I am about to make one of my regular trips to Scotland today, prompting me to offer my thoughts on what it is like to travel when you have a disability.
First things first. I need to book a flight from Belfast to Edinburgh. That in itself is fraught with hassle when I have to use a screenreader to book the flight on a website that is hostile to such software in the first place! It takes me ages to book the flight, ensuring I have ticked or not ticked the corrext boxes, and that I have checked in correctly.
Next, and probably most important of all, I have to book assistance. No I don’t want someone to shove me in a wheelchair at the airport and manoeuvre me through security. All I require is a helpful member of staff to guide me through the airport and onto the aircraft. Wouldn’t you think this ought to be straightforward? Don’t kid yourself, it isn’t. I have to make sure that someone actually turns up in the Customer Services waiting area to take me through security, and then onto the plane where cabin staff take over.
Once this is achieved, I am generally in the capable hands of the crew, who go through the safety drill with me in the event there is an accident. That part of the process scares the pants off me, and I try to think of anything else but being in mid-air and at the mercy of those around me.
At the other end, I am generally met by a family member or friend. I stay in a hotel or guest-house, so there is all the fun of finding my way around my room to contend with. I also ask hotel staff if they will bring me breakfast instead of me having to negotiate a dining-room and self-service facilities.
When you have no sight and a really painful back problem, as I do, going away tends to use up a lot of resources, both emotionally and physically. I find it hard to sleep, and always hope someone will be at hand if I need to leave my room.
I am quite an emotional cookie too, so leaving my husband and the dog behind makes me sad no matter the duration. I love visiting my son, Ian, and seeing friends or having a meal out. But I like coming home to the welcome I receive from Martin and Bumble. I like getting back to normal and my familiar surroundings. Saying goodbye to Ian pulls my inside apart because I never know when the next visit will be. Yet I also know we each have our own life, and make the best of our visits when they materialise.
Travelling can be a hassle for anyone, but when you rely on other people to provide assistance, the experience is not always pleasant.