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 legislation aims to end the discrimination that many people with disabilities face. It includes specific references to service providers, which include travel agencies, tour operators and businesses that provide accommodation and other leisure services.
Service providers in Northern Ireland, such as hotels and bed and 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 current legislative protection 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 the Equality Commission website.
Travelling by air is not covered by current legislation. However, it 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.
Additionally, under European law It is 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 to flights on European airlines arriving in the EU.
It 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 help 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 to a 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.
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 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. The following 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 help wheelchair users or are they trained to use sign language?
Carers and companions
You can hire a companion, carer or nurse to provide extra help - 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
Disability discrimination legislation places duties on service providers, which includes insurance and travel companies providing services within the UK.
Companies have a duty to make sure that, as a customer with disabilities, they do not treat you less favourably than other customers due 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, who are legally required to take reasonable steps to make this accessible for people with disabilities to use.
The Association of British Insurers has consumer information about 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 extra 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 on holiday
Information on receiving benefits while abroad, either as a person with disabilities or as a carer, is available on the following page:
Anyone who provides a service to the public in Northern Ireland, whether they charge for it or not, has duties under the disability legislation.
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
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
Operators of trains, buses, coaches, taxis, rental vehicles and breakdown recovery vehicles also have legal responsibilities to people with disabilities . It is unlawful for transport providers to treat people with disabilities less favourably than those without a disability.
Transport providers must make reasonable adjustments to their policies, procedures and practices to make sure people with disabilities 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.