Thursday, 8 March 2012

Travel same old problems. Part 1.


So you have mobility challenges , your health is a bit up and down so you cant book way in advance. If you want a hotel you will probably be okay in the bigger cities of the first world.

We wanted to stay in villa in the Orlando area, where we could do our own thing, our own washing, cook as we pleased. So I started using the web to find a suitable villa. You will find many sites listing villas with various search options. Some even report to have searches based around disability access. Buyer beware, as many owners report to have an accessible property but when you look at the limited information and photos it soon becomes apparent that their idea of accessible is that it is on one level. Forgetting that the mobility challenged still need to have a shower, use the pool and gain access to the property all of which are extremely difficult where there are steps and small enclosed showers with 4" drops and overhead shower fixings that don't allow for washing your bottom in a commode.  If you are able to book about a year in advance then there are specialist travel agencies such as , and the handful of villas that have been made accessible to ADA standards. Be prepared to pay a lot more when using these companies. There is no equality when it comes to disability travel.  

What needs to be done:

People who run the search sites must develop and be forced to adopt proper search parameters that allow the disabled to find , easily a property that is suitable. Private owners must not be allowed to advertise as having properties that are accessible when they do not conform to any recognisable standard. 

Roll In Shower StallFurther more and more controversially I think people who own villas for sale to the general public should be made to make reasonable adjustments to their properties to allow access to all. For example Villas with more than 2 bathrooms the 3rd should have to be made into a roll in shower. Villas that are part of a resort complex should have shared access to ramps to allow access through French windows , and where no bathroom is accessible one of the available portable showers should be made available. Glenbrook Resort where we stayed did not even have a pool hoist at the clubhouse pool. This is in a country the great USA that says it is one of the best for handicap access as they call it.  

We eventually gave up and decided to try and manage especially as it was clear that the holiday company did not have a clue as to what we needed. I will be writing to their MD by the way pointing this out. and their associated company 

Equipment Hire

All I can say is shop around. We needed a shower chair prices ranged from $1000 - $200 . I want to rent it not buy it! The quality of the equipment can be a  pain in the arse, literally. We settled for mid price but still had problems with the footrests that were not big enough or safe for man sized feet, the cushion had a hole that was too big for a slender framed man as well. We had to put a cushion on top so that we could manage. Having said that I still got a snotty email back from the company at the beginning when I questioned their prices, stating they bought only quality equipment , hummmm. I don't think so. I probably could have bought a chair in better condition for $100 more at Walmart online. 

The Journey

We know that because of Hubby's particular level of disability we had to travel premium economy . So I write a detailed email to Virgin Atlantic explaining what we need. We book a meet and greet service as we cant cope with luggage and looking after getting Hubby on one of the car park buses. We used Maple Manor we do not recommend this company for disabled access as you have to meet them miles away from where you need to be, having to go up in the lift, across the terminal and then down again. There are no good spots to decamp from the vehicle where they meet you, if you transfer from a car seat to your wheelchair there is no safe place to do so. You then will have to wait in freezing cold (time of year dependant) conditions for the Gatwick assistance team. After eventually getting some help from a passing Gatwick manager we arrive at the disabled assistance corral. Warning: DO NOT RELY ON THE GATWICK STAFF TO GET YOU DOWN TO THE GATE IN GOOD TIME TO PRE BOARD. If you need to pre-board get down to the gate early (1hr +15mins prior) and make it known that it is essential that you need to pre board. We didn't, Gatwick staff came to us at 12 noon , the flight had already started boarding. Hubby had to fight his way through hundreds of others boarding then stop them while we transferred him to a special chair. Hubby then got injured as he was rammed into a cupboard in the rush to get him on board. If you are wheelchair dependant you will note with irony that the most disabled get the least help as the buggy they use is not wheelchair accessible and only for the walking wounded, not to be rude to those with lesser mobility problems. If you are totally dependant on your wheelchair you have to be pushed to the gate or roll down there yourself. The accessibility team will if you ask take your hand luggage for you. Keep your passport + boarding card with you. 

So not a good start to a long flight. Then Hubby found that the seat he had been put in , meant that he got constantly banged by passengers using the facilities and staff going up and down. We also had a cupboard door that was banged into his foot in a regular basis. The old Boeing plane used for the journey has an entertainment system that is totally unsuitable for someone with limited hand function, it being stuck in place at the seat side. By the way Virgin your food service has gone way down hill, the food is horrible. 

The assistance to get off the plane at the other end was fine if a little slow. Do not forget to tip the helper ($5 for some minimum help, $10 if a lot of help involved) or you will get cursed a tight uneducated Brit. 

Car hire 

We thought we could mange in a small people carrier so we booked with using some BA air miles left over from our trip to Australia. Big mistake the design of the car made travelling in it impossible for hubby.  I was somewhat annoyed  that when we returned the car early it was then we were informed that Avis have a special department for accessible vehicle rental. We ended renting from they are very good but very expensive be prepared with insurance to pay at least $120 per day, a normal car rental would be about $50 . 

more to follow...

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