Planning to go away
With any trip or holiday, at home or abroad, it's a good idea to do some planning for the travel part of your trip. If you're a person with disabilities, there may be a few extra things to think about before you leave home.
Communicating your needs
It's important to remember that countries differ and not all services and facilities will be available or accessible to you. If you need a particular service or facility, check that it's available before booking your trip.
Often an impairment is not obvious to other people, so make sure you explain your particular requirements clearly. Don't assume that staff at travel agents, travel offices or airports will automatically know or understand your needs.
This is particularly important when booking by phone, post or over the internet.
Finding out information
In Northern Ireland, information produced by travel agents, tour operators, airports and airlines should be clear and simple to use.
They should also take reasonable steps to make sure that their information services are accessible to people with disabilities. For example, that information is available in accessible formats, such as Braille, large print or on audiotape.
Disability Discrimination Act
The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 aims to end the discrimination that many people with disabilities face. Part 3 of the DDA relates to service providers, which includes travel agencies, tour operators and businesses that provide accommodation and other leisure services.
Service providers in Northern Ireland, such as hotels and Bed & Breakfast establishments, and bars and restaurants, have a duty to make sure that, as a customer with a disability, you are not subjected to disability discrimination. This includes their duty to make reasonable adjustments or to provide auxiliary aids and services to help improve the accessibility of their services and facilities for you.
However, it is important to note that the DDA is a Northern Ireland law. It does not normally apply to services and facilities provided in other regions or countries. How much it will apply to any holiday outside Northern Ireland arranged by a local travel agent or tour operator may be limited. Some aspects of the services and facilities that the local travel agent or tour operator will arrange may be covered, but other aspects may not be. It is a complex subject.
More detailed information about access rights, including 'reasonable adjustments', can be found in Access to everyday services.
You can also find out more information and advice on he Equality Commission.
DDA and accessible air travel
Travelling by air is not covered by the DDA. However, the Act does apply to the use of services in the UK, like booking systems and airport facilities and services. For example, shops and check-in facilities in the airport are covered but in-flight services and entertainment on the plane are not.
However, there is a European Union law that applies to air travel and which provides some rights to disabled air travellers - Regulation 1107/2006 EC. Since the regulation came into force in July 2007, it has been illegal for an airline, travel agent or tour operator to refuse a booking on the grounds of disability, or to refuse to allow a person with disabilities to board an aircraft when they have a valid ticket and reservation. This applies to any flight leaving an airport in the European Union, and also to flights on European airlines arriving in the EU.
The regulation also covers people with reduced mobility, including those with a temporary mobility problem. In very occasional circumstances these rights may not apply - for example, where there are legitimate safety or technical reasons why a person with disabilities cannot board an aircraft. In such cases, you must be told the reasons and offered a reasonable alternative.
To avoid things going wrong, if you need assistance at the airport or on board the aircraft, it is important that you make this clear at the time of booking (or no later than 48 hours before departure).
Travelling in Europe
The 'Your Europe' portal gives individuals practical information about their rights in the EU. It focuses on real-life, cross-border situations, such as British citizens wishing to travel in another country in the EU.
Overseas travel advice
The travel section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website contains country-specific travel advice for anyone planning a trip overseas.
A big part of any holiday is deciding where to stay. Access for people with disabilities has improved considerably over the last few years.
Often a disability is not obvious to other people, so make sure you explain your particular requirements clearly when booking accommodation or dealing with a travel company.
You should not assume that staff will automatically know or understand your needs. This is particularly important when booking by phone, post or over the internet.
Hotels and businesses differ in what they offer. For example, some places will be fully accessible to a wheelchair user travelling independently. Others may be accessible to people who have limited mobility but can walk a few paces.
Some charities produce guides detailing specific holiday accommodation. They may have information such as whether there are:
- ground floor bedrooms
- wide corridors and doorways
- menus and other information in Braille
- adaptations in the rooms
- staff trained to assist people with disabilities
It's also worth checking if companions, or carers, can accompany you at a discounted rate.
Equipment, adaptations and services on holiday
You, or the person you care for, may be used to equipment or adaptations at home. It's important to check that your hotel - or other accommodation - meets your needs.
When booking accommodation directly, or through an organisation or travel agency, check what's on offer.
