Holidays for people with learning disabilities

It’s the holiday season and Butlins is the word on the street. In our survey to launch Community Care’s A Life Like Any Other campaign, the answers to the question “when and where was your last holiday” were more or less split between “Butlins” and “Never”.

Nearly every person with learning disabilities contacted for this article had been to Butlins at least once. Some might think that this shows a lack of imagination or ambition. But it isn’t just people with learning disabilities singing the holiday camp company’s praises.

Head of Inspired Services Andrew Holman says: “Butlins works incredibly well because you are fully catered for, it’s very non-judgemental, there is entertainment and it’s accessible. Quite a few group homes go there because of the good facilities.”

Beverley Dawkins, national officer for profound and multiple learning disabilities at Mencap, agrees. “Mencap has hosted some conferences at Butlins and they have obviously done some work on staff attitude [towards people with learning disabilities], which is very good.

“It can be quite hard being on holiday with someone with learning disabilities when they are out of their own environment, but Butlins makes it quite easy.”

But whether going to Butlins, to other activity centres catering for this group, or abroad, there are many barriers that people with learning disabilities must first overcome in order to have a holiday.

Not least of these is money. Although there has never been any central government funding for holidays for people with disabilities, 10 years or so ago many local authorities had local arrangements where mainstream budgets were used for them. It seems that far fewer local authorities have this approach today.

The result is that those in supported living schemes or living independently have to save up direct payments, individualised budgets or benefits to pay for a holiday. But if they need a support worker to accompany them, the cost of the holiday doubles as they have to pay their costs as well. Those living in residential care can find themselves in a better position, as national minimum standards for care homes recommend supporting residents to go on holiday.

Senior support worker Chris Hemingway is one of several staff working with four people with learning disabilities at a supported living scheme in Wakefield, run by not-for-profit organisation Dimensions UK.

One client, Sara, needs two support workers to assist her on holiday as she has limited communication and no comprehension of personal danger.

“Maybe some people are reticent about letting them go abroad but why should they be denied that opportunity?” asks Hemingway.

This year, Sara has won a holiday. Dimensions ran a “Make your dream” competition for the people it supports. Nicola Smith, the government’s co-national director for learning disability, picked out 50 winning dreams and Sara’s wish to go on a horse-riding holiday will be realised later this year at the Calvert Trust Exmoor.

Holidays tailored for people with learning disabilities allows them to go away without fear of being judged, says Lisa Young, marketing manager at the Calvert Trust Exmoor. The trust has two other centres in Keswick and Kielder. All three cater specifically for people with physical and learning disabilities and guests can take part in activities including climbing, sailing, canoeing, archery and horse-riding.

Young says: “They get actively involved and we adapt it for their ability so, if they can’t get out of the wheelchair, we will take them up the climbing wall in it so they get their adrenaline going and experience the height, and then we abseil them down so they have that feeling too. We do as much as we can to show them what they can do.”

Many people with learning disabilities are capable of independence once they arrive at their destination – so the Calvert Trust also has self-catering facilities. But getting there is another matter. “If you aren’t allowed to drive you are reliant on public transport,” says Young. “But if you can’t read a bus or train timetable, it is confusing.”

Flying can be equally fraught as many people with learning disabilities have never flown before making it as much a challenge for them as for other passengers.

Another hindrance to having a holiday is the lack of accessible information, says Young. She admits that the Calvert Trust’s own website and brochure are unsuitable for people with learning disabilities. “They need more pictures with simpler words so they can book it themselves,” she says.

Dawkins agrees: “I imagine there are few people with learning disabilities who can access the same holiday information as you and I. You have to be pretty savvy to get the best deals – which they need as a group that is short of money.”

Community Care is campaigning for people with learning disabilities to have the same life chances as everyone else, and holidays are an important part of that.

As Holman puts it: “Holidays should be available for everybody if we are going to make things equal.”

Related article
Case Study – Jayne Bennett
See Andrew Holman’s blog for more on learning disabilities

Further information

More information on accessible holidays from:  
For holidays in France
For holidays in Spain

Contact the author
 Natalie Valios

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