totally arbitrary’, with premiums for pre-existing conditions varying wildly. Specialist travel companies such as Travel Counsellors, Access Travel and the Holiday Directory will be able to recommend suitable policies. In the mainstream, High Street travel agencies Co-operative Travel has set up a specialist division, which offers holidays for the visually and hearing impaired, and customers with reduced mobility.

Want to know more?
  • Tourism for All UK – Helpline: 0845 124 9971
  • Open Britain –
  • Visit England – accessible places to visit, accommodation and getting around
  • Disability Horizons – articles and traveller reports …
  • Scope –

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