Travelling with a disability

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.”

  • Do you travel with a disability? How has it affected the way you do – and enjoy – the Big Lap? Email us here to share your thoughts.

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