When planning my family vaycay or weekends away with the wider family, one of the things I am aware of is wheelchair accessibility. My immediate family of four are all on our own two feet, but my step-father David is in a wheelchair and my mother is his full time carer. However we don’t let a wheelchair hold us back. We still do everything we want to do.
When my children were younger we were quite the party; wheelchairs, pushchairs, a lively 5 year old and all the baggage that a group like this requires. My mum would be responsible for David’s needs so I would be the organiser of everything, tickets, boarding passes, arranging assistance at the places we were staying, booking taxis, making sure everyone’s needs were met and getting us all from A to B safely without losing anyone or anything. My husband brought the muscle, he would be the baggage handler at airport carousels and the minibus driver, between us we would manage the young children (including a baby) and my mum would take care of David – we all had our hands full! But we wouldn’t have it any other way.
The fact that our family has to be conscious of wheelchair accessibility and having disabled facilities when travelling has not stopped us from travelling. Together we have been to Australia and back, Dubai, France, Singapore, Italy and the USA and we have also taken 5 cruises together. We love to get out and about and see things and experience life. My mum has done incredibly well in that she looks after David in their own home with no outside help. Anyone who has cared for a person with a disability knows that it is not easy. It is not the same as nursing a sick person back to health through a period of temporary downtime. It is often complex, involves serious conversations with medical professionals, it involves heavy lifting, all the household responsibilities of cooking and cleaning, sometimes extra cleaning than an able bodied household would find ‘normal’ and it is relentless. There is no ‘rest’ or respite. You are constantly putting someone else’s needs first and trying to get on with your life in as normal a way as possible. But there is no ‘normal’.
With all the responsibilities and challenges that a disability within the family brings, it also brings with it a lot of love and lightness. There is a depth of humility that our family has, my children know that there are other people with needs that may have to come before their own. They know patience, that some people need more time than others to do the things that most of us do without thinking. They also have been fortunate to travel the world with Grandma and Grandpa, seeing things we could not have afforded to take them to, if we were footing the bill on our own. As one big extended family, we have learned to support each other when we are away together, balancing family together time with an individual need for privacy, so that every member of the group feels that they have had a holiday and a rest – becoming refreshed again to have the energy that our day to day life requires.
Disability doesn’t have to mean that you miss out on life – even if it is easier sometimes to stay at home with all your facilities and privacy around you. Doing this makes your world small and turns living into a grind. You have to retain perspective, and you achieve this by getting out into the world and mixing with other people. By speaking to people from other cultures, by seeing how other families with disabilities cope when they are out and about. By being organised and having the meds you need to hand, but also by winging it a bit and daring to expand your comfort zone – eat in a new place or drive to an unfamiliar location.
The Motability Scheme helps disabled people get out and about by leasing cars, scooters and powered wheelchairs. They have some ideas on their website for accessible days out and financial help may also be available to lease a car.
They have worked with Rough Guides to produce The Rough Guide to Accessible Britain which is available free online at this website and contains more than 200 recommendations for great days out for disabled visitors and their families. It shares the information you need such as what disabled facilities are available including the disabled parking spots etc.
If you have a disability or live with someone who does, get the guide – it is brilliant for ideas and I hope that you found my story useful. If you don’t have a disability, then I hope that this post has provided some insight as to what daily life could be like for those who do live with disability. I haven’t gone into too much detail to respect the privacy of my family members but raising awareness of disabilities and what they could involve is a good thing all round so that we can all be more tolerant of each other.
Also, whilst I’m on this subject, and I rarely use my blog as a platform to preach, but on this occasion I will, with no apology: PLEASE, please, please do not park in a disabled parking space unless you are a blue badge holder. It absolutely breaks my heart when I see people just using the spot for their convenience when they are able bodied and walking on their own two legs. It is true that not every disability is able to be seen so obviously as a wheelchair, hence the need for the blue badge scheme. Plus in some cases (like my mother) she will use the disabled spot even though she is on her two legs, as she is going to the pharmacy to collect a prescription for David, or going to the Post Office to collect his pension. So the carers of the disabled may need to use the disabled parking spot whilst on the business of the disabled – however they will have a blue badge on display.
For an able bodied, non- blue badge holding person to take up a disabled parking spot is ignorant. Don’t think ‘it doesn’t matter’ or ‘I’ll only be 5 minutes’ or ‘there are loads of spaces available here’ when you are taking up a parking space that a blue badge holder would need. It really does matter. Anyway, soapbox speech over! I know that the majority of people are conscientious about this and would not be so misinformed that the only time they would want a disability is to save them walking a few extra minutes when there are those who would give anything to park in the spots meant for everyone else.
Do let me know of any great accessible days out or holidays that you have been on, in the comments!