Disabled people need a Plan B-Z when they travel


Like everyone else, I was concerned to read about the difficulties faced by out-of-order accessible toilets on a train, and the now infamous incident at the start of the year was certainly something that warranted a strong complaint. However, I did feel the media did take it too far, once again using it as an opportunity to portray people with impairments as vulnerable who need to have a level of impossible perfect accessibility before they could consider being included in society.

However much we should never stop campaigning for a more accessible world, people with impairments also need to be prepared for the world we currently have, a world that is not always perfect and is in many areas unlikely to be perfect for many years. I have just come back from a cruise on Thomson Celebration going around the Persian Gulf from Dubai. This is my second cruise, where my first one with Royal Caribbean, around the Caribbean, was delightfully accessible around the ship and at every port.

Like before, I took my electric wheelchair this time, which was absolutely fine around the ship. The difficulty was that every port required using some kind of transport that was inaccessible to my bulky and heavy chair. I was not phased by this and from a desire to go on a city tour by coach on the first day, including going up Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, within a few hours I had borrowed a manual wheelchair from the ship that I kept and used throughout the week. The staff at all levels on the ship could not have been more helpful despite the clear environmental barriers the cruise had.

When I asked about the wheelchair at reception I saw a large Asian family complaining loudly that they had been ‘promised’ an accessible room for their wheelchair using mother and ‘what were they going to do about it’, where the response from the very apologetic steward was there was not a lot that could be done at that stage. I could sympathise with their circumstances but many years of travelling have taught me that once you leave the UK, the one so many activists are happy to berate for its accessibility, you have no guarantees of anything in relation to accessibility, especially when you go in a country where the concept of liberalism is allowing women to drive for the first time!

I did not book an accessible room because I knew so long as I  could get my electric wheelchair into my cabin and I could charge it, I could manage the rest for one week. However, as soon as I arrived, the staff were very helpful, including the customer services manager, who came with me to my cabin to check it was okay and I had everything I needed.

I know that as someone with a significant impairment when I travel aboard I need to lower my standards on accessibility and accept things are likely to not be perfect. This means for every activity, as simple as getting on a coach, I need a Plan B, C, D and so on. There is little point huffing and puffing about how wrong it is when you are in a very different culture, which I personally just want to experience. So the adventurer with a significant impairment needs to put their pride and sometimes dignity aside as many wanted and unwanted hands assist them to overcome barriers like stairs in places where the concept of accessibility is many decades away.

I have discussed this preparedness before and some people have argued it is defeatist, putting the problems of society back onto the individual. It, however, depends on your attitudes to new opportunities that present challenges. I am prepared to compromise and have my backup plans in order to experience the many wonderful experiences the world has to offer, which are not yet fully wheelchair accessible, but why should that stop me?

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