As we go forward into the New Year, we start new calendars and planning for new holidays. I cannot emphasise enough the concept of forward planning enough and, with today’s technology and the Internet, it is quite easy to get up-to-date information and a feel for venues and places of interest. A picture really is worth a thousand words, but do be careful to not be bedazzled by the beautiful scenic pictures and flowery descriptions of hotels and places of interest, as these are easily over exaggerated and often the pictures on the page are not even of the property in question!

Once you have an idea of which destination you are interested in, and have spoken to a few people who have been there, try checking websites for feedback from previous clients. This is a quite useful tool for getting the feel of places as management, staff and quality can change over time.

tripadvisor.com is an excellent site for reading up on what other people think about a place. Choose on the left what you are interested in, (hotels, flights etc) and then enter the city you wish to visit and click find. You don’t have to put in dates or anything else and it will bring up a summary for that city with reviews for each destination.

Many establishments advertise that they are wheelchair and/or disabled friendly but, on closer inspection, you find that they once had a client who used a wheelchair - who was travelling with a companion - who assisted them into the bath/shower or up the three steps to the room! This does not help the disabled community and can lead to a ruined holiday if you arrive thinking that you will manage – only to be unable to get through the bathroom door!!

Many tourism websites offer Disabled Friendly establishment listings but DO contact the establishment directly and ask specific questions that address the following concerns:

  • If you are driving – are there accessible parking bays close to the entrance
  • Are there any steps into the property
  • Are there any steps within the venue? Name specific areas you would use, like the pool, pub, games room and restaurant, as people don’t always think about steps!
  • Is there an accessible room and, if so, what is the width of the entrance door, and the width of the door into the bathroom
  • Is there a roll-in shower or bath, and are there grab rails
  • Is there a room next to the accessible unit with an interleading door for children or care givers to provide privacy but still be close at hand.

Most establishments that I have contacted over the years are more than willing to go and measure their facilities and come back to you if you are serious about making a booking. 

We are working within the Disability Sector, together with the Department of Tourism, to try and change the perception that establishments must have special facilities for persons with disabilities.

The principles of Universal Design and Universal Access provide for a much wider section of the market such as children, mothers with prams, the elderly and people with temporary impairments as well as persons with disabilities. Ask anyone who likes to shower whether they have ever tripped over the step into a shower cubicle or slipped on wet tiles. No matter who you are a shower with no step and a gently sloping floor makes for a far cleaner entrance and exit, and serves the needs of everyone!

We are very lucky in South Africa to have a wonderful website that has exactly the information that I would ultimately like to see on every tourism website. www.disabledtravel.co.za is run and maintained by Karin Coetzee and includes detailed descriptions of facilities which are further supported by precise pictures of amenities. This website is definitely a first point of call when planning a holiday.

If we are going to convince other web sites to provide adequate information we need to change the perceptions of owners and participants and get trained people with disabilities out into the market to make accurate assessments and offer the correct recommendations for any changes that the establishment might need to make in order to bring their property up to Universal Access principles.

Disabled Friendly

There are a few websites that provide details of destinations which they consider to be disabled friendly. They do not provide the level of detail that www.disabledtravel.co.za does but, once you have found a place that might be suitable, you would be able to call the establishment with the list of questions we provided.

On the home page (on the right hand side about half way down) click on Disabled Friendly. On the left you will see a grey tab with South African provinces listed below it for you to select from. If you are looking beyond our borders click on the relevant location listed under the centre tab, Southern Africa. 

Despite the dot com extension this is a South African operation in Cape Town. Click on Accommodation at the top of the page and when the next page comes up click on Special Interests and Needs in the menu on the right hand side of the page. Click Wheelchair / Disabled Friendly in the menu that drops down. On the next page* you are able to narrow your search to provinces and, in some instances, cities.* If you scroll down to the bottom of this page you will also see an invitation to view “Things To Do in South Africa”. If you click that link it brings up a page entitled “View Things To Do by Province”. Click on the province of your choice and when the page comes  up click on category and scroll down to “Wheelchair Friendly”. The list of things to do is quite long and, according to the website, “SA-Venues.com can confirm that all things to do in the Category “Wheelchair Friendly” have been personally contacted and have confirmed that they are in fact wheelchair accessible.”! Still best to check first though!!

essentialtravelinfo.com is owned by AA Travel Guides and provides travel information for Australia, South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique and the Indian Ocean Islands. Choose the Advanced Search option from the menu on the left. Complete the first section and then scroll down to the Services and Extras section and check off the box for Mobility Impaired.

Select Accommodation at the top of the home page. Scroll down, to below the adverts, to Special Categories and click on Wheelchair Friendly.

Click on Accommodation at the top of the home page. Scroll down to the listings until you see “The Best Of...” on the left. Click Disabled Friendly. There are 84 disabled friendly establishments listed for South Africa, Namibia has three and both Botswana and Thailand have only one!

If you are planning for international travel, go to a search engine (such as Google) and type in disabled friendly wheelchair accommodation in (and type the name of the city or country) to get the information and contacts for that specific area. Then e-mail the establishment directly with your requests for their facilities. If, after you receive a response you are still unsure the best option is to make use of a travel agent that specialises in travel for people with disabilities.

Happy surfing !!

About the surfers 

In November 2010 Dries Millard and Glenn Ward rode their wheelchairs from Saldanha to Cape Town to raise awareness amongst the public for people with disabilities. The two twenty year-olds suffered spinal cord injuries during their matric years in 2008, Dries in a car accident and Glenn on a motorbike.

They covered the distance between Saldanha and Cape Town in 5 days, leaving Saldanha 29 November and arriving at the Parliament Buildings in Cape Town on 3 December, National Disability Awareness Day, where a list of grievances and problems faced by the disabled communities of the Saldanha/ Vredenburg region were handed to the Minister.

The objectives of this mammoth 160km trek were: to salute and praise people with disabilities who manage to remain positive and live full and independent lives; to raise public awareness of people with disabilities and change stereotyped perception of disabled persons as being less capable and to raise funds for the establishment of a sports centre for disabled people of the Saldanha/ Vredenberg district which is estimated at about R3 million. Both men play for the Twisters Wheelchair Basketball  

ri-dot