Some places are able to support people with different needs. For example, some hotels have rooms adapted specifically for people who are blind or visually impaired. Here are some examples of the types of adaptations and services that may be available:
- wheel-in showers
- raised toilet seats
- manual and electric bath hoists
- manual and electric bed hoists
- alarm systems in rooms
- vibrating alarms
Depending on your needs, check what help staff can provide. For example, can they assist wheelchair users, or are they trained to use sign language?
Carers and companions
You can hire a companion, carer or nurse to provide extra assistance - some commercial companies provide this service. It's worth checking if companions or carers can accompany you at a discounted rate.
There are also charities set up to arrange holidays for people with disabilities and provide volunteer companions and helpers.
There are many different types of travel insurance available. You will need to decide what type of cover you require and check thoroughly that the policy you choose suits your needs.
Choosing a policy
As well as cover for things like flight delays and theft of belongings, there are other things to check when choosing an insurance policy. These include:
- cover for any medical costs that arise from your impairment - as many policies do not cover claims arising from 'pre-existing medical conditions'
- cover if an airline is unable to carry you for any reason, for example, a change of plane type to one that is not accessible
It is advisable to take out travel insurance even if you are travelling within the UK. This is especially important if:
- you have a wheelchair
- you're taking special equipment
- you’re likely to need medical attention, which may cut short your holiday
It's important to declare your disability or illness when arranging insurance. This is because standard travel insurance doesn't cover any illness or health problem that existed or was diagnosed before your holiday began.
The insurance company may ask for specific details, or your doctor may need to complete a form stating that you are fit to travel. For example, you may be asked to sign a form stating that you are not awaiting treatment.
If you need to take expensive disability equipment with you, make sure that it is insured for loss or damage.
Mobility aids - including wheelchairs and scooters - are unlikely to be covered by standard travel insurance policies. You may have to pay an extra premium. Sometimes your household insurance may provide cover for these items.
Most insurance companies offer cover which meets the needs of people with disabilities. However, some insurers do not cover people who have a severe medical condition or a history of mental illness. You may need to arrange cover with a specialist insurer.
A specialist insurer may be right for you if you are travelling outside the UK for a long period of time.
Your rights as a person with disabilities
The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) aims to end the discrimination that many people with disabilities face. Part 3 of the Act places duties on service providers, which includes insurance and travel companies providing services within the UK.
Companies have a duty to ensure that, as a customer with disabilities, they do not treat you less favourably than other customers for a reason relating to your disability, unless they can lawfully justify that treatment. For example, they must not unjustifiably refuse to provide a service to a person with a disability that they are prepared to offer other members of the public. Also, they must not provide, without lawful justification, the service on worse terms or to a lower standard.
However, the law allows insurers to apply special conditions or premiums to people with disabilities in a particular set of circumstances. For example, they can charge a person with disabilities a higher premium if they can show that there is a greater risk in insuring a person with disabilities than a person without disabilities.
The insurance company can only justify this difference of treatment of a person with disabilities if:
- the decision is based on information which is relevant to the assessment of the risk being insured
- the information (such as statistical data, or a medical report) is from a source on which it is reasonable to rely
- the less favourable treatment is reasonable when this information and all other relevant factors are taken into account
If you're not happy with your insurance company
Most complaints are normally handled by the insurance company. The duties of the DDA require them to take reasonable steps to make this accessible for people with disabilities to use.
The Association of British Insurers has consumer information relating to all types of insurance - including travel and what to do if things go wrong.
If you can't resolve matters with your insurance company, the Financial Ombudsman Service can provide you with a free, independent service for resolving disputes with financial companies. They provide information in various formats, including Braille and audiotape.
Taking medication abroad
If you are taking medication with you on a trip or holiday:
- make sure that you have enough for your whole stay - and an extra supply in case of delays or emergencies
- get a letter from your doctor to say that you need the medication and keep a list in case you lose it or need to get more during your stay
- list the proper names of the medication - not just the trade names
- keep it in its original packaging
- keep a written record with you of any medical condition affecting you, such as diabetes or haemophilia
- Your local doctor (GP)
If you are flying
An airline is entitled to demand that a passenger travels with a companion if the passenger is not self-sufficient. This includes being able to administer your own medicines and medical procedures.
Don't claim that you are self-sufficient if you are not. You may cause yourself and the airline serious problems because they will be unable to meet your basic needs.
Always pack your medication in your hand luggage where possible, in case your main luggage goes missing.
Medication and other countries
There may be restrictions on taking medication into the country. You will need to check with the Embassy or High Commission of the country you are visiting.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is responsible for foreign affairs. The travel section of their website contains information for anyone planning a trip overseas and has information by country.
