No more holidays on ice

Disabled people going on holiday sometimes
face discrimination over travel arrangements and problems with room
access in holiday accommodation. Natalie Valios looks at services
that take the stress out of holidays.

How many times a year do you dream of soaking
up the sun on a beach or skiing down the slopes? Whatever your
ideal holiday destination, travelling there by planes, trains or
automobiles is something that most people take for granted.
Disabled people have a far harder time as Bert Massie, chairperson
of the Disability Rights Commission, found a couple of years ago
(News, 26 October 2000). He was forced to cancel a conference
address after Scot Airways denied him access to the plane,
describing his disabilities as a “safety risk”. The airline was
within its rights because, although the Disability Discrimination
Act 1995 covers air travel in relation to booking services and
airport facilities, aircraft are exempt.

A few
months later, disability organisations were consulted on a UK code
of practice for air travel from the then Department of Transport,
Local Government and the Regions. The code is expected later this
year and Massie is on the drafting committee.

Although he believes it will
improve the situation for disabled people, Massie is disappointed
that the code, which applies only to UK-based airlines, will be a
voluntary document rather than a statutory one.

Transport is the single biggest
obstacle to disabled people enjoying holidays, says Graham
Smithers, head of contracts and marketing at the Winged Fellowship
Trust. It provides holidays for physically disabled people in five
purpose-built centres with swimming pools and evening

while holiday options at home and abroad are increasing, getting
there is fraught with difficulties for disabled people. Under the
Disability Discrimination Act, transport accessibility is being
phased in but it is a slow process. All new trains have to be
accessible, but even if it has wheelchair space it may be where
there is no window, the traveller might not be able to use the
toilet or get a coffee, says Smithers. And crossing platforms to
change trains can be hazardous.

disabled Londoners or those taking in the sights of the capital,
the underground is difficult to negotiate, so disability
organisation Scope has published a tube access guide available from
all London Underground and Docklands Light Railway stations. It
highlights stations with alternatives to stairs or

new licensed taxis had to be wheelchair-accessible by January 2002
and all new buses with more than 15 seats have to be accessible by
2017. Most coaches are still inaccessible and, while there are many
disabled motorists, hiring an adapted car is almost

Eurostar provides a good link to
mainland Europe with facilities for disabled customers and people
with visual and hearing impairments both in the terminal and on

But it
is the US that has excelled. Most hire car companies offer adapted
cars; and Greyhound Lines coaches, one of the most popular ways to
get round the country, has a comprehensive policy for disabled
customers. This includes a dedicated phone line for information,
priority seating, consent for service animals on board and free
travel for personal care assistants.

It is
not just transport shortcomings that make it difficult for a
disabled person to spontaneously book a holiday. Whatever a
person’s disability, be it mobility problems, wheelchair use,
severe learning difficulties, visual or hearing impairments, they
will have specific accommodation needs that must be checked out
before making a booking.

option is to go on an organised break. The charity Holidays for
Disabled People has organised an annual week’s break since 1959
when it took 12 people to Weston-super-Mare. This year it is taking
100 disabled people to a holiday camp at Hemsby, Great Yarmouth,
with helpers on hand. For those wanting to go further afield, other
organisations, such as Access Travel, have suitable hotels and
villas in destinations ranging from France to Florida, Cyprus to
the Canaries.

Disabled people wishing to travel
more independently can refer to Holiday Care Service. It provides
information about accessibility in mainstream accommodation in
hotels, farmhouses, guesthouses, self-catering facilities, activity
hotels and holidays for children in the UK.

Set up
21 years ago by the Trades Union Congress and the English Tourist
Board, the charity is a well-respected resource. It takes about
four hours on site to vet accommodation, says Brian Seaman, head of
inspection and consultancy services. The checklist includes car
parking, entrance, public areas, bathrooms and bedrooms, facilities
for people with visual and hearing impairments, policies on
welcoming disabled guests, whether guide dogs are welcome and staff

has instigated a national accessible standard comprising four
levels of mobility criteria for hotel accommodation, with input
from disability organisations and the tourist board. It has been
approved by the DRC and hotels can voluntarily sign up to it. Now
in force in England, it is due to be adopted in Wales, Scotland and
Northern Ireland later this year.

Disabled travellers need to make
sure that they receive information about appropriate accommodation
from a reputable source, says Seaman. If in doubt, the Centre for
Accessible Environments has compiled a national register of access
consultants. Seaman says: “I have come across people thinking it
would be a good wheeze to make money as an access consultant, but
they have no experience. It is worrying because you don’t know what
sort of advice they are giving.”

It is
the more independent disabled travellers who are financially
penalised the most. About 30 per cent of breaks provided by the
Winged Fellowship Trust are funded by social services through
traditional respite care funding routes, but that is because care
is included. Although some disabled people use direct payments for
a holiday with care package, it becomes more difficult when
disabled people are looking for a holiday without

On top
of expensive transport costs, they can find they are charged more
for specialist accommodation or hotels may try to charge a disabled
person for two rooms if they have nothing suitable for a guest and
their carer.

policy backfired on one hotel chain recently. Last month, the DRC
helped disability consultant Carl Ford negotiate a settlement. Ford
was on a business trip when he tried to book a twin room for
himself and his personal assistant at an Express by Holiday Inn
hotel. The hotel chain’s rooms for disabled guests have adapted
bathrooms and double beds. They do not have twin rooms for
wheelchair users and Ford was told he would have to pay for two
adjoining rooms.

the dispute was referred to the Disability Conciliation Service,
the chain introduced a policy allowing personal assistants to take
a second room at no extra cost if one is available.

Massie says: “If society was designed for our needs we wouldn’t
have these extra charges anyway.”

disabled people are on low incomes and holidays just aren’t within
their budget without some financial assistance, but there is little
about. Many rely on grants from charities. The Chronically Sick and
Disabled Persons Act 1970 has a provision for holiday funding, but
is seldom used, says Smithers, either because disabled people or
social workers or both are not aware of it, or because it is
ambiguous enough for local authorities to get out of it.

It is
rare to find a disabled person who has accessed funds from social
services for an independent holiday, says Smithers. “Local
authorities don’t tend to like the term ‘holiday’. They have a
narrow view of what a break should be. A break for a carer or a
disabled person could be many things, it doesn’t necessarily mean a
week in respite care.”

Contact Holidays for Disabled People on 01252 332452; Holiday Care
Service on 01293 774535; and the Centre for Accessible Environments

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