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Guest post: Why disabled people don’t travel

sidmarcos
sidmarcos Member Posts: 2 Listener

This guest post is by Sid Marcos, founder of accessible travel company Outlandish.

Choosing terms to self-identify is a complex issue for many. But my identifier is simple. I am a traveller. Well, I am a disabled traveller.

The two words seem unlikely bedfellows. The world is difficult enough to navigate in a wheelchair when you are in a familiar environment - why would I elect a lifestyle so averse to my inclusion? Partly because I never tire of seeing new cultures and peoples, mostly because I love the challenge.

Sid Marcos in wheelchair near rugged cliff overlooking sea

I used to think it was strange that I never met other disabled people travelling as I was. In the thousands of hostels I’ve spent nights in, groups I’ve journeyed together with and planes I’ve taken to get there - every time I’ve been the odd-man-out. Other, non-disabled, travellers are usually altogether perplexed by my presence. It’s become embarrassingly apparent to me that for the most part, disabled people do not travel. But why not?

The US Center for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that only 3% of all structures in the world are wheelchair accessible. My personal experience says it’s much less than that.

What’s the big deal anyway?

Some places I’ve been, I swear there has never been a disabled person in the whole of the country. Last week I was invited to an entrepreneurship competition in Azerbaijan, an infrastructurally well-developed, rich country. Yet from the capital of Baku to the western city of Ganja, I did not see one street adapted for wheelchair users. There was not a single curb cut anywhere, pedestrian crossings were marked by step entrances, and ramps inside buildings were entirely too steep to be independently utilised.

I’ve been travelling almost nonstop since I turned 18. Now I’m getting older (an aching 24) and what I once considered an unencumbered journey to discover the world, I now feel a biting bitterness with every inaccessible shop, every bus I have to be carried onto, every half-assed “accessible” accommodation. The fact is, most people don’t want to deal with the terrible unpredictability of it all.

And what about medical supplies - where do you get those while you’re abroad? In my experience, you don’t. Because our everyday items are strictly categorised as “medical paraphernalia”, our products are sectioned off to be sold in some medical supply shop 60 kilometres out of town. This alone is my greatest pet peeve.

Opening the door to accessible travel

 An appropriate slogan for disabled travellers would be “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. If you do travel, the true reality of a world built for the able bodied will be glaringly apparent. If you don’t, certainly there will be no advocating for the changes needed for all the places we’ve been denied access to.

This, for me, is the truly complex issue. I don’t know what the answer is to address this social ill but I do believe that greater exposure is a major part of the solution. We need disabled leaders in every industry, and innovation in every sector.

Sid smiling holding up a postcard with some boats on it and the words San Diego and Outlandish

For my part, I am using my resources and the knowledge I have gathered to contribute to the community. I started a 1:1 travel organisation in 2013 called Outlandish Travel. Every trip is 100% wheelchair accessible, and for every trip purchased, we give away a free trip to a disabled person. Our latest project is to encourage independent disabled travellers by creating socially sustainable travel guides on Kickstarter.

I personally believe that the most effective way to promote accessibility throughout the world is to become a relentless traveller. To learn, to share and to vocalise your experience for the benefit of the community.

Where is the most inaccessible place you’ve ever been? Let us know in the comments below.

