I was really interested to read the article ‘Access to Adventure’ in Travel Weekly dated 9th Jan and John’s experiences travelling in a wheelchair.
I was trying to arrange a few days break for friends of mine in Paris, it was their 1st wedding anniversary. The guy relies heavily on a wheelchair, he is American and, prior to his marriage, had never been out of the States. They were really excited about Paris and seeing the sites. I spent ages trawling through hotel details trying to find something suitable, i.e wheelchair friendly, central location but also I wanted to find something oozing with character, charm and romance!
Very few hotels had details as to whether they were suitable for wheelchairs or not so I spent a lot of time reading! Eventually I found a beautiful hotel, superb location that seemed to fit the bill.
Just to make sure everything was just so, I rang the hotel. I explained that the gentleman was in a wheelchair and I wanted to make sure the accommodation was suitable:
Was the lift big enough for a wheelchair and a carer at the same time? (limited use of the guys arm meant he needed someone with him to push the buttons!) – “Yes it was”.
Did the bathroom have a walk-in shower? – “No, none of them did”.
After speaking to the clients, they could manage with that. OK, we’re doing well.
Are the bedroom doors wide enough for a wheelchair to get through? – “Not sure, will get housekeeping to measure and will call back. Yes. But the bathroom doors are not”. OK?! We can manage with that.
Having explained all this to the clients, they decided they could manage with the bathroom, especially as the hotel looked so wonderful and would be perfect for their celebration.
Bottom line, the clients got to the hotel to be faced with steep steps into the hotel and no hand-rail!! I was amazed! After all my questioning and measuring I thought the staff may have thought to mention entering the hotel! So, only way in for them was around the back, the door they used for deliveries. Boxes and empty wine bottles had to be moved for them to get through – fabstart to the romantic break, feeling awkward and second class. Not wanting to make a fuss, they got on with it. Steps down to the breakfast room! Alternative? breakfast in your room, on your own, with no table so balance your breakfast on your lap and try to manage! At this point, my friend was quite upset and went to reception, embarrassingly in tears, to explain their difficulties.
Have to say, the hotel were fabulous and moved the couple to their sister hotel that was much better suited for wheelchair users. They had all the clients luggage moved during the day while they were out and didn’t charge the extra it would cost to stay in the other hotel. Why did the situation have to get so far? My friends still had an enjoyable time, they are the sort to be positive and make the best of things – thankfully – but I don’t think they had the ‘icing on the cake’ they deserved.
A little long winded this story and I left out the difficulties they had with the Eurostar! I thought I had done everything I could to ensure this establishment was suitable but how wrong could I be? Short of travelling out prior to their holiday and having a recky, what exactly do you need to do? Being faced with this sort of thing whenever you travel is sure to put some disabled people off even trying!
Anything that can be put together on John’s website to enable disabled clients to travel with confidence I think deserves an award. I look forward to reading how he is getting on and sincerely hope he is supported in his venture.
Tracey Blacker, Travel Consultan, LJ Personal Travel, Kent
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