Travelling with a Spinal Cord Injury
Holidays are the best. Discovering new landscapes and languages, new cultures, foods and wildlife - it’s all so thrilling! You don’t need to jet off to some far-flung exotic location for a great trip; just getting away somewhere new, even if it’s nearby, widens your horizons.
Travelling with a spinal cord injury can be a little trickier than travelling without - but that shouldn’t put anyone off, especially as we enter a golden age of accessible travel.
Accessible Hotels and Accommodation
The biggest disability travel news in 2017 was the purchase of Accomable by Airbnb. Accomable was founded in 2015 by two friends who love to travel, but were frustrated with the lack of information about disability access. Both founders have Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and found that accommodation was a potluck affair.
Travelling with a disability has its fair share of problems - but surely properly listed, accessible accommodation should be an easy win?
So co-founder Srin Madipalli set out on a mission to map Europe’s accessible accommodation. Social media spread his mission far and wide and before long, Srin was reporting amazing stays and unique experiences.
And that’s when Accomable grew. Just two years on, Airbnb could see the value being represented to disabled people and acquired the company. This wasn’t just a victory for Accomable: it was a victory for every disabled person that loves to travel.
Whilst Accomable requires further development, it represents progress: movement towards a more inclusive marketplace. The platform has huge potential and shows a willingness to make accessibility part of the mainstream.
There are a few established, specialised travel companies, covering most of the world and providing tailored packages and experiences.
Disabledholidays.com offers an all-in-one service for travellers, including flights and airport assistance, adapted transfers and mobility equipment hire. They guarantee an accessible room on every trip and cater for international travel, UK breaks and cruises.
Can Be Done works exclusively with disabled travellers, with a focus on flexibility and providing for specific needs. Can Be Done doesn’t position itself as an affordable holiday company - more as a bespoke travel company that ensures a human approach, with nothing missed out.
Enable Holidays offers a full range of travel experiences - from activity holidays and all-inclusive family trips to group holidays and luxury travel. All are guaranteed to have adapted accommodation and transfers, and Enable build holidays from scratch to provide the best experience.
Accessible Holiday Destinations
Can’t decide where to go? Let’s take a look at some of the top accessible destinations around the world.
If you’re a beach lover, here’s a top ten list of accessible beaches all over the world - from Hawaii to Australia. If getting sandy or protecting sandwiches from seagulls isn’t your thing, you might prefer the sights and sounds of a city break.
Berlin is considered the most accessible city in the world, and not only for people with limited mobility.
Then there’s Barcelona - the Paris of Spain. It’s a beautiful, sprawling city of culture and art, brimming with history and romance. There’s an awful lot to see and do and almost all of it is accessible, thanks to thoughtful public transport and excellent town planning.
One destination to watch out for is Paris, where your best bet is to hire adapted taxis. The Paris Metro is not disability-friendly, and wheelchair access is woefully inadequate. Official websites seem deliberately vague on the details of accessibility and seem to promote hiring an adapted car over using the Metro - which could be a lot of fun, if you can handle the Parisien traffic!
Stateside, travellers can generally expect to find accessible cities across California. While San Francisco is as famous for its hills as it is for the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island, it’s hailed as one of America’s most accessible cities - especially for public transport and hotel accommodation.
There are some truly exhilarating experiences you can have with or without your wheelchair. How about taking mountain trikes through the woods? Or hitting some whitewater? What about abseiling? It’s all there for the taking, regardless of your injury or experience.
Accessible Derbyshire has a world of accessible activities for you to try, but if you want to try your hand at adrenaline sports a little further afield, check out adaptive skiing in the USA for a thrill.
If you’re more of an explorer at heart, you can trek the Amazon with Huasquila - or encounter The Big 5 in South Africa with Epic Enabled. There’s a world of adventures out there, and everyone’s welcome!
Flying With a Spinal Cord Injury
Travelling is one of the best things a person can do in their life. But flying with a spinal cord injury isn’t always a barrel of laughs - and things can go wrong. As long as you let your airline or travel agent know well in advance, everything should go nice and smoothly.
The first thing to know is that your wheelchair can’t go in the cabin with you; it has to be checked in and placed in the hold with luggage. Damage and loss are risks to any item placed in the hold, but thankfully both damage and loss are rare.
Being left without your wheelchair or with a wreck that nobody local can fix can write off your trip and impact your mobility on your return.
Insurance can cover your wheelchair in transit. Double check whether your home insurance provider covers your mobility equipment away from your home and out of the country. Most insurers require these to be specified items on your policy and can offer limited protection.
Specialist insurers are known to make accommodations for this built into their policies.
One-off trip and annual travel cover can be purchased that includes cover for mobility equipment. Fish Insurance provide a wide range of disabled-friendly insurance products, including replacement mobility and assistive equipment, as well as 24 hour emergency assistance.
Good To Go Insurance offer similar cover, including cover for the cost of hiring mobility equipment while you're away.
At the Airport
After you’ve checked in, the airport will provide wheelchairs and assistance if you need it. Once you’re at the gate, you’ll be helped to your seat by the crew, and your flight can begin.
If you’re planning to fly to an airport outside Europe, check what assistance and facilities are available before you book, so you can make preparations. If you’ve made your flight bookings through a travel agent, double check this with them first. Staff at almost every airline will do everything they can to help, and most have robust processes in place to get you where you’re going.
Check with the Airline
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’ll give you a good idea of what to look out for - as a plus, these are some of the best-rated airlines for disabled travellers.
While these airlines list all they can, you’ll still need to contact departures ahead of time (at least 72 hours ahead in some cases) to make your needs known and clarify the specific process.
Don’t Let Spinal Cord Injury Hold You Back
Trust us when we say that, although at times daunting, travel with SCI is completely worth it. Travel is life-changing, perspective-shifting and soul-nourishing. Don’t let your injury stop you from experiencing the world in all its glory.
Aspire Law is a specialist law firm, working for people with SCI. We’re dedicated to providing information and support for everyone affected by spinal cord injury - from travel advice and tips, to legal help when you need it.
For information and spinal cord injury legal advice, get in touch: give us a call on 0800 030 20 40.