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Comments

  • nanof6
    nanof6 Member Posts: 200 Pioneering
    hi there, ive been trying to find a holiday abroad for 2 years,before i was in a wheelchair i had been abroad 6 times, so i no i cant go to turkey tunisia because the curbs are 12 inches drop,when i look up disable holidays it makes me so angry it cost 3 times the price, when i was first in a wheelchair for  distance use the airport was great, and the trains, so im trying to find somewhere to go a hotel with disable access and no steps, every time i find one there are steps to eat outside, and that is my faverite thing in a hotel, eat in the freshair,i cant go in the sea or on the beach, or grass,but love the seafront,i though i would try benidorm, but i would love to go somewhere nice, i have an electric chair, but after seing a program the other morning about a woman went to america her wheelchair got lost and broken when she finily got it back , i wont risk it so ive got a manul but i have to be pushed, hence only 1 case, and its got to be warm where ever i go, so i can wash stuff out, and not have to put jumpers coats in 1 case , and 1 case is for 2 of us.ive been housebound for 2 years weather mainly, i need to get away for some sanity, can you help?where can i go, i hate well terified of flying so when i go it will be for 3 weeks, thats why i have to be sure the place will be ok.  i realy hate that when you look up travel for disable its 3 times more, they even say when you reach the airport all the help is there, but i no its there anyway, but they put that in the price of your holiday, i hate being taken for a fool, i will find somewhere, but when.  please can you help.
  • Fundamentalist
    Fundamentalist Member Posts: 133 Courageous
    Hi from Fm. Travelling with a wheelchair is difficult enough, but what if you just can't stand people and their behaviour? So you can't go anywhere. Back in the 90's I tried going on overnight ferries to Holland and Belgium but I had to give it up because of raucous loud mouthed individuals on the coaches and the ferries who thought they owned the place and absolutely ruined it for me as they caused me absolutely intolerable torture with their selfish anti-social hyper-hysterics even though I was using a really loud Walkman which I thought would help but it didn't help one bit. Almost everything there just went right through it, it only drowned out stuff which didn't matter like the engine noise of the coach etc. but not the appalling brutal torturing noise of a few other passengers, oh no. And how could I stay in a hotel with all that kind of noise and banging doors etc.? Fm.
  • triker1958
    triker1958 Member Posts: 6 Listener
    I have trouble travelling anywhere really.  I have to wear a colostomy  bag and I am so terrified of having a leak or even worse I find it difficult going anywhere.  Finding anywhere to change my bag in an emergency is a pain as there aren't many public toilets and other than finding a macdonalds or something isn't easy and public transport is almost impossible.  I was on a train once and even though I hadn't had a leak someone said 'Has someone farted in here?'  I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me!!  Needless to say I don't go out much and only some sort of emergency would make me do so!!
  • iza
    iza Member Posts: 488 Pioneering
    edited January 2017
    Hi Sidmarcos, 
    Congratulation on your adventure. I am pretty shore you are real traveller. I am a bit of jealous now as I dreamed about traveling when I was child as my all family from my mum side lived in the same city, not to mention almost in the same borough. :) Enjoy exploring more. 
  • mossycow
    mossycow Member Posts: 488 Pioneering
    For me,  and many others I assume,  a big thing that would would be airplanes actually looking after wheelchairs  and/or finding a way of allowing wheelchair users to stay in their own wheelchair. 

    Mine 2as only slightly damaged after a long anticipated small trip to Spain after years of not daring to go.....  Luckily it was 'just'  the arm rest foam but it scared me! 

    Also,  for NHS chairs,  the NHS takes the cost of repairing and replacing these chairs eaten up and so at put by planes so that's affecting us all as NHS users too. 


  • mossycow
    mossycow Member Posts: 488 Pioneering
    What scares me about your post,  is that statistically surely all populations have people considered disabled....  So when you visit countries and see noone.... where are they all?  

    Shudder.... 
  • Fundamentalist
    Fundamentalist Member Posts: 133 Courageous
    Hi from Fm. If I could travel I wouldn't want to go anywhere baking HOT like the masses do, no way, it would be like walking into one of those massive 1000 degree kilns used for firing bricks! Like walking off the plane and straight into hell! No, if I could travel I would want to go somewhere where I could get lots of really rough sea trips, somewhere wild and windswept like the Falklands. I've always wanted to ride the waves but the best I've ever had is the feeble little Mersey ferries when it's been rough but it's too rowdy on the trains going down to Liverpool now and it's just too far away from where I live and it takes far too long to get there and back and it's all stupid all open trains with no vestibules. And folk always complain about rough weather at sea but I wish I could do it every week! The best trip I've ever had was in February 1990 when we had a hurricane all over the UK, anyone remember that? And I'm not kidding there was 20ft waves and swell on the Mersey estuary and they still ran the ferry and it was brilliant though they did stop for a while as the tide came right up and flooded the landings at each side but once it went back down far enough the ferry was back in action and I got another great ride and back then you could stay on the Mersey ferry all day if you wanted but then there was the Marchioness disaster on the Thames so they had to stop the all day rides. All I can do now is watch other vessels in raging rough weather on youtube and then it keeps freezing because I live at the end of two miles or so of old copper cable which is no good for video and fibre optic is still too dear.Apart from that I can only take my little 10ft inflatable to the seaside when conditions are right and ride really feeble waves there. I only went to Holland and Belgium on the old North sea ferries in the vain hope of rough weather but instead all I got was brutally tortured out of skull by selfish loud mouthed louts so I had to pack that in too. And being on a ship in dead boring flat calm weather is just like being on great big oversized train! Fm.
  • Markmywords
    Markmywords Member Posts: 419 Pioneering
    For me it's not about the disability but the ill health.

    If you are scared you might have a medical crisis then no amount of adaptation will help. I get very nervous if I travel away from the hospital that I've been dependent on for 10 years.

    I have not had a holiday for about 15 years. I would never consider a foreign holiday. Getting medical insurance is also very difficult and expensive for those with complex medical needs.

    I don't even go into town in case I get stuck due to exhaustion or some other health failure.
  • Sam_Alumni
    Sam_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 7,682 Disability Gamechanger
    I have trouble travelling anywhere really.  I have to wear a colostomy  bag and I am so terrified of having a leak or even worse I find it difficult going anywhere.  Finding anywhere to change my bag in an emergency is a pain as there aren't many public toilets and other than finding a macdonalds or something isn't easy and public transport is almost impossible.  I was on a train once and even though I hadn't had a leak someone said 'Has someone farted in here?'  I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me!!  Needless to say I don't go out much and only some sort of emergency would make me do so!!
    Hi @triker1958 I have a permanent ostomy bag and I understand your concerns.  Do you have a RADAR key to use accessible toilets?  I also use a product called Poo Pourri which is a toilet spray that works really well to get rid of any smells. I really struggle with public transport because of that exact reason of it being such a struggle to empty/change my bag.

    I know it is scary going out and about, but I hope you can learn coping strategies of leaving the house.  
    Scope
    Senior online community officer
  • Fundamentalist
    Fundamentalist Member Posts: 133 Courageous
    Hi all, Fm here. I've not been on "holiday" if you could call it that for over 40 years and it was on a dreadful static caravan site in north wales and it was absolutely appalling with maniac dogs relentlessly ranting their wretched guts out all night so I couldn't sleep. Dogs shouldn't have been allowed in such a place. It was an absolute hell-hole! That's half the trouble with travelling away anywhere, there's NOWHERE quiet enough to stay. If you're like me there's no such thing as "disabled friendly" anywhere. Fm.
  • Sam_Alumni
    Sam_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 7,682 Disability Gamechanger
    Have you ever tried noise cancelling headphones @Fundamentalist ? You have spoken about your trouble with noise before but unfortunately you can't expect the rest of the world to live silently.  I just wondered what you could try to manage your situation? 
    Scope
    Senior online community officer
  • Fundamentalist
    Fundamentalist Member Posts: 133 Courageous
    Hi, Sam, from Fm. I've tried all sorts of earphones and walkman type devices etc. and in my experience they only block the things which don't matter and which don't cause any bother and they also block things I need to hear but they never work against anything deadly serious that I need protection from, that all goes right through. And I can't possibly lay down in bed with earphones on and ear plugs or "defenders" don't work either. It's just like the stupid "pop-up blocker" on a computer that only blocks things that don't matter but won't block the dangerous stuff. It's the same with phone services that block withheld numbers, they never block the menacing ones oh no, only the ones you need to receive. Also it's not just physical things which I'm forcibly afflicted with, there's other things too which I can't really discuss on this site, it wouldn't be appropriate, there's other sites for that sort of thing, suffice it to say that it's the kind of stuff that's far too unrecognised by health specialists who just won't accept the reality of it and instead try to deal with it all wrong and even think up fake technical terms to try and explain it all away. But it is the cause of a whole load of disabilities and disorders and it can't be dealt with by pills or therapies etc. Fm.  
  • mossycow
    mossycow Member Posts: 488 Pioneering
    Sounds **** FM.   Sorry you don't feel able to talk about that stuff here. Obviously I cant compare...but I have a weird hypersensitivity and I freak out if I am touched sometimes. Make travel hard.  Also find so much noise hard to cope with. I think any new environment is really hard so so many of our different reasons. Gosh, yes agree with unpredictable health... 

    If we do go away we always stay in the same brand of hotel and in Britain as we know what we're getting. So at least what else is going on we know we can access NHS, same hotel room and bathroom, takeaway app if restaurants are hard.. But mainly....  I LOVE TV!  I can have a tiny taste in the comfort of my lounge.
  • Mairead84
    Mairead84 Member Posts: 1 Listener
    I used to travel a fair bit when younger, which didn't stop when I was diagnosed with lupus. However,as my symptoms progressed, my world began to shrink. I'm now so immunocompromised I've been advised not to fly, I live on west coast of Ireland so getting buses and ferries too exhausting & still exposing me to high infection. For past year I've barely left a 10 mile radius of my home. That being said, I still have terrible wanderlust. And out of pure devilmeant, I got a tiny tattoo on my hip so while I can't fly, my bum is forever on a plane!
  • MarkBullock
    MarkBullock Member Posts: 1 Listener
    Sport has a role to play here as it stimulates travel locally, nationally and internationally. 
  • Seachy
    Seachy Member Posts: 5 Connected
    The biggest issue I find is that since I am a disabled parent I need an adapted family room, a family room itself is hard to find, finding an adapted family room is like finding Unicorn poop. We had our first overseas holiday since my accident left me disabled in 2002 last November. We had to pay extra for a Suite to have a room that would fit in my manual wheelchair, the electric one we hired, my wife and daughter and had a walk in shower that we could get the shower seat etc in that was hired. It was great that we could hire these things in Fuerteventura but meant that the holiday ended up being nearly £1000 more for us than the rest of the families that came with us. One of the ironies of the Suite was that the selling point was a huge whirlpool bath but actually I needed a guaranteed walkin shower not an over bath one. You certainly are right though damned if you do travel, damned if you don't. My wheelchair got damaged beyond economical repair between the assistance getting me onto the plane and us flying home and them coming to get me off the plane again. Took 5 weeks for the airline to admit it was damaged in their care and pay for the replacement nevermind the pain, inconvenience and extra cost incurred by me, my family and carers during this period. :-(
  • Fundamentalist
    Fundamentalist Member Posts: 133 Courageous
    Hi from Fm. Why is it that just about everyone, even other disabled folk, always want to go to somewhere FAR too frying HOT? Why does no-one ever mention being far too hot already so you can't go anywhere even warm never mind hot? I would rather go somewhere really cold and windswept and wild where I could get lots of really rough sea trips as I love being on a boat in rough weather but needless to say I never get to do it because of the absolutely ridiculous appalling conditions forced on me and besides you can't have rough weather to order. Rough water and decent civilised women are the only two things in this world that excite me but I can't have either so it's just routine hell and enforced isolation all the time. I'd like to hear from anyone who like me absolutely can't stand heat and like me can't even dream of going anywhere hot. And how many disabilities cause severe heat intolerance as a side effect? I know there is quite a few. Going somewhere frying hot is such a totally standard thing in this country and I really furiously object to being assumed and expected to be so totally bog-standard just like "all the rest". The whole holiday industry in this country is so totally obsessed with and geared up for those who so standardly want frying heat. What's wrong with the people in this country? Why do they all like near enough the same things just like they're all programmed that way like some kind of mass-produced component rolling off a production line that has to conform to this, that and the other standard, BS EN, VDE, ISO, CE etc. I describe myself as totally non-standard, i.e. a human being, an individual, I like what I like, not what "all the rest" like. That's just one of many reasons why I can't find any loving company because they always expect me to be so ridiculously bog-standard and automatically like what all everyone else likes, the same standard things like baking frying heat, raucous rowdy hysterics, soap operas, tabloid papers, betting and gambling, alcohol, pubs and clubs and bars, night life, dogs, so-called "social" media, "smart" phones, timber decking, sport, celebrity sleaze, filthy porn, coffee shops, restaurants, partying etc. the list goes on and on. And I don't like and can't stand ANY of that stuff. In fact I once wrote a list of about 120 bog-standard things that are so popular with the masses in this country of ours but unfortunately I lost it somewhere otherwise I would post the whole list here and then state how I DON'T like ANY of it. How about that! Anyone else got similar feelings, don't be shy, get them told if you're different, there's nothing wrong with that, it doesn't make you "weird" etc. as so many think about me. You have a right to be different and like other stuff as long as it doesn't harm anyone else. After all we're all supposed to be different aren't we? But it never looks that way to me. Fm.
  • Sam_Alumni
    Sam_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 7,682 Disability Gamechanger
    Wow, that is a real list of things you don't like! Perhaps it would be good to focus on the things you DO like? 

