Getaway is often asked for advice for people with a disability who really want to get around. We asked the advice of Matt Laffan who is wheelchair-bound and hopefully together we've come up with some useful information.
Matt lives and works in Sydney. His disability has not stopped him from travelling around Australia and the rest of the world. He began the first disability travel website in 1998. He also joined another website as a correspondent and provides post-journey information so others can learn from his experiences.
Something Matt believes in is worth quoting: "It does not really matter where we are travelling to, as long as it is somewhere beyond the front gate. The journey down to the south coast or over to Canada to the Rocky Mountains is equally as important in as much as we are seeing something new and hopefully, in the process, discovering how much more there is to life that we can enjoy".
He believes the most important thing is research. It's important for able-bodied people, but critical for those with a disability. The success of your journey can depend on how much you know about the place you're visiting. Transport is vital will there be wheelchair-friendly transport on arrival? Are the places you want to visit able to accommodate a wheelchair? Try to find out how locals in the same situation get about. Check out accommodation its proximity to where you want to be and the suitability of its bathrooms.
Is there somewhere nearby you can rent any necessary equipment? If you need to take transportation from your accommodation, can it take a wheelchair? If travelling alone, see if there are nursing or caring agencies available and find out their costs.
Before leaving home, have your chair tuned up, just like a car. It's important that everything is running smoothly. Make sure there is accessible transport, public and private.
With the help of Matt, we checked out a few places in Sydney to see if they fit the bill.
First the Avillion Hotel, which is right in the city. Close to Darling Harbour, Cockle Bay, Chinatown, Haymarket, Queen Victoria Building and several theatres, the hotel has 445 rooms and suites, including six for disabled occupation. Those rooms have a large open shower area with handrails and removable shower. Toilets also have handrails. Light switches are at a lower level and rooms are larger for easy access. All rooms have an interconnecting room for a carer and lifts from room to carpark.
Matt gives Sydney Ferries the thumbs up for efficiency. He's travelled on the harbours of Hong Kong, Vancouver and New York and rates Sydney tops. Ferries are easy to board and even when waters are a bit rough, the people who work for Sydney Ferries are very switched on to the needs of people with disabilities.
Manly Promenade was restored with new paving, landscaping, irrigation and furniture. Matt found access to footpaths and public areas very good, symbols and signs were prominent, pedestrian walk buttons were low, doorways wide, ramps, parking spaces and handrails were all considered by the planners.
A few other tips from Matt:
- If your wheelchair is electric, make sure you have the right adaptors and check the voltage of other countries.
- If you need oxygen, beware of the altitudes you will be going to.
- Call airports and airlines well ahead to find out about services, seating arrangements, special meals and shuttle services.
- Inform your travel agency you have a disability so they can inform the airline.
- Even if your accommodation has suitable rooms, check that you can actually easily enter the property.
- If travelling internationally, check with the country's local embassy about any rules and regulations covering your aids (wheelchair, guide dog or medication).
- Book direct flights where possible and leave plenty of time for transfers.