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Travelling with disabilities: Tips and advice for a smooth trip when you have accessibility needs

Accessibility is a travel consideration many of us take for granted
Accessibility is a travel consideration many of us take for granted   -   Copyright  Paul Green / Unsplash
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From booking and packing to flying, there's many things to consider when travelling with extra accessibility needs.

Here's what I've learned you need to consider when planning your next trip.

Disabilities come in many forms and manifest in many different ways, so it’s difficult to encompass all aspects of a single condition when planning travel, particularly for invisible disabilities. Although my mum now travels in a wheelchair, and is visibly disabled, in the years before her mobility worsened, articulating her needs and access requirements presented lots of challenges.

But we didn't let this stop us. We’ve travelled to many incredible places, both at home and abroad, using a whole host of equipment along the way. Walking sticks, zimmer frames and mobility scooters - we’ve worked our way through every possible luggage allowance and safety measure to make sure my mum has everything she needs.

When taking equipment, particularly if it’s your first time travelling abroad with it, always check the protocols on what can and can’t be taken onboard

On one occasion, when travelling with a walking stick, my mum was told her stick wasn’t safe to travel, because it was deemed a 'potential weapon'. Less than an hour before our flight, we were forced to go hunting for a walking stick to take on holiday.

We later discovered this was because many airlines require walking sticks to be collapsible, so it can be stored underneath seats or in overhead luggage bins.

Often, the same rules apply for bigger equipment, such as wheelchairs and mobility scooters, so it might be worth investing in a sturdy, collapsible chair or scooter for travel.

When collapsing and packing away bigger equipment, make sure to mark your equipment as fragile, and pack any straps and removable parts so they don’t get lost in transit.

You need to consider equipment you might need in your accommodation too. For example, we often pack grab-rails to fit onto walls and doors for ease of access.

Discovering the Euro and Radar Key schemes in Europe and the UK has been a real win, too. These schemes give disabled travellers a skeleton key which unlocks the majority of disabled toilets across the continent, allowing ease of access anywhere you go.

You may need to show paperwork about your mobility equipment

When traveling abroad with my mum’s mobility scooter for the first time, we found out that the airline needed a lot of information about it, such as the make and model. Although it may be time consuming and tedious, it is not worth getting caught out at the last minute.

Plan how you'll repair mobility equipment if it breaks

Equipment types and makes vary across countries, so it's always best to take the exact tools you need with you. If all else fails, a bit of duct tape has helped us through many equipment nightmares, so put that on your packing list.

When planning accommodation - research, research, research!

When faced with finding accommodation, it can seem incredibly daunting, particularly when exploring new destinations.

A few years ago, we booked what we thought was an ‘accessibility friendly’ resort abroad. However, the resort’s idea of accessibility was very different to ours. When we arrived we were greeted with a maze of a hotel, and soon discovered that our room was on the other side of the complex, with a whole host of stairs and narrow corners to navigate. It also had lifts - and for this reason alone, had advertised itself as ‘accessible’.

Nowadays, we tend to opt for renting individual holiday homes, particularly if we can find bungalows or apartments with lots of flat surfaces. Whether your family is more suited to resorts and hotels, or individual rentals like us, make sure you do your research around any claims of ‘accessibility’.

Plan your medication wisely or risk being caught out by local laws, or a short supply

If you’re going away for an extended period of time, you may need to get extra supplies of your medications, so you have enough to last the whole trip.

Always check that you are allowed to take your medications into the country you are visiting. Some require you to have a letter from your doctor confirming that they were prescribed to you.

At the airport or abroad, use the help where you can get it

It can often be difficult to accept help as a carer because we're used to doing everything alone. But if help is available, use it.

Be it an airline’s assistance team or airport staff, we have always been pleasantly surprised by the amount of help and support which we can receive when we just say yes.

In our experience of flying from the UK, we’ve found that Jet2 have been the most accommodating airline. They have a call centre specifically for organising transport and answering any queries from disabled travellers, and are always happy to answer any possible question.

Accepting help extends beyond the airport, too. When travelling to attractions and sightseeing, asking for help has helped us skip queues, get better seats and be directed to easy-access entrances and exits.

Allowing those small moments of help and assistance can add up to a much easier and happier travel experience.