Grey nomads are, by their very nature, up for adventure and up for a challenge.
In many cases, the dream of hitting the open road is one that has been burning within for many years, and it’s not an easy one to give up on … even when health issues rear their ugly head.
There are travellers out there living the dream despite suffering from cancer, dealing with a recent heart attack, or being confined to a wheelchair. However, the challenges can be immense. Everything from finding a suitable rig, to filling prescriptions, to going to the toilet can become major issues.
“There is an enormous mismatch between demand and what is offered by tourism providers in the way of infrastructure and services,” said disabled access lobbyist, Sheila King. “Neither are meeting the needs of people with disabilities,”
Barry Stuart from Inverell in New South Wales agrees. On a recent trip to Western Australia with family members including his sister-in-law Maureen, Barry was shocked by the lack of disabled facilities in many caravan parks.
Maureen has been in a wheelchair for eight years since a stroke left her unable to use one side of her body. She travels in a Hino motorhome which has been specially adapted for a wheelchair.
As no two people with disabilities will have exactly the same needs, caravans and motorhomes will generally need to be custom made or customised for a specific customer.
“Maureen had a ball travelling because they were very well set up,” said Barry. “However, every three or four nights we would look for a caravan park and our biggest problem was finding one that was fully set up for handicapped people.”
Progress is being made however. In recent years, for example, Parks Victoria has implemented a number of strategies to improve disabled access to its parks. These include the installation of more accessible toilets and picnic areas, loaning all-terrain wheelchairs to visitors at some parks, and offering better access to campsites.
It seems inevitable that, as the number of grey nomads on the road soars, so too will the number of them who are faced by a disability or chronic illness.
“It is very clear in relation to worldwide accessible tourism that the demand is increasing very rapidly,” said Sheila King. “The demand is not only coming from people with disabilities, but also from elderly tourists, who do not see themselves as being in any way disabled, but who appreciate the fixtures and fittings found, for example, in accessible toilets/shower areas, as these aid their balance.”