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Accessible Travel

Why Not Visit the U.K.

If you are disabled and a wheelchair user or simply have walking difficulties, there is no reason not to take that holiday of a lifetime. If your dream is to visit the U.K., why not? Here are some basic hints and some useful addresses to help you make your plans.

Let’s start with traveling by auto in the U.K. A disabled parking permit (Blue Badge) is obtainable from the local social services department where you are staying. (Address your letter to Social Services, Town Hall or Civic Centre, followed by the name of the town.) You will need to send two passport-size photos and proof of your disability at least three months before traveling. The badge is only needed if you expect to hire a car. Perhaps it would be wiser and simpler to use public transport—provided you can walk a bit or have a helper traveling with you.

Coach (bus) travel between towns is by far the cheapest form of travel, but buses are not suitable if you are wheelchair dependent.

Railways are probably the best option. I suggest you give your intended itinerary to your travel agent and let him work out the details. The express trains, called InterCity Services, all come with precisely two wheelchair bays per train, one in first class and one in second. So book early, at least two weeks before traveling, and ring the station the day before to confirm that help is available. Our trains, unlike yours, run very frequently; but they often run late. So since you need that wheelchair bay, make sure that you have allowed some spare time for late arrival at any station where you are changing trains. For detailed information on accessibility contact Journey Care at 011-44-8457-44-33-66. For timetable enquiries contact 011-44-8457-48-49-50; www.nationalrail.co.uk or www.virgin.com/company/virgin-trains.

I would give London Tube Train Services a miss and would certainly not try to use them during the rush hour. If you do intend to use them, ring London Access and Mobility at 020-7941-600 or London Transport Customer Services at 020-7918-3500 (www.thetube.com/content/faq/mobile.asp) to ensure that the stations you intend to use have lifts to street level and are accessible. This website also has links to most other forms of public transport and is well worth looking at before traveling. Once in the Greater London area, or any other city in the U.K., your best means of transport is the black cab.

Suppose you wish to spend the first week of your holiday in London, then go up to Newcastle, followed by a rail tour of the Scottish Highlands. Your travel agent will probably have a coronary at the thought, but it can be done! It will of course cost a bit more than a package tour, but, as in America, price depends upon where you stay and where you eat. Your agency simply has to book the rail tickets in advance along with the hotel reservations and airline tickets. I always advise my members to ensure personally that all hotels, railway operators, and airlines know that a disabled or wheelchair-dependent person is traveling.

Reasonable hotels, depending upon the part of the country you are staying in, can average between $80 and $100 a night. Most U.K. hotels have rooms adapted for disabled guests. Many include breakfast and evening meals. Some follow the American system of room-only lettings, resulting in considerable extra costs if you are not expecting it.

The much cheaper option is to stay at a bed and breakfast. Rooms are as little as $20 or $30 a night including an English breakfast. From the disabled point of view, the disadvantage is that these establishments do not come under the laws of access for public buildings. Make sure before traveling that the accommodations are suitable for you.

Restaurants average $30 a head for a meal, so make use of the pubs. You can usually get a good pub meal from as little as $6. Most pubs are wheelchair accessible. If there is an un-negotiable step, there is likely to be another entrance suitable for you. Unfortunately, pubs seldom open before 11 a.m.

In the U.K. we have laws that all public buildings have to be accessible for disabled people and most actually are; however, the access point for a disabled person may not be obvious. The same applies for disabled toilets. All public buildings have them; if you cannot see one, ask.

For disabled people reading this who have traveled independently, much of it may seem like common sense. But for others, such a trip may seem intimidating. When planning our visit to North America I was told that it was impossible for someone in a wheelchair. They were wrong. So have a go—it’s great fun and you would be most welcome!

The Disabled Motorists Federation gives advice free to disabled people.

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