Disability and travel: face your fears head on

Disability and travel: face your fears head on

We hear from our travel guru Carrie-Ann as she opens up about battling through anxiety issues every time she goes away. It can be stressful and emotional, but, is it all worth it?

At first glance you’d probably think my impairment is easy to spot – I have Cerebral Palsy and use a wheelchair.  But there’s something else that isn’t obvious; I’ve been battling problems with anxiety and panic disorder for the best part of a decade.

Most people know that I love to travel, whether it’s just to the next town or somewhere far away. I’m an organiser, a planner, and a list maker. Researching new places to go is what I love to do, and it’s also been part of my role as Information Service Manager at Tourism for All for the last 12 years.

What is less-often mentioned is the anxiety that comes with travelling as a disabled person. Will the airline refuse to carry my wheelchair? Will they damage my wheelchair? Will I be able to access the onboard toilets?  Will my accommodation really be as accessible as it claims to be? Will I be able to buy travel insurance that covers my pre-existing medical conditions without tripling the cost of my holiday? These questions and many more fight for space in my brain before I’ve even begun my holiday search.

All these questions and many more fight for space in my brain before I’ve even begun my holiday search.

My most recent trip to Italy was particularly fraught with worries. It was the first time I’d travelled with my new lightweight wheelchair and power pack, so there were a whole new collection of unknown unknowns.

The first problem – the airline didn’t like the sound of the lithium-ion battery, and the power pack. Along with this, the wheelchair was going to have to be carried in the hold. Would it fit? Would I be stopped at the last minute? After many tense telephone conversations, and submitting numerous documents, weights, dimensions and certifications, the flight was confirmed – thank goodness – and went ahead without a hitch.

As the flight touched down in Pisa I was filled with terror again. I was convinced that I would be met at the plane door by a mess of mangled metal.  The immense relief when my fears were unfounded and my chair arrived in one piece was amazing.

But despite the small battles I win, the ‘victories’ and the positives, it doesn’t mean that I won’t panic every time I fly. After all, anxiety is the fear of things that might – however unlikely – happen, and in my job, I hear stories every day of baggage handlers throwing around wheelchairs and airlines refusing to pay appropriate compensation.

Onto the next issue. On arrival at my hotel, I discovered a large step at the entrance and no ramp. Thankfully this wasn’t too hard to overcome – my husband bumped my chair up and we were in. Not something we wanted him to have to do every time we went in and out of the hotel though. So after a discussion with the hotel’s management, we found an alternative entrance with ramp (it was a fire exit and used for transporting luggage, but whatever works, right?!).

But now the next issue. Once we’d checked into our room we found it was very small with no thought to accessibility, other than a wet-room style bathroom. I was devastated. This was supposed to be a special trip for our wedding anniversary, and so far it had been full of worry and disappointment.

Once the hotel understood that, although I’d prefer a wheel-in shower, I could manage with a bath tub but what I really needed was extra space and grab bars for safety, they moved us to a more suitable room.

Happily, here’s when the holiday started to improve. We spent the next few days exploring Florence and Pisa, negotiating public transport and cobbled streets with relative ease. And my happiness soared.

So here’s the thing about travel – it enables us to push the boundaries of our comfort zones, reminds us of what we are capable of and opens the mind to new experiences.

But accessible travel isn’t always easy, it requires a lot of extra planning and sometimes there are surprises along the way. For me, that makes the beach sunsets, the rooftop city views, and the countryside landscapes even more beautiful. To have overcome what feels like a million extra obstacles and be able to say ‘I got here!’ is an amazing feeling.  That’s why I have such a passion for the industry I work in – every day I help people to realise their accessible travel

To have overcome what feels like a million extra obstacles and be able to say ‘I got here!’ is an amazing feeling.  That’s why I have such a passion for the industry I work in. Every day I help people to realise their accessible travel dreams, and help businesses to make those dreams possible.

By Carrie-Ann

To find out more about Carrie-Ann and her travel experiences, visit her new website, www.carrieannlightley.com.

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