Organising accessible holidays, accommodation and dining out - By Tracey

Friday, April 09 2021, 11:59AM

Last weekend my husband Mark and I headed away for a few days. I shared a Facebook post about it as we sat in a restaurant, here it is....

“I rang ahead and made a booking at a restaurant. Mark’s carer checked whether wheelchair accessibility was good and asked the question that is really important to us about accessible toilets.

We arrived and saw that they had allocated a high table for us, but they explained they could change that to a low one without any issue. Mark's ‘fake bourbon’ was quickly sorted, as his patience isn’t great, and he likes his drink as soon as he arrives.

His carer checked the ‘lay of the land’, and Mark needed to use the bathroom, but there was no disabled toilet. NONE! WTF, seriously, this is 2021.

BIG CROSS … I’m tired of having to complain. Do I let it all go, or do I keep fighting the fight so that the next couple aren’t faced with this issue?”

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I am still flabbergasted, why would staff say they had accessible toilets when they don’t!

I understand it’s not always easy to have accessible toilets installed, and if we are told the restaurant doesn't have them, we will go somewhere else.

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Our family has to plan things to the nth degree. Luckily, planning is something which comes naturally to me, and that really helps, because planning a holiday when a family member has a disability requires a lot of organisation.

When service providers are not clear, it can throw up a lot of problems, including making my family feel invalidated.

Below, I have described what research and planning looks like for a little get away for us. I hope it builds a better understanding for those that don’t face these challenges, and helps other families if they do.

First, prepare to do lots of research, read reviews, see what worked, what didn’t, get your list out and start confirming:

  1. Are the rooms accessible?
  2. Are they available (dates)?
  3. Ask ‘What side are the grab rails in the bathroom on? If the answer is “I don’t know?”, then I ask them to check by sitting on the toilet and grabbing for the rail. Most people won’t have realised that there are left and right side rails. I will continue to ask staff to check until I am sure the rail is on the correct side for Mark. Then I need to make sure that there is a note on our booking for that room.
  4. Does the hotel have a pool? Is the pool accessible? Go through the checklist of what makes a pool accessible. Get confirmation.
  5. Is there an onsite restaurant? Is it accessible? Can the restaurant be accessed from the room? When moving from the room to the restaurant, is it undercover all the way? Nobody wants to be sitting in a wheelchair, in a restaurant, wet.

My list of questions goes on, and the answers are put in an excel spreadsheet. Now it’s time to shortlist.

I work through the list, I never get all yeses, so I pick the best one and try to make it work.  None of this is perfect, but as long as the safety issues are covered, then it’s ok.

Now comes the booking process. I have a list of negotiables and a list of nice to haves. I drill into the person that I am speaking to, that our booking requests must be referenced and passed onto staff. Our experience is that the majority of times this doesn’t happen, and it’s an unnecessary scramble when we arrive.

Here are our non-negotiables and what must be on our booking request:

  1. Left Hand Side Grab Rails.
  2. Storage for shower chair that will be dropped and picked up before and after our stay.
  3. Extra linen in case of an accident during the night.
  4. Waterproof protection on mattress.

I always rate and give feedback to the hotel or restaurant. I want other people to know the pitfalls and I want to highlight the things a place does well.

How do I rate a place after we have stayed?

  1. What did they get right on the first go?
  2. How did they address what they didn’t get right?
  3. What was the access really like?
  4. What did they do really well?
  5. What did they do that was above and beyond?
  6. What were the special touches?
  7. What falls way short.

Finally, I will email the hotel or restaurant describing the positives from our stay, and where they missed the mark. I will offer some suggestions too, whether they ask for advice of not.

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Here I have shared the best and worst experiences when staying away from home:

BEST – SALT MANTRA KINGSCLIFF: This dream location was at the Tweed Coast.  The room was a one-bedroom apartment.  It had a great bathroom set up and a separate bath. The facilities were excellent.  There was a choice of restaurants – all accessible from the room with undercover walkway.  The pools were accessible, they had ramps, and the stairs had handrails in the middle, so it didn’t matter if you only had one working limb!

GOOD – SAILS RESORT: Uluru. The rooms were spacious and were easy to move around in a wheelchair.  The bathroom was well set up, and there was access to all the facilities.

GOOD: Mid Coast – The balcony had a ramp!! Yes, they actually went that bit further to allow the wheelchair to access the balcony.  Hallways were nice and wide, the room was large, with access available for either side of the bed. They missed the mark on a few things, and this was one of the places that only offered one-bedroom apartments.

Here are some of our less than stellar experiences, many of you may be able to relate to them.

At the Gold Coast the room was too small to fit in Mark’s wheelchair. The staff had to remove furniture from the room. The pool was not accessible, and an offer was made to carry Mark to the pool, but that was too humiliating.

In Coffs Harbour the wrong room was allocated, with the handrails on the wrong side. The staff were not helpful until I got cranky, and they moved us the following day.

Unfortunately, in Darwin, we were staying at the same hotel as an AFL team. The accessible rooms had been changed into massage rooms for the players. Wish we knew that before we arrived.

Although getting out and about has taken on a whole new meaning for us, this doesn’t stop us giving travel a red hot go! There are additional challenges and a lot of time spent on the phone and email, but we have fun. We like to travel, and even when things don’t go well, I get the opportunity to educate another person on how to deliver better service. 😊  

I would love to hear your experiences, and your favourite places to stay.

And, has anyone come across a great website or forum that works well for adults traveling with disabilities? 


Tracey and Mark

Tracey and Mark