Door to Door: a travel guide for disabled people
Going on holiday
Sources of information
For holidays in the UK, the local Tourist Information Centre (www.britainexpress.com/TIC/index.htm), Disability Information and Advice Line (www.dialuk.info - or see under DIAL in the phone book) or Tourism for All UK (previously known as Holiday Care) (www.tourismforall.org.uk) may be able to advise you about accommodation.
For destinations abroad contact Tourism for All UK or try contacting a disability organisation in the country you plan to visit, or a specialist tour operator may be able to organise accommodation to meet your particular needs. Foreign tourist boards may have offices in the UK which can help.
A range of holiday guides are published to suit different levels of ability and sense of adventure from 'Smooth Rides' to 'Rough Guides'. More information on useful contacts about holidays and leisure activities mainly, but not exclusively, for families with disabled children is available from the booklet "Holidays, Play and Leisure", which can be downloaded from the Contact a Family website at: www.cafamily.org.uk/holidays.html.
Types of holiday
Many organised holidays can provide for the needs of disabled travellers, at home and abroad, but careful planning ahead is still necessary. Holidays in the UK and abroad are available where all the appropriate care needs can be provided, whether in accessible self catering or hotel accommodation. Some offer full nursing care and assistance, or respite care, if required. Some disability organisations make available holidays for their members at their own hotels/homes. There are also companies which offer coach holidays in the UK and throughout Europe with wheelchair accessible coaches (some with on-board accessible toilet). Special interest and activity holidays also cater for disabled people, from canal holidays on adapted narrow boats to sailing, camping or safari holidays. For those who prefer a more relaxed style of holiday, cruising is an alternative as more companies are providing better facilities on board cruise ships.
If you intend travelling to a new destination for the first time, it is worth finding out as much as you can about what facilities the resort has to offer and ensuring that your chosen accommodation meets your mobility needs. (It is much more difficult or even impossible to alter your arrangements once you have arrived and your holiday or trip would be spoiled if you are unable to get around once you are there). The following is just a suggested list of things to consider before booking a holiday:
At the resort
- If you have limited walking ability or use a wheelchair find out before selecting your resort whether the area is hilly or reasonably flat.
- If the resort is hilly will there be transport available (e.g. buses or taxis) or will you be able to hire a scooter or powered wheelchair whilst you are there?
- Will there be public toilets that are suitably accessible?
- Will any restaurants, cafes, bars and other public buildings in the resort be accessible?
- How will you get to places of interest in the area and will the tourist venues themselves be suitably accessible?
- Will you be able to keep your assistance dog with you at all times and will there be suitable facilities for them?
- Always check that the accommodation will be suitable for your needs - do not rely on second-hand information.
- Consider whether there are steps or stairs up or down to the main entrance and to the public areas (bar, restaurant, lounge, terrace, gardens). Does the accommodation have any lifts, or is there ground floor accommodation?
- If you are a wheelchair user it is also important to check actual door widths, especially in the bathroom/toilet - will you be able to get in and out of the bath and on and off the toilet?
- Is a wheelchair accessible shower available?
- If you need a special diet, check that the hotel is able to provide it.
- If you are using self-catering accommodation, will the kitchen be suitably accessible - will your wheelchair go under the sink or cooking space in kitchen?
- If you have an assistance dog check that there will be suitable facilities for them.
If you plan to take your own powered wheelchair or scooter, or intend hiring one at your destination, find out whether you be able to recharge it at your accommodation (if the voltage is different in the country you are visiting, you will need to take or hire a transformer). Also check whether you will be able to keep it indoors at night - if not your insurance may not cover it against theft or damage.
If you need access to particular equipment on holiday - e.g. dialysis, oxygen - there are organisations which can help with information, advice and supplies. The British Red Cross can lend aids and equipment, including wheelchairs, through their network of local depots.
Help with costs
Families with disabled children may be entitled to help from Social Services departments. Some authorities may provide grants towards holiday costs, others may offer holidays at places of their own choice. Grants may be subject to means testing and even when available, the amount is usually small. Further information on funding sources is available from Contact a Family (www.cafamily.org.uk/holidays.html).
You should make sure you have a good insurance policy when you travel abroad. Most travel agents can supply comprehensive policies but these might not be suitable for disabled people. Some policies do not cover claims arising from a "pre-existing medical condition or defect", i.e. claims relating to your disability. You should check that any travel insurance you are offered does cover you for your disability or medical condition.
It is also important to check that you have a policy that covers any equipment you are taking with you, such as a wheelchair. This is unlikely to be covered by a standard travel insurance policy. Items such as wheelchairs are often covered under your household insurance policy which may include cover when the item is taken abroad. If this is not the case, there are specialist brokers and insurers who can provide cover when taking equipment abroad, you should ask what the cover excludes, as some insurers will not insure equipment when it is actually in transit.
