Disabled and Thinking of Visiting the UK
The UK is as good a place as anywhere and better than most for a disabled tourist.
So, you're thinking of making a visit, then how do you set about it? What are the difficulties? What information is there? This page hopes to give some basic advice on how we in Britain do things that, knowing in advance, will make your visit more pleasurable.
One of the first things to understand is that Britain is part of the EU, as such all disabled law that is EU generated, also applies to the UK, and that by and large it is better enforced than in many other parts of Europe. Great, but you are from Canada! Now in spite of the fact that that makes you a fellow member of the Commonwealth, it also means that a lot of that EU law does not apply to you, especially where motoring is concerned. However it would make sense to explain these things in order.
- Is it better to travel in a party or individually? The trouble with most package holiday companies is that they don't tailor-make their holidays with disabled clients in mind, i.e. they are unlikely to tell you that the coach that you are to travel on for the excursion that you are looking forward to, may not be suitable for somebody in a wheelchair! "So", you think, "I can stay in the hotel that day." True, but will they make a reduction because you can't go on the excursions? I don’t think so. On top of that the reason for visiting the UK may be because you would like to visit Buckingham Palace for instance! Rather makes the whole trip a bit pointless if you can’t get on the coach doesn't it? That is why when my wife and I travel we tend to travel independently. But you are from Brazil and don't speak a word of English! Now that could be a problem, in the UK we tend to be very lazy when it comes to learning languages. Perhaps the package tour in your case would have been a better idea.
- You come from New York and speak perfect English, if to our ears with a slightly strange accent, so you would like to hire a wheelchair accessible vehicle and visit London, North East England, where granddad came from, and the Scottish Borders where grandmother came from, for instance. No problem, Brotherwoods and Allied Mobility amongst others all hire wheelchair accessible and adapted vehicles and there are links to all these companies elsewhere on this website. However, let’s think a minute, you are from New York, do you really think it would be a good idea for me, who normally drives on the left, to hire a vehicle, straight off the plane in JFK and proceed to drive into New York? London is one of the busiest and biggest cities in the world. Perhaps not quite such a good idea! So why not instead stay in a city centre hotel and use the excellent London taxi cab system for this part of your visit. Like your yellow cabbies the London cabbies will give you a better talk on London as you go along, than any of those tour guides. Then when you are ready to move on take the train to say Newcastle and hire your car from there.
- Please be aware that unless you are from an EU country you cannot use our disabled parking facilities, these are for 'Blue Badge' holders only. You could apply for a temporary Blue Badge from the local authority in the area where you are staying. Pease be aware that this will only be valid for the jurisdiction which has issued it! In addition, unlike the Canadians at Niagara Falls, no matter how disabled you may obviously be, our parking attendants or traffic wardens are unlikely to turn a blind eye.
- That’s fine but will I be able to get into the hotel? Probably yes. I give some reservations on this, because although by law all public buildings have to be accessible in the UK, the law is not enforced as well as it should be. Secondly, having travelled extensively in both the US and Canada I know that most of your hotels these days have level access showers in disabled rooms. This is not the case in the UK where shower over bath is the norm in disabled rooms. My advice is ring all hotels to ensure that they have the minimum standards you require long before you travel.
- While out and about will I be able to find suitable public toilets? Yes, this is not a problem. Getting into it might be. Many UK local authorities have bought into the RADAR system. The charity RADAR maintains all their disabled toilets and keeps a lock on them so that only people in possession of a RADAR key can have access. RADAR keys are obtainable from RADAR telephone 020 7250 3222 or e-mail
- Train journeys - In the UK trains run regularly, hourly services are a normal between most large cities and can be as frequent as every quarter of an hour. There are only two wheelchair spaces per train and they should be booked at least 24 hours before travelling. All larger main line stations are accessible but many intermediate stations are not. You have been warned. When booking your train also book assistance. Our equivalent of American/Canadian Red Caps are extremely helpful and efficient if they know you are travelling.
- Coach journeys for disabled:- Our coaches are unlikely to be wheelchair accessible so if you can’t transfer then use other means of transport. Check in advance.
- Visiting attractions such as Royal Palaces, historic buildings and museums and theatres - Most of these are accessible and give free access to the carer (Pusher of the wheelchair). If you are intending to visit historic houses then most of them today are run by The National Trust or English Heritage. Their website gives full information on accessibility. The National Trust have done a lot of work in the last few years to make their properties fully accessible, however Jacobean houses and Tudor castles are often on half a dozen levels, very old and simply do not allow for the necessary modifications. You can find the National Trust website on www.nationaltrust.org.uk If you are intending to visit any number of their sites then it would be a good idea to take out a membership, but remember, your carer goes free, only take out a membership in the wheelchair users name. Incidentally, this carer goes free also applies to many sporting events.
- Eating - All those living in America would not dream of eating all meals at the hotel, far too expensive. Instead they would walk round to the local diner! Same applies here, only our diners tend to be called ‘pubs’! You can get a good pub meal for a fraction of the cost of the hotel restaurant. Prices however do vary as does the quality of the fare. Also, not all pubs are accessible and not all pubs, especially in city centres, sell food. Lastly, on the subject, since pubs also sell alcohol they don’t open until almost midday, breakfast is thus normally eaten in the hotel and the midday meal in the pub. Lastly, pubs also sell non-alcoholic beverages. Good Pub Guide website
- Safety - Most places in the UK are safe to visit, but as a well meaning gent in Vancouver said to me, "There are some districts that is wise to stay away from!" Please take advice from your hotel reception before going out in the evening, as some town centres are better given a miss after about ten at night. After all you don’t want your holiday ruined by some drunken idiot, do you?
- Lastly, once you have decided to come and visit us, please feel free to contact us at the Disabled Motorists Federation. We are only too pleased to help and give further advice as necessary, and the advice is completely free. We, like you, travel extensively in our country, and can advise on the sort of places we visit, rather than the tour buses. For instance, why struggle with the crowds in London if all you want is to see one of the Queen's houses, why not visit Sandringham, the Queen's private home in Norfolk instead?
ENJOY YOUR VISIT!
Why visit London?