Heng: holiday hassles for disabled people

Someone recently asked me if I was planning to take a break. I realised that it’s five years since I’ve had a holiday. The main reason is that I need another holiday to get over the effort of planning and travelling. These are some of the hurdles in my path.

How do I know that my accommodation will be accessible? Unless I know the dimensions of the corridors and doorways, I could travel thousands of miles to find that I can’t get into my bedroom.

I can’t rely on brochures, or phone calls to proprietors: I once turned up to a hotel after being reassured that there was level access to all rooms. They forgot to mention the flight of 12 steps to the front door. I get peace of mind by sending endless e-mails asking for measurements.

You may think that checking in two hours before take-off is inconvenient. I have to check in an hour earlier than that, after negotiating with the airline about my extra six pieces of “luggage”: Shower chair, portable hoist, powered wheelchair, wheelchair charger, collapsible mattress, and a case full of hygiene supplies.

Wheelchair passengers are first on, and last off an aeroplane. I transfer to a wheelchair which is designed to pass down the aisle of an aircraft (I think the model for the design was a wheelie bin). When I’m in the right place, airport employees lift me from the wheelie bin to my seat – health and safety inspectors would have a heart attack. I know that parts of me will get damaged: if I’m lucky, only bruises. Only then are other passengers allowed on board, some of them scowling at me for the delay. The flight itself is usually OK, apart from taking two hours to get out of the airport.

The routine is reversed at our destination, with the added advantage that the airport employees probably don’t speak English, making it harder to direct them.

At the end of an enjoyable holiday, usually in a place less accessible than the UK, I can look forward to doing it all again

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