The Negative Side to Travelling as a Wheelchair User

Seeing as it’s been quite some time since my last blog post, I thought I’d ease myself back into it by writing a piece on some of the less-advantageous aspects of travelling the world with a wheelchair. Truth be told, aside from flitting back and forth to the Netherlands for exams/dissertation business, I’ve not really had much opportunity to travel as extensively as I’d like in recent months. I’m aiming to put that right in the coming weeks, however, with plans to take a road trip somewhere in Europe within the next month or so. I’m in an awkward spot in my life where I don’t know whether to stay put and find full-time work here in Glasgow, or whether I grab my blog by the scruff of its neck and make a real good fist of things – with a view to transforming The Geordie Traveller website into a fully functioning small business. I’m thinking, reviews, ‘expert’ opinion (don’t laugh), accessibility guides, recommendations and more!

Anyway, enough of all that, whatever I decide to do I’ll be sure to let the world know in due course, and in the meantime, I’m going to be blogging at least a bit more than I have been in recent times. So without further ado, lets continue with this blog post!

troopers

I decided to write this post for a couple of reasons, but most noticeable from perspective is this notion that for me, travelling just seems to come naturally and easy. In truth, committing to travel plans isn’t always plain sailing, and some of the points listed below are relevant for both disabled and non-disabled people alike; but I did feel that all of the highlighted aspects that I’ve gone with here are most prominent when you are globetrotting with some form of impairment. I should also point out that I personally don’t experience all the obstacles all the time, but they have reared their ugly head at one stage or another, so here goes.

The Need for Meticulous Planning

If, like me, you’re a bit of a stress head, you’ll probably always feel the need to plan your trips extensively, well in advance. However, if I’m being totally honest, I usually do little to no planning at all when I’m embarking on a fresh trip – but that’s not to say that it’s not important. I suppose I’m quite lucky in the respect that even though I use a wheelchair all the time, I’m not completely reliant on it. For example, I can get out of my chair and drag myself up a flight of stairs in an absolute must-do scenario. If my wheelchair had a voice, it’d be kicking and screaming behind me as I drag it over every bump and step until I reach the top. I predict that this availability to be flexible is one of the main reasons why I don’t feel the need to plan too much, and I often just find myself throwing caution to the wind.

After speaking with several other disabled travellers, however, I certainly appear to be bucking the trend here – with the common likelihood being that when visiting a new part of the world, most disabled travellers find themselves checking out a whole bunch of possible places to visit ahead of time, in a bid to avoid any unexpected surprises. It makes total sense that if, for example, you have slightly more complex accessibility requirements (such as a hotel room with a tracking hoist) then planning will be of the essence – otherwise how can you ensure that your needs will be met once you arrive?

Bad Access

This one pretty much goes without saying and is particularly annoying for disabled travellers. There’s nothing more disheartening than arriving at a destination you’ve been so keen to visit, only to find that there’s zero access for disabled tourists and you’re pretty much stuck viewing the place from the outside. Usually, there’s not much you can really do about it – many visitor attractions are either ancient relics or extremely old buildings – access just wasn’t at the forefront of architects’ to-do list back in those days and I guess as modern day disabled folk, we just have to roll with the punches and take the rough with the smooth. Doesn’t stop you from feeling pretty damn disappointed though!

Dealing with Patronising Behaviour

Nothing sucks more than someone coming across as incredibly patronising, and I’m sorry to report I’ve experienced my fair share of it – but more so in the UK than anywhere else in the world. It narks me beyond belief when someone acts as though it’s some major achievement for me, as a wheelchair user, to be even leaving the house, and that they feel the need to make a big song and dance around congratulating me. Oh well though, there’s worse things in life to be dealing with and luckily, I don’t seem to attract too many of these types of people when I’m in foreign lands. Plus, I know that deep down these folks only mean well.

As a side note, interestingly enough, Japan seemed to be an incredibly respectful country and I even didn’t catch many people staring – which is something which cannot be said for other countries – especially, China!

Relying on Systems Being in Place

This one is a real bug-bare within the disabled community and is also something highly topical at the moment in the news. Imagine a scenario where you’ve arrived at your destination – either by plane or rail, as an example – and you suddenly find yourself unable to disembark? This is a reality which is all too common for disabled people when travelling somewhere. Most trains have steps when entering and so those travelling with mobility needs often must rely on the services of station staff – in the form of bringing a ramp to the train door for you to enter and exit. Often, services run smoothly, with train ramps and airport lifts arriving on time – but every so often things go wrong and a disabled person is left waiting; which can spell disaster when needing to catch a connecting flight or missing your stop on the train and being forced to get off at the next one (if possible).

Personally, when these things happen, I tend to just let it slide – staff are usually very apologetic and if the mishap leads to me missing a connection, then I know I’m going to be well looked after seeing as the blame lies elsewhere. Heck, I’ve had some pretty swanky hotel rooms fully comped by airlines when I’ve missed a connecting flight in the past due to ground staff not facilitating my exit from the plane. It even resulted in a free upgrade to business class from London to JFK – so you know what? I’ll take the rough with the smooth sometimes!

Naturally, everyone experiences some testing moments when travelling – disabled people aren’t unique in this fact, but perhaps due to the nature of our precise needs, these setbacks can often seem a little more overwhelming. Overall though my experiences when travelling have been nothing but joyous and positive, and the benefits of getting to see the world far outweigh any annoying incidents that are better left forgotten. So, go out there and explore your surroundings – see what’s out there and connect with yourself and those around you. Travel truly is the one thing that uses your money but makes you ten times richer.

5 thoughts on “The Negative Side to Travelling as a Wheelchair User

  1. What kind of chair do you have? I find most airlines won’t even take my powerchair, claiming they can’t fit it in the hold. It’s also a lot more difficult to function when I can’t stay in my chair while travelling, since it has specific adaptations to reduce my chronic back pain and symptoms of dysautonomia.

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    1. I have a Quickie Helium. It’s a manual wheelchair. International carries will always take your powerchair, but I guess budget airlines may have different regulations? I’ll have to look into it though as I’m sure they can’t just refuse you…

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      1. I think it may depend on your definition of “international” – in my experience it’s all about what aircraft they use. I have been told by both Finnair and KLM that my chair wouldn’t fit in anything smaller than a Boeing 747 😦 when I flew from Manchester to Helsinki I had to have one of the attendant-propelled manual chairs during transit (nightmare!) & hire a powerchair when I reached Helsinki.

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  2. If you are contacting airlines ahead of time (which I assume you are) and they are refusing to take your power assisted wheelchair, I’d definitely be fighting this. It’s against protocol to refuse a passenger on grounds of disability and they are required, by law, to check-in (for free) any wheelchair or mobility scooter a passenger may require.

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