The Trials and Tribulations of Transport and Travel with a Disability

By Emily Yates

As an accessibility consultant and travel writer based in the United Kingdom, I’ve done my fair share of navigating transport during trips.  I’m a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy, but sometimes, however good my wheelies are or regardless of how many ‘arm days’ I’ve had at the gym, getting around certain transport situations can seem near impossible. My experiences, both positive and negative, have taught me many things regarding travel and transport all over the world.  Not all of them are specifically to do with access and inclusion, but each and every tip will help you, regardless.

At Home and Abroad

When traveling around your home town, city or even country, you usually have the ‘upper hand’ when it comes to transport. More often than not, there isn’t a language barrier, and it’s much easier to find familiarity in your location.  If you’re away for pleasure or business, however, those things you take for granted, can often disappear.  Make sure you know how to use your manners and ask for help in the language of the place that you’re visiting. People are often more willing to help, if you show that you have been willing to embrace their way of life AND shouting ‘Help, please!’ when trying to wheel off a tube (subway) when the doors are closing, has got me out of trouble numerous times…

Preparation is Key

If you use public transport regularly:
  • Get to know the usual drivers, guards or conductors: A friendly smile and the ability to remember the name of someone who often helps you, can be really beneficial in itself.  They’re much more likely to remember you and your additional needs, in return, to make that journey much easier.
  • Get there in time: There’s nothing worse than waiting for accessibility assistance when you’re already late!
  • Find a ‘local’ near your usual transport stops with an accessible loo (bathroom)!: As rubbish as it is, some larger train toilets can be out of order, and buses and taxis can get stuck in traffic, making needing to relieve yourself even more uncomfortable.  There are usually good pubs, cafes and restaurants near stations and stops, make sure to politely ask if you can use their facilities with a nice big smile; I haven’t been refused yet!

And if you drive:
  • Fuel up where most convenient: Some service stations and garages have attended petrol pumps (gas stations), meaning you don’t have to battle with getting your chair out of the car whilst parking in a way considerate to others and making sure the fuel pump can still reach the car! Find where they are and use them where possible.
  • Know what parking restrictions exist, and where: Can you park for free, and for how long? Do you need a special permit? Are there plenty of accessible spots? These are all questions you need to know the answers to.

Top Tips for Transport

Buses are the form of transport in which accessibility usually takes the longest amount of time.  Drivers often have to manually position a ramp, or it is electronic and can be less than reliable. Watch out for children in pushchairs (strollers) too; there’s rarely space for you both!!

Taxi drivers have been courteous and helpful in most locations where I’ve traveled.  However, some cities only have a very small fleet of wheelchair accessible taxis – make sure you research this and find their phone number.  If you can transfer into the vehicle yourself and are somewhere you don’t speak the language, make sure you know how to ask them to park near the curb

Train networks often require accessibility assistance to be booked in advance.  Be aware of this, especially if you have an appointment to get to!

Airports are great, but when checking in, make sure your wheelchair is labelled as ‘fragile’ and also check that the in-flight streamlined chair is on board. Yes, I have had to crawl down the length of the plane to use the loo before…!

To read more of my blogs on access, inclusion and products, hints and tips that may make daily life that bit easier, please visit the blog  Passionate People.  I have also contributed to a European travel ebook for wheelchair users that can be downloaded here.

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