It is also advisable to take out travel insurance if you are travelling within the UK, especially if you are taking special equipment such as wheelchairs or if you're likely to need medical attention, which may cut short your holiday.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 makes it illegal for insurance companies to charge a disabled person more for an insurance policy without evidence that proves that the disabled person is a greater risk than a non disabled person.
More detailed guidance on travel insurance for disabled people is available from the Directgov website: www.direct.gov.uk/en/DisabledPeople/TravelHolidaysAndBreaks/PlanningATrip/DG_4018312.
If you are going abroad, you should always check any special health requirements for the country you are visiting. Vaccinations may be required, or advisable, against certain diseases, especially for 'third world countries'. However, vaccination may not be possible for people with known allergies or certain medical conditions. If this applies to you, you can get an Exemption Certificate from your Doctor or Consultant well before your date of travel.
If you are taking medication or medical equipment with you, make sure that it will last you for your stay. Always ensure that medicines and tablets are clearly labelled on the outside of the containers. It is a good idea to get a letter from your doctor to say that you need the medication and perhaps list them in case you lose them or need to obtain a further supply. You may also wish to check with the relevant Embassy, Consulate or High Commission whether there are any restrictions on taking your medication into the country you are visiting.
If you are travelling to another country in the 'European Economic Area (EEA)' and you are a UK National, you may get free or reduced rate emergency medical treatment while you are there. Only emergency treatment is covered, which is provided on the same basis as for its own Nationals. In order to qualify, you will need to be in possession of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). You can apply for the EHIC by post (application form available from post offices) by telephone or on line at: www.ehic.org.uk. If you will need continuing medical treatment such as blood tests, medication, or injections when abroad, you will need Form E112.
You can get full details of health care and advice for travellers abroad in a free booklet "Health Advice for Travellers" - containing further information about both the EHIC and E112 and how to obtain them - published by the Department of Health, available from post offices, or by telephoning 08701 55 54 55 at any time (quoting "T7.1 Health Advice for Travellers"), free of charge, or at: www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_4123441. This web page also includes information about UK health services for travellers to the UK.
You can not use an EHIC or E112 if you are travelling outside the EEA, for example to America. You will normally have to pay for any medical treatment at the time that you receive it and then claim it back on your holiday insurance when you return home.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, can give advice and information on visa requirements, personal safety, local laws and customs. They have a list of countries which could be quite dangerous to visit and produce a set of very helpful leaflets called "Dos and Don'ts" for many countries (www.fco.gov.uk) or telephone 0870 606 0290.
Medical Advisory Services for Travellers (MASTA) (www.masta-travel-health.com) was set up in 1984 at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. They provide information on health matters related to travel abroad.
Key points to consider when going on holiday / travelling abroad
- Check whether you will be able to travel independently, or if you will need to take a personal assistant with you.
- Check that the accommodation at your destination is suitable for you.
- Make sure appropriate transport facilities are available both when you are travelling and when you get to your destination. Ask your travel agent to check what facilities are available.
- If you are travelling by air make sure that the airline knows what help you will need (e.g. if you need extra leg room will it be available on the aircraft? If you use oxygen can the airline provide it and will there be a charge for it?).
- Check whether you will be able to use a toilet on any transport. If not, what are the alternatives? The booklet "Flying High" (from the Disabled Living Foundation) (www.dlf.org.uk) gives practical hints about personal toilet arrangements on long flights.
- Check that your medical insurance is adequate, that it includes pre-existing medical conditions, and that equipment (e.g. wheelchair) is covered, especially if going abroad. If you have a NHS owned wheelchair you must get permission to take it abroad.
- Check that your equipment will be usable at your destination. If you use oxygen, will it be obtainable where you are going? If you are taking an electric wheelchair or scooter abroad, check the voltage of the country you are visiting. If it is different from that used in the UK you will need to take or hire a transformer.
- If you have an assistance dog, it can only travel under the Pet Travel Scheme or Pet Passport Scheme as it is commonly called. You will need to make sure that you have all the corrected papers to prove that your dog has had all the necessary injections and vaccinations.
- Conditions of entry for assistance dogs vary for different countries, so you will need to check that you know all the regulations for the country you are visiting.
- Check whether you will be able to keep your assistance dog with you at all stages of the journey and make sure that there will be suitable facilities for your assistance dog at all stages of the trip.
- More information about travelling with your assistance dog is given in the Going by air section.
If you are taking medication with you when travelling abroad, make sure each container is clearly labelled with its contents. It is a good idea to carry a doctor's letter certifying that you are taking prescribed medication; and to check with the relevant Embassy, Consulate or High Commission whether there are any restrictions on taking your medication into the country you are visiting.
Your travel agent should have a copy of the Association of British Travel Agents Checklist for Travellers with Disabilities which can be downloaded from their website at: www.abta.com/consumer-services/accessible_travel#checklist. It is a questionnaire which can be used to check the suitability of the accommodation, transport and facilities at your destination. The form also enables your travel agent to collect information about your specific needs for equipment and/or medication.