Group of people in wheelchairs approach a lakeside ramp as they prepare to board kayaks.

Physical disabilities: out and about

In this day and age, there is absolutely no reason why you can't get the most out of your spare time. Knowing what to expect makes life a lot easier and less stressful, and keeping that in mind, we've pulled together some resources to help you enjoy travel and other leisure pursuits.

Travel

As we know all too well, travelling with a disability often requires careful and creative problem solving. Lack of accessibility, amenities and understanding are just some of the barriers we face as disabled travellers and companions. This guide has been designed to provide clear direction for before, after and during travel to ensure a trouble-free trip.

Flying (and why planning isn’t optional)

As disability facilities and services amongst airlines vary widely, it is worth doing some research before you decide which airline to use. Here are a few pointers to bear in mind when travelling by air.

  • On booking your flight, remember to notify the airline that you are disabled, require special assistance and intend to take your wheelchair with you. The dimensions and type of chair/scooter will determine whether it is stored in the hold or plane itself. Be sure to pass this information onto the airline.
  • Remember to book an aisle seat; this makes life much easier when transferring.
  • At least 48 hours before your flight departs, make sure you contact the airline asking for special assistance. At this stage, you will often need to provide the airline with additional information about your wheelchair. 
  • At flight check-in, be sure to tell the ticket agent that you requested special assistance. In doing this, you will receive extra help at security, miss long queues (there have to be some perks!) and will receive assistance at the gate.
  • If you are travelling with your own wheelchair, make sure you gate check your wheels so you can take it right up to the plane. 
  • Once at the entrance of the plane, you will be met by flight attendants and special assistants who will help transfer you from your wheelchair to an airport/aisle wheelchair. Staff may use the slide board and slide sheet to do this.
  • Prior to landing, tell the flight attendant that you need your equipment taken to the gate to allow them to radio in advance and ensure necessary arrangements are in place.

For more information, check out the GOV.UK page for Transport if you're disabled, and see the section that covers planes

Travelling by train

The National Rail Service has worked long and hard over the last few years to improve its accessibility factor. From step free access, ramps, wheelchair availability and station staff assistance, rail travel is now one of the most accessible means of transport for anyone with a disability. With the right information, planning and know-how, travelling by train can be hassle free.

To start off, it is useful to identify the barriers that might affect your journey and then consider the different options available and next steps.

  1. Are you a wheelchair or scooter user?
  2. Do you have a sight impairment?
  3. Do you find it difficult to walk long distances and get on/off trains?

If your answer is "Yes" to any of the above, you should book passenger assistance at least 24 hours prior to your journey. Whether it is help getting on and off the train, using a station wheelchair, installing a boarding ramp, buying tickets or getting guidance through the station, passenger assistance will have it covered.

If you are unsure which train company you need, take a look at the National Rail’s list of Stations and Destinations. These pages will show you details of facilities available at each station under Accessibility and mobility access. Visit the National Rail Service page for Information for disabled passengers and passenger assistance. Alternatively, you can call National Rail Enquiries on 0345 748 4950.

To book passenger assistance, simply navigate to the Support and Information section on the contact page of the train company you have selected. Once there, scroll down to Assisted Travel to retrieve the relevant contact details. When you're on the phone to them, be sure to outline your requirements clearly so they can tailor their services to your needs accordingly.

If you would rather contact the rail company online, visit the Disabled Persons Railcard website and look for the "Book Assistance for Future Journey" button on the page.

Taking the bus

The bus business is experiencing a boom these days, perhaps due to attractive fares and schedules. In terms of relaying information, buses have become more user-friendly.

As a disabled person, you may be eligible for a free bus pass—check with your local council to find out. At the very least, you are entitled to a free off-peak pass on any bus, which allows you to travel anywhere in England between 9.30 am and 11 pm Monday to Friday and anytime at weekends. For further details on this scheme, visit the GOV.UK site and go to the section on Transport if you're disabled, where you'll find details on cars, buses and coaches

How do I apply for a bus pass? Simply contact your local council to find out who issues disabled bus passes. To apply for a disabled person's bus pass you first need to identify the appropriate local authority. Go to the Directgov site and follow the steps on how to apply for a disabled person's bus pass. This service is only available in England.

