Disability and Travel: The Tourist

This is my second item inspired by traveling to Tenerife. Right now I am lying in the sun, in my ridiculous shorts pretending I am warm. It’s early but so far, it isn’t even hot enough for a cool beer! I am still in the recovery phase of traveling, the day after a 3.00 a.m. alarm, getting lost finding the airport parking, a four hour flight with my knees tucked under my ears, an hour or so transfer (almost the last hotel drop) and a walk to the beach to squeeze something in on the first day! All that has got me thinking about disability and travel and especially, what a challenge that must be.

bright patterned shorts
Ridiculous Shorts!

Disability and Travel: The bus

The bus we used to get from the airport to the hotel was fine. Passengers arrived over about half an hour or so and each of us waived our printed emails at the rep to prove that we should be there and to avoid the need to talk. It was straightforward enough and was accomplished easily with a series of nods, gestures, pointing and being given a number. The bus filled up steadily and then came the wheel chair user.

An elderly woman who thankfully, was fairly mobile was pushed right to the coach door in a wheel chair and stood to embark just as a half dozen or so young men decided it was time to get off for a smoke. They realised immediately that they were in they way and one of the lads quipped, “Perfect timing!” There was an awkward scuffle with everyone trying to let the woman through but it was all quite ungainly. It worked out okay but I remember noticing that the woman, who was just going about her business like the rest of us, immediately became the centre of attention. No one took control, the young men still got off the bus rather than return to their seats and wait and what should have taken moments lasted far longer than it needed to. It may only have been me that felt a sense of discomfort but I think the woman noticed it as well.

Disability and Travel: Crucial to Life

We tend to take for granted that modern living is travel-centric. The ability to get around is important for work, leisure, family and social life. The way that modern life is structured demands that we all go places to participate. We go to school, work, the shops, the cinema, gym, and visit family and friends. Without the means or ability to get to places, isolation is compounded and quality of life may diminish.

crowded public transport
Standing Room Only
photo credit: Vinicius Depizzol

Thinking back to my childhood lived in a small village, we didn’t travel so much. I did go to school in the nearest town about seven miles away and mostly men, would have worked within twenty miles or so, but relative to how I live now, it seems that it was pretty static. Maybe it was different even then, in towns and cities. These days travel is expected of us especially where work is concerned. If you have at least a moderate income, you probably have a car even if you use a different way to get to work. I don’t think many of us would prefer public transport even if it was better than it is.

Disability and Travel: Overcoming Obstacles

So how do people who have a disability manage in a world where mobility is taken got granted and such a large part of modern life? I guess the obvious answer must be, “With great difficulty.” Things are improving; aren’t they? Even the cheap holiday complex had ramps and hand rails everywhere but that experience on the bus emphasised there are plenty of obstacles for anyone with mobility problems.

I don’t know what the answer is but on a personal level, I think I will try harder to help anyone I see that might be disadvantaged. It is as much my responsibility to help people as it is anyone else’. I will try to foresee problems and where possible, anticipate the bottlenecks that cause embarrassment and discomfort, in order to help out rather than rescue. That’s not much to offer I know but it’s something.

Other solutions are bigger than me and will need businesses, councils and governments, planners and designers to think hard about the needs of everyone. Some solutions might only happen in the short-term at least, if those with different needs express what might be helpful. On that bus, it might have gone smoother for the woman to have said to the men, “It would help if you went back to your seats whilst I get on the bus.” Instead, little was said other than, “Are you alright, Luv?” And, “it’s alright Darlin’ just squeeze through!”

red buses in a crowded street
Easy to get around?
photo credit: C. G. P. Grey

Disability and Travel: The Bus Pt. II

I am not sure what the answer is with buses. Right from the start you can see they are built for the average person – too big and you won’t fit, too small and you can’t reach the luggage rack! Too different and you’re probably better in a taxi! Buses need to be big enough to carry as many people as possible and still fit on the road. But that kind of transport is only best for people who all need to go somewhere at the same time and all be the right size and shape: same with planes and trains. There is a big step up and a narrow aisle to walk down. If the bus is busy, late, packed and timetabled it gets harder. Using and coping with public transport is not just about physical space, it’s more complicated.

Attitude Not Altitude

Maybe the critical thing that will make travel better for us all is attitude. It makes no difference what your mode of transport is, if you are traveling with kind, considerate, helpful, tolerant, generous people, it is better. Better for everyone. If we all understood the challenge of traveling if you have a disability, we might all be better placed to find the solution.

Have I got this right?

Once again, I’m writing about disability and I am not disabled. If you have experienced what I have only observed then please contribute using the comments box below. I would love to hear from you.

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