What is Access? The Musings of a Recent International Traveller with Disability – Part 2

By By Riana Head-Toussaint, 21 November 2016 , Comments

To read Part 1 of this article click here

You know best:

One of the biggest takeaways that I learnt from my trip was that other people’s assumptions surrounding what would be accessible for me, were quite often wrong. Or at least, out of proportion. For example; I was warned off London many times, but overall I have to say I found London more wheelchair accessible than Sydney. The sidewalks were wide, the curb-cuts were everywhere, and every bus had wheelchair access and a driver who was aware of how to operate the ramp. This is certainly not the case in Sydney.

I am sure that those people who tried to warn me off London meant well, but as they didn’t know my exact access needs, or perhaps more importantly; what I valued in terms of access; they didn’t know that I would find the access that I was met with completely amazing. So my point is; since you know your own capabilities, you have the best experience to be able to judge what you think you’ll be capable of. 

Riana swimming

Pick your team carefully:

Who you travel with will make a world of difference (excuse the pun) not only to your enjoyment of your trip, but how much you can access. I am not able to climb stairs by myself, because of my wheelchair, and there were some times when stairs were the only option. For those moments, my sister and mum were invaluable sources of help. They know the perfect technique to pull me up stairs with the most speed and efficiency, and the least strain on them. They knew when to step in and help, and when to step back because I didn’t need help. So my advice is, where possible, have people with you who are used to your access needs and are good at navigating them.

There will of course be some challenges:

Some bits of the trip were hard and frustrating. There is no point lying about that. However I think there are two things to remember in response to this; the first is that everyone encounters challenges on holiday; whether they have a disability or not. They may take a different form, but the struggles will still exist. The second is that with a good support network, and a good plan, these challenges can be overcome. The way forward may not always be particularly pleasant, but if you can deal with it, at least you’ll have a good story for later.   

Riana Head-Toussaint

Plan, plan, plan:

A way to alleviate a lot of stress surrounding access uncertainty is to have as much planned as you can. If you are going somewhere and are uncertain of whether it will be accessible, have a backup plan for what you will do if it isn’t. Have a back up plan for if that back up plan falls through. Plan your transport options. Use google maps to get an idea of locations and distances and bring books or an ipod in case you get stuck waiting.  

Strangers are kind:

One of the things myself and my family were most struck by on our trip was how keen strangers were to assist us any time we looked like we were having difficulties. For example in Italy and Croatia, where we did not speak the native languages, people always came up to us when we were moving slowly up hills or struggling with our luggage to offer us assistance. The language barrier wasn’t a problem, they communicated their desires to help and often assisted us immensely. I wasn’t sure if people would be forthcoming, but what I have learnt is that the world is full of friendly people; so don’t ever think you are alone!   


The world is your oyster:

Travelling in Europe was hands down one of the BEST things I have ever done in my life. I can’t wait to go back – and to go to many other places around the globe. I guess my takeaway message is that if I had listened to other people’s predictions about what I would or wouldn’t be able to do, I might not have gone on my trip, and that would have meant that I would have missed out on so many experiences. If you are a person with disability and you want to travel; it is more than possible! It just takes planning, a knowledge of what your access needs, and the drive to make it happen!

I hope this has inspired you!

PS. I of course understand that everyone’s needs are different and that my experience may not be the same as those of others. I don’t claim to speak for anyone else – this is just my own views, that I share in the hope of inspiring some uncertain people.  



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