Your benefits while you're on holiday
If you receive benefits either as a person with disabilities or as a carer, you may be wondering what happens to them if you go on holiday.
Disability Living Allowance
If your stay abroad is temporary, including a holiday, you can usually continue getting Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for 26 weeks.
You may be able to continue getting DLA for longer if you are going abroad for medical treatment for your illness or disability. Your stay must still be temporary.
If you are going abroad permanently, you may be able to carry on getting DLA (care component only) if you move to a country in the European Economic Area or to Switzerland.
If your stay abroad is temporary, for example, a holiday, you can usually continue getting Attendance Allowance (AA) for 26 weeks.
You may be able to continue getting AA for longer if you are going abroad for medical treatment for your illness or disability. Your stay must still be temporary.
If you are going abroad permanently you may be able to carry on getting AA if you move to a country in the European Economic Area or to Switzerland.
You must tell your local Social Security or Jobs and Benefits office if you are going abroad. If your stay abroad is temporary, you can receive Incapacity Benefit for the first 26 weeks of your stay if, on the day of departure:
- you have been continuously incapable of work for at least six months
- your incapacity has lasted less than six months
- your absence from the UK is for the specific purpose of seeking treatment for an illness or disability that began before you left
You may be able to receive Incapacity Benefit abroad for more than 26 weeks if:
- your stay abroad is temporary
- you get Attendance Allowance
- you get Disability Living Allowance
For more information, contact your local Social Security/Jobs and Benefits office.
You may be able to get a benefit for incapacity if you move to a country that has a reciprocal agreement with the UK. For more information, contact your local Social Security/Jobs and Benefits Office.
If you take a temporary break from caring for someone, for example a holiday, you may continue to receive Carer's Allowance (CA).
A total of four weeks break can be taken in any 26 week period for holidays. CA may also continue throughout periods when you or the person with disabilities is being cared for or goes into hospital.
You must tell the Carer's Allowance Unit if:
- you take a break from caring due to a holiday
- you go into hospital
- the person you are caring for goes on holiday
- the person you are caring for goes into hospital
You may be able to get CA for longer if you are going abroad only to help the person you care for, and the person can still be paid Disability Living Allowance or Attendance Allowance. Your stay must still be temporary.
If you are going abroad permanently you may be able to carry on getting CA if you move to a country in the European Economic Area or to Switzerland.
Tourism and the DDA
Anyone who provides a service to the public in Northern Ireland, whether they charge for it or not, has duties under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
Service providers' responsibilities
Service providers include holiday accommodation, tourist attractions, restaurants and transport providers. They cannot refuse to serve you as a person with disabilities or provide a lower standard of service because of your disability, unless it can be justified.
Service providers may need to make 'reasonable adjustments' or provide reasonable auxiliary aids or services to help overcome any barriers that may prevent a person with disabilities using or accessing their service.
Reasonable adjustments, auxiliary aids or services
Under the DDA, service providers only need to make changes or provide auxiliary aids or services that are 'reasonable'. These might include simple changes to layout, improved signage and information, and staff training which can improve accessibility to customers with disabilities.
It's about what is practical to the service provider's individual situation and what resources they may have. They will not be required to make changes that are impractical or beyond their means or which would change the essential nature of the service.
Examples of reasonable changes that can be made include:
- using large print for registration and guest information
- ensuring that at least one copy of the fixed menu is in Braille
- providing phones with large buttons
- providing portable vibrating alarms for guests who will not be able to hear an audible fire alarm
- where a low reception desk is not available, providing an alternative low desk for wheelchair users
- sending staff on a disability-awareness training course to increase awareness of common disability-related issues
Good for business
Making services more accessible will not only benefit people with disabilities, but could encourage recommendations and return visits. For example for:
- the friends, families and any carers accompanying a person with disabilities
- older customers who may not consider themselves to have a disability but would appreciate easier access and better facilities
If you believe you have been discriminated against, you might wish to seek advice from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.
Service providers can obtain guidance on recommended good practice under the Disability Discrimination Act through the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland website.
The DDA also places duties on those who operate trains, buses, coaches, taxis, rental vehicles and breakdown recovery vehicles. It is unlawful for transport providers to treat disabled people less favourably than those without a disability.
Transport providers are obliged to make reasonable adjustments to their policies, procedures and practices to ensure that disabled people do not find it impossible or unreasonably difficult to access their services. The extent to which the duties apply depends on the type of vehicle used.