Last year I took a family holiday to the south of Spain. It was a large group and we decided to book a nice villa rather than a hotel.
Delighted to have been asked to come and join my extended family, whom I’d recently got back in contact with after years of separation, I couldn’t shake off the feelings of anxiety and trepidation about the trip.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled a lot as a young girl and I love to explore new countries however, as I’ve gotten older and my body has become less mobile (and let’s face it, I’ve become much heavier to be lifted up and down stairs), I’ve lost my passion for jet-setting somewhat. There is always so much to plan, and being outside of the comfort of my own adapted flat… Going abroad is often a minefield: from worrying about my wheelchair being lost in transit; not being able to access the toilet on flights; or simply paying through my teeth for holiday insurance. All of this even before I reach my destination.
After a lengthy conversation with my cousin who was planning the trip, she reassured me that she would find a villa to cater for my needs and to stop worrying. Lo and behold she found a website with accessible villas. I put my scepticism aside and tried to start to look forward to our family holiday.
My concerns were not however unfounded, upon arriving I was met with a few steps into the property and a makeshift plank of wood that was supposed to be a ramp. Inside the villa wasn’t much better; the so called ‘wet-room’ was far from ideal with a small drop down seat, no arms, and so small I could barely get one bum cheek on it. The sinks and mirrors were far too high for me to reach and although we were told the villa was situated close enough for us to walk into town it was almost impossible with a wheelchair as pavements seemed to be non-existent.
We found ourselves very isolated in a villa that was not fit for purpose.
Although it was so lovely spending time with my family, I could see their collective frustration as we came up against one barrier after another. I felt myself feeling like a burden and kept apologising for things that were actually out of my control.
Once back in London I questioned why going on holiday was such an ordeal if you have a disability. Something must be done to improve this. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when the BBS asked me to represent them at a roundtable discussion they had been invited to attend at Airbnb.
They strive to be accessible to everyone, they have introduced 27 new accessibility filters to make it easier for people to find homes which fit their needs, as well as enabling hosts to market their home’s accessible features.
These new features allow hosts to designate whether their listing includes features like step-free access and wider doorways and even specialist equipment like a mobile hoist or electric profiling bed. Personally for me, the most important thing is that they will be accompanied by photos so you can see exactly what is being offered and not just trust the description outlined by the host as we all know from experience what may seem like a ‘little step’ for one person is a mountain for others!
At the meeting I attended for the Brittle Bone Society – they told us they are “committed to making their community more accessible” when it comes to finding accessible properties but they have also launched accessible experiences – experiences are activities designed and led by passionate locals that go beyond typical tours or classes to immerse guests in each host’s unique world. This should hopefully encourage as many entrepreneurs with a disability as possible to host an accessible experience.
For me this was really exciting, particularly after my Spanish experience, it’s fine to have accessible accommodation but a holiday is much more than sitting in a villa or hotel.
One area I found interesting was the whole issue of accessible housing being for the most part owned by housing associations such as Peabody or Habinteg to name a few. As far as I am aware you are not allowed, particularly if you are in receipt of housing benefit or any form of income related benefits, to advertise a room for visitors.
It would be amazing if all parties could come together and look at the holistic benefits of being able to rent out accessible properties, even if this means a percentage of the money gained from renting out your property on a site goes back to your local council.
I never want to regret anything in life and I’d like to think that I do adhere to this life mantra as much as possible however, I must admit when it comes to travelling I do let the fear of the unknown take over and I have undoubtably missed out on travelling adventures because of this.
I’m delighted about this type of change, so that I never have to feel anxious about travelling, or worse still feel like a burden to those accompanying me on my travels.
BBS do not endorse any commercial site listed in this article and the views are those of the author.
For more information on accessible Airbnb
Other companies are heading in this direction, and you can now look for accessible accommodation from a whole range of providers:
A number of people have taken on the task of reviewing the accessible features of different places, so you know exactly what to expect when you’re away: