I love travelling, but it's a logistical nightmare as a severely disabled person08/30/2021
While on my way home from a lovely afternoon of birthday drinks on Canal Street with a friend in 2019, I was hit with a wave of sadness, disappointment and annoyance.
I wish I could’ve stayed out for a night on the town in Manchester but unfortunately, no hotels at the time could cater to me and my disability so I had no other choice than to head home to Stoke-on-Trent by 8:30pm.
I wanted to experience the city’s nightlife at least once, and it was heart-breaking knowing that I couldn’t due to something that was beyond my control as a disabled person – accessibility and travel issues.
I have osteogenesis imperfecta, a rare disease that makes my bones break more easily. While some people with the same disability can transfer from a wheelchair with little to no aid, I can’t as I don’t have the strength to put any weight on my legs.
Because of this, I rely on ceiling track hoists to move from my wheelchair to a bed, but many hotels don’t have this essential accessibility aid. It’s a sobering reminder of how my disability restricts where I can go and what I can do, and it’s so frustrating.
Before the pandemic, I loved travelling; seeing new places and meeting new people. But doing it as a severely disabled person is a logistical nightmare.
Living in Stoke-on-Trent, there are only two buses from my house to Stoke railway station per hour, and four per hour to my regular travelling spot: Hanley. Whether I need a haircut, want to browse for the latest games and gaming apparel, go for a drink or go to the cinema, it’s all in one town.
The last bus from Hanley is 8pm from Monday to Saturday, and 5:05pm on Sunday, with one bus running per hour. And while this doesn’t affect daytime activities (except for Sunday, where I avoid the hassle completely and relax at home), I’m constantly watching the clock on my phone during the evening.
I can’t enjoy an evening film screening or dinner without worrying if I can make it home or not.
Taxis aren’t great either. Whether you’re going out spontaneously or planning a journey in advance, there are so few accessible taxis in Stoke and Staffordshire that you’re never sure if you’ll be able to hire one.
Train travel is also a bit awkward. Most stations in the UK are manned by staff so getting ramps on and off trains isn’t much of an issue, except I have to book the assistance onto the train at least 48 hours in advance.
Things are slightly easier in London. Despite fighting with buggies for the only wheelchair spaces in buses and the Underground being hit and miss for level access, you’re never waiting too long for some form of transportation.
But nights out across the UK are usually out of the question as well. London bucks this trend as transport links are easier to work around and there are a number of accessible hotels.
According to the Ceiling Hoist User Community – a small community of severely disabled people once led by the late Sue Maynard Campbell MBE – as of 2016, only 17 hotels in the UK have at least one ceiling track hoist in one of their rooms.
Despite this being an important issue for disabled people, it’s one that’s hardly ever mentioned. I feel that, because so many rooms advertise themselves as ‘accessible’ because they have wider doors, lowered facilities and/or wet rooms, a lot of people don’t question how accessible they truly are.
Last year, Hotel Brooklyn – a hotel I’m hoping to visit in September after I’ve had the second dose of the Covid vaccine – was the first hotel that I know of in Manchester to include ceiling track hoists. And it’s made me so excited to visit because I will finally be able to do the one thing I couldn’t in 2019.
Hoists are only usually available in one or two rooms (the Premier Inn in London Archway has nine of them), so I have to phone a hotel I plan to visit in advance to ensure I get the right room.
It seems to me that hoteliers don’t see hoists as a ‘reasonable adjustment’ within the parameters of the Equality Act 2010 (Disability) Regulations 2010. According to Citizens Advice, services are only required to include ramps, automatic doors, accessible toilets and wider doors and rooms.
This doesn’t go far enough for someone like me, and I feel the Act should be amended to include ceiling track hoists in hotel rooms.
Until then, hoteliers must include disabled people, or accessibility groups like Motionspot – a design consultancy firm specialising in accessibility for hotels, offices and transport – in the planning process of any new builds or upgrades of existing rooms. More hotels with ceiling track hoists would attract so many disabled people.
Accessible travel has made good strides in recent years with ramps and dedicated wheelchair spaces for buses and trains – there just needs to be more of them running.
But the journey to make all hotels accessible will be a long one, especially if it remains an issue that is rarely, if ever, talked about in public. I hope that it’s spoken about more, so that hotel owners start to take notice.
Hotels with ceiling track hoists allow me to be the social person I want to be. They give me the peace of mind to stay in one place and not have to worry about being stranded miles from home, while allowing me to let my hair down far easier.
They’ll open up so many more potential holiday destinations. And it’ll mean that, like with most people, the only stressful decision I’ll have to make is where the cheapest and best hotels are.
I shouldn’t feel like I’m, socially, less of a person because I have a disability I didn’t choose to have.
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing James.Besanvalle@metro.co.uk.
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