    I think there is a real market for cold and snowy holidays.  Skiing and snowboarding trips, trips to Iceland, Sweden, Finland etc.  I have lots of pals who holiday in cold and chilly climates.  One friend does winter hols in Germany for the cold weather.

    Some people like hot weather and sunny holidays, others like it cold or snowy.  It is all personal preference @Fundamentalist and just because it is something you don't like doesn't mean it is wrong or a slight against you.
    Scope
    Senior online community officer
  • PonyAxeS
    PonyAxeS Member Posts: 3 Listener
    For wheelchair users, the simple fact is that wheelchairs are great on smooth surfaces, and the definition of the countryside is rough surfaces. I have made the countryside accessible to anyone, using any wheelchair. The problem is the countryside organisations are very resistant to the idea of people who use wheelchairs, enjoying the countryside. Any help would be appreciated. http://www.ponyaxes.com/ shows what we can do. We just need to be allowed to do it.
  • Fundamentalist
    Fundamentalist Member Posts: 133 Courageous
    Hi from Fm. If some folk like the heat that's their business. But what really infuriates me is those in authority who just casually assume that just because countless millions go jetting off to frying hot climates every year who seem to be the vast majority then therefore everybody somehow likes it so they go and put stupid transparent roofing on all manner of public structures so in the warmer sunny weather it heats up like a furnace inside, even if it's vented and then it EXcludes anyone like me but will they be told? oh no! they just don't want to know, And where I live the county council and some of the neighbouring authorities have gone and ripped out thousands of fully equally accessible bus shelters and replaced them with absolutely stupid all glass ones which now heat up to appalling temperature inside in the sun and provide absolutely no essential protection, and this is also likely to cause an increase in skin cancer too but will anyone listen? oh no! Well as some folk say "assumption is the mother of all foul-ups!". What a gross waste of public money that is which would be far better spent on things like children's essential services and services for the elderly and disabled etc. NOT stupid roadside greenhouses! As I've told the local MP if some folk want to spend umpteen thousand quid on a conservatory so they can sit in it in the summer and fry their self stupid that's their business but why should folk like me and others who can't stand it have it forced on them? That is right out of order. And Theresa May has gone on record and insisted that she wants to "make Britain fairer for everyone" then it must include folk like me so I would like to urge anyone reading this who suffers like me to write to Mrs May and tell her all about the forgotten disabled and how "everyone" must include them too and tell her about how all manner of things are being done to EXclude such people from all manner of public buildings and services which is just not on in 21st century Britain. Politicians frequently talk about making things "fair" but then do the total opposite. And it also really infuriates me that just about everywhere I look and listen, on the TV, in the street, in shops, etc. just about everywhere someone is glorifying frying heat and going on about how they're going somewhere frying hot, it's such a standard obsession, I never hear anyone anywhere saying the opposite and talking about going anywhere else or complaining about heat. And tropical places are always referred to as "paradise", what absolute nonsense! There's very few things I like in this world. There's some animals like cats and birds, and rough water and cute little kiddies, especially little girls who are often really friendly to me and I absolutely love them but I can't have any, and nice civilised natural brunettes especially those with a strong feisty character and lots of gorgeous long dark hair, preferably about size 14! Fm.

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