Getting on and off. Bus companies are legally obliged to make sure disabled people can get on and off buses in safety and travel in reasonable comfort. Visit Citizens Advice to find out the Rights of disabled passengers using buses and coaches.

In the near future, all public transport buses will have to meet specific disability standards set by the government. As we wait patiently for this special day, we will have to make do with the current provisions.

Vehicles and transport

If you are disabled you can apply for the following:

Using public transport in London

Getting around in London by car is one thing, but using public transport is another. The good news is that there are many resources to help you tame the Tube and beat the buses.

Transport for London

In addition to all of the traditional services offered through the Transport for London (TfL) website, there is an entire section devoted to transport accessibility. For instance, did you know you could request staff assistance at all Tube, TfL Rail, Overground stations, boats, the Emirates Air Line and Victoria Coach Stations? You can get assistance from drivers on trams and buses (on DLR trains, look for a Passenger Service Agent).

TfL also offers a travel support card that you can download and use in order to let people know what assistance you may need. And for information on fares, visit the 60+ London Oyster Card section of the TfL website.

Transport for All

Transport for All (TfA) is an organisation that is working to make it just as easy for you to travel on public transport as it is for anyone else. Formerly Dial-A-Ride and Taxicard users (DaRT), TfA is a great place to find how public transport is becoming more accessible to everyone, and it covers:

  • Underground
  • Buses
  • Trains
  • DLR
  • Tramlink
  • Riverboats
  • The Emirate Airline (Cable Car)
  • Airports

TfA also has information on getting travel training or mentoring and tracking down items that have been lost on London's transport system.

In terms of door to door services, TfA can help you research the following:

  • Dial-a-Ride
  • Capital Call
  • Community transport
  • Patient transport
  • Taxicard
  • Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle

The organisation can also help you explore the following concessionary services:

  • Blue Badge
  • Freedom Pass
  • Disabled and Older Persons Railcard
  • National Express Coachcard 
  • 60+ Oystercard

Freedom Pass

To find out specifically about Freedom Passes, visit the London Councils Freedom Pass website.

Planning your accommodations

Most hotels and b&bs are delighted to reserve an accessible room for you, but when you ask them "What makes it accessible?", the advisor at the end of the phone line is often hard pressed to give you specific details. What some folks think is accessible is downright laughable.

With this attention to detail in mind, we have compiled an accessibility checklist suitable for people with a vast majority of disabilities.

Accessible bedrooms

Do check whether all doors, lifts, corridors are a minimum of 830mm wide.

Don’t forget, an average manual wheelchair has a turning circle of 1.5m. Electric wheelchairs often require even more. Is there space to turn around in the room?

Don’t forget to ask which way the door opens out. This is important with respect to wheelchair turning space.

Do you need a hoist? Is there underneath bed clearance for a portable hoist? The bed must be raised to enable good positioning of the hoist for transfer to and from the bed.

If you don’t use a hoist, do check if a wheelchair user will be able to get beside the bed.

Don’t forget to check the height of the bed; it needs to be at least 450mm high. There should be at least one chair available with arms to help people who have problems standing

Accessible bathrooms

Do check that the shower room has no step and is level.

Do ask whether the bathroom door is 830mm wide.

Don’t forget about wheelchair turning space in the shower room.

Do ask whether they have a portable shower chair and/or room for a commode.

Do check that the bathroom has level access with a nonslip floor surface. 

Don't forget handrails. As an absolute minimum, there should be handrails around the shower and next to the toilet.

Equipment hire

If you're on holiday and need to rent equipment, here are some tried and tested resources.

Mobility Hire has a wide range of products to rent and offers both short-term and long-term hire options and is an NHS approved supplier.

British Red Cross offers short-term loans for mobility aids including wheelchairs, backrests, bath seats, walking sticks and frames, commodes and more. Another trusted resource!

ABLEize provides rental equipment in Spain, Lanzarote, France, Italy, the Canary Islands and more.

Additional resources can be found here:

Accessible adventures

We all know how frustrating it can be when a venue claims to be accessible when, in reality, it is far from it. Of course, what is accessible to one person might be inaccessible for another.

With this in mind, DisabledGo.com provides the facts clean and clear so you can make your own informed choice. Developed by disabled people for disabled people, DisabledGo.com publishes detailed access information on over 125,000 places of interest across the UK and Republic of Ireland.

Another useful resource is the Rough Guide to Accessible Britain.

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