Travelling, why it is not for the fainthearted

11 April 2023

By Karene Gravener

Without hesitation, I would say travelling is one of the things I love most in life. However, travelling can be much more stressful and complex when travelling as a person with disability. The process requires significant planning and forward thinking. However, sometimes, all the planning in the world cannot stop hurdles that are way beyond an individual’s control.

A situation that comes to mind for me involved travelling for work. On this occasion, I had ordered a standing hoist to make things easier for me in my accommodation. Much to my disappointment, when I reached the hotel room, yes, I did find the hoist, but alas, the sling that was accompanying it was the wrong one! I was severely impacted by this mishap. It truly made tasks that would have been easy, extremely hard. I was not able to use the hoist, so everything changed for me in a moment.

It is difficult to encapsulate in a blog all the travel hurdles that I have faced. They have ranged from being left on the platform at a train station (despite making my presence very well-known) and the train literally departing without me, to waiting hours for an “aisle wheelchair” to escort me off a plane, after extremely long days of travel.

Finding truly accessible accommodation has been nearly impossible. Often, what is classed as accessible and, user-friendly really is not. I have had to be creative in my care and mobility when in different environments. I have lost count of the number of times that even entering a motel room has been an almost impossible task! Not to mention that getting in bed safely due to unsafe access has been overwhelming.

When considering travel modes, I would personally say that air travel is the way to go. The reduction in travel time is a great benefit to me because I struggle with sitting for long periods of time. Honestly, I would suggest that most people with disabilities would rate airline travel as the most efficient way to go.

However, there are many forks in the road with this process too. So how can we make this better? On an interpersonal level, education between airline staff and people with disabilities needs to be more comprehensive and professional. Airline staff need to be encouraged to be actively present, engaged and helpful towards people with disabilities throughout the whole process of airline travel. People with disabilities need to be seen as valuable customers, and not inconveniences.

Furthermore, from a business and practical perspective, access standards need improvement, and they need to be relevant. There are so many people with disabilities who are cut off from airline travel due to many physical and structural barriers. People with disabilities often find that airline travel does not allow them to safely and efficiently carry any equipment that they may need, and thus airline travel becomes an impossibility.

This often means that people with disabilities must either drive extremely long distances in order to have access to their mobility aids and equipment, or they may choose to travel by train. I have tried train travel before, and while I enjoy the freedom of being in my electric wheelchair on a train, and the beautiful scenery, the downside is the often-long travel times.

If I am honest, the reason why I have not travelled much more in my life, is because I am yet to truly find and experience “accessible travel.” I wonder if the world I am living in truly knows what that means...

One thing I do know, is that nothing changes if nothing changes. I believe in educating others and sharing about what makes my life better. We have the power to influence others with our lives and, the more we talk and share about our lives, and what we want to be a part of, the more people in business and tourism can understand and take on board our lived experience. I believe lived experience and knowing what works best helps those that do not know; it gives tried and true practical steps and quality information on how to improve service standards and access.

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