Travelling with Limited Mobility
Gordon Rattray is Bradt's expert on travel for the disabled. Gordon worked as an overland driver in Africa before a diving accident left him C5/6 (complete) quadriplegic. Despite that, his wanderlust remains undiminished; he continues to travel frequently, and his experiences inform the tailored advice for disabled travellers that he contributes to many of our guides. A writer himself, he recently reached the final of the Bradt/Independent on Sunday Travel-Writing Competition, and is currently researching a Bradt Guide to African safaris for those with limited mobility (due for publication in August 2009).
Travel horizons for disabled and less mobile people are expanding. Not so long ago, a trip to the Mediterranean was seen as a challenge; nowadays it's not uncommon to see a wheelchair next to the bed in Asian backpackers' lodges or around the campfire on an African safari.
Since I became paralysed in 1998, I've visited half a dozen new countries and returned to many old favourites. Sure, there are things I can't do and places I can’t realistically reach, but with enough determination and a willingness to accept help, it's surprising what's possible. I've been carried shoulder high to Tis Abay (Ethiopia's Blue Nile Falls), been poled through the wonderful wilderness of Botswana's Okavango Delta in a mokoro (dug-out canoe) and spent a week at a rehabilitation camp for spinal injuries in Poland. The west coast of Ireland was one recent highlight and Kenya and Tanzania are next on the list.
There are distinct advantages to being disabled too; apart from the fact that enthusiastic and able help is often easier to find away from home, being reliant on people can even help bridge the usual gulf between us, the tourists, and them, the locals. I'm often forced to ask for assistance; and people, in turn, are interested to know what caused my disability and why western medicine can't cure me. This means there is a greater chance of more meaningful encounters and conversations, instead of the usual bartering with a market trader where both parties' motives are financial.
Information I compile for Bradt guides is aimed mainly at people with physical disabilities, but some books also contain notes for those with sensory deficits, and it's not just disabled people who are seeking new trails; many older travellers worry about having to climb too many steps, availability of bathrooms or simply being able to regularly take a rest and sit down.
The number of older and disabled people in western countries is growing and they are becoming much more independent. They are often financially secure with time to travel - surely ideal clients for the travel industry? It may still be in the early stages, but the industry as a whole is waking up to this market. Travel agents are more able to advise, and the internet and e-mail mean that needs can be explained and discussed quickly and easily with local handlers. Operators specialising in accessible itineraries are springing up in previously 'inaccessible' lands, and lodgings with some level of access are often available. I suspect (and hope) that not only a cause, but also a beneficial effect of the growth of this industry will be to increase access in these lands for the local people as well as for visitors.
The field of disability or limited mobility is just too broad to start giving specific travel advice here, but visit these links to inspire ideas and dispel doubts!
www.able-travel.com – adventure travel advice for wheelchair users and people with limited mobility
www.globalaccessnews.com – a library of information about access worldwide
www.rollingrains.com – news and information about travel and disability