Although lockdown is gradually easing, it looks like it will be a long time before normality truly returns to the UK. One of the most impacted areas has, of course, been people’s ability to travel and take holidays. There are likely to be significant restrictions on international travel for some time to come – which means that many people are likely to be holidaying in the UK this year. If you’re considering the options to take a UK-based break, we’ve carefully reviewed some of the best travel options for disabled people – to help you understand some of the most stress-free ways you can choose to travel this summer.
If you’re still keen on going overseas, you might be interested in visiting one of the UK’s islands. Many of the UK’s major ferry companies have a very strong track record for accessibility and special assistance. The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company ensure that their staff undertake Disability Awareness Training, and pride themselves on a high standard of customer care and service. They detail a range of special assistance measures possible, particularly relating loading and unloading on their website. It is worth noting that the services available vary slightly depending on which route you are travelling on, so it is worth researching in advance.
Of the two major ferry providers serving the Isle of Wight, Wightlink, provides far more details about accessibility issues on its website. The company also offer discounts of up to 25% for blue badge holders, wider accessible lifts, and the potential to loan you mobility equipment that is safe to use on board.
Wherever you plan to sail – be aware that ferries may have some limitations on being able to transport flammable items – which might include oxygen stored in liquid format, or other high grade medical machinery. This is due to specific hazardous goods regulations put in place for the safety of the vessel whilst it is at sea. Interestingly, the same restrictions can cause problems for island residents who want some electronic goods like rechargeable battery packs – or even some perfumes, shipped across! If in doubt, contact the ferry company well in advance to discuss your needs – they will be able to advise you on what it is permissible for them to carry, or for example whether there are specific sailing that you will need to be on.
It is also important to be aware that most major UK ferries will have a policy that requires you to vacate your vehicle during the crossing. Although this has some benefits for them – encouraging passengers to buy food and drink on board etc. it is also usually something that they are required to do by the coastguard. The safety measure is generally in place so that during an emergency, passengers can easily be directed to the appropriate evacuation points. If you would be unable to leave your vehicle for the crossing, you should contact them well in advance to discuss your potential needs. Most companies will be willing to discuss individual needs with you, as long as they have plenty of advanced notice. Interestingly, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this has become more commonplace – with some ferries running special sailings during which they have a coastguard escort for the entire journey, meaning that passengers were permitted to stay in their vehicles for the duration of the trip.
National Express have an extensive accessibility policy, which you can read about in more detail on their website. Although you do not have to book in advance, it is generally advisable to get in touch with them about accessibility needs, and they can provide detailed help and advice. There are certain checks that the company will make before wheelchair users will be able to travel. This is to ensure that the combined weight of the wheelchair and passenger can safely make use of the available ramps, and that the desired stops are appropriate for boarding and exiting using a ramp. You can also find a full list of all of their stops where lifts are available, for onward travel. Megabus offer similar advice again advising you to contact them 36 hours in advance of travel, to avoid disappointment.
National Express also pride themselves on being part of the Sunflower hidden disability recognition scheme – meaning that staff should recognise that customers wearing the sunflower emblem may need additional specific support.
There are 28 major train providers in the UK, so accessibility policies and the level of support offers will vary slightly between them. One of the most impressive is the Caledonian Sleeper Service, who have a dedicated information leaflet detailing all of the support on offer from the booking stage, right through your journey. Support ranges from assistance booking tickets, through to helping with luggage and specific accessible rooms on offer.