Hayley Walker holiday hamster

How to make holidays more accessible for disabled travellers

Hayley Walker from Holiday Hamster shares her valuable insights on how to make holidays more accessible for disabled travellers.  

I first volunteered for Caudwell Children back in 2012. Each year, the Stoke-on-Trent-based charity takes 25 children with life-limiting conditions, as well as their families, to Florida for a week to make memories in the Orlando theme parks and winter sunshine.

My role on the trip is to assist the families with whatever they need, whether it’s advice on suitable shows and attractions within the parks, getting them from point A to point B, or simply pushing a wheelchair so that the parent can walk beside their child, holding hands as they experience this holiday together – away from the neverending doctors appointments and stresses back at home in the UK.

Luckily, during moments like these, the sunglasses help to hide the odd tear shed by me as I am there to witness such special moments. For many of the families, it is their first holiday together out of the UK – or even at all – and after speaking to them on my most recent trip with the charity, it seems that the perception of booking a holiday or short break with a disabled passenger is that it is a very difficult process and that they wouldn’t be catered for.

Even though this is not the case, it got me thinking about how we as a travel industry as a whole could be doing more for the nearly 14 million disabled people in the UK. Do we as agencies do enough to promote what is possible or even make ourselves accessible enough?

Here are some simple things every agent can do to encourage bookings and improve the customer experience:

• Advertise that you can help book accessible holidays. Let local support groups and doctors know what you offer.

• Ask the customer about their needs. Be specific and ensure you find out everything that would be required, including any medical equipment that will be travelling with them or needed to be rented.

• Know the product. Pay special attention to ensure that the transfers and accommodation tick all the boxes. If you’re unsure or the information you have is ambiguous, pick up the phone and speak to the supplier – or use one of the specialist accessible holiday providers who deal with this day in and day out.

• Be flexible with how you provide the information. The customer may need it in a particular format such as by email or in large print. A wealth of information and literature on accessible travel is available from the many disability groups and organisations. ABTA has a useful section on its website for customers and agents, which includes a checklist to ensure you ask the right questions. 

Whatever you do, never assume anything about what a disabled person can and can’t do – you’ll likely be wrong. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from the families on the charity trips, it’s that each has their own individual needs and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to accessible travel.

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