Julie became an International Day of People with Disability Ambassador this year alongside son and fellow traveller, Braedon. Braedon is the first non-verbal person to become an IDPwD Ambassador. The pair travel with other family members, husband/father Mark and daughter/sister Amelia.
Julie and Braeden’s work celebrates how people with disability have the same desire to travel as everyone else but face different accessibility challenges. I love all their advice about logistics, what to consider when planning a trip and what to check prior to leaving. Hope you enjoy my Q&A with Julie as much as I did.
What is your favourite destination for accessible travel in Australia and overseas?
We love Cairns because of the range of accessible experiences. From the Great Barrier Reef to the rainforest, there’s always something accessible for us to do as a family. Cairns has a magnificent, levelled esplanade that is wheelchair accessible and has a beautiful view of the ocean and hills. There is also a great historic train ride from Smithsfield to Kuranda that fits a power wheelchair and the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway fits a manual wheelchair.
The Gold Coast offers a range of activities too. We visited the fully accessible art gallery HOTA, which has accessible toilets with a hoist. My husband and my son did tandem go carting and it was great as Braeden got to do something exhilarating with his dad.
The theme parks are good. Sea World offers a dolphin experience with a hoist and you can watch shows from your wheelchair. The park’s other accessibility features include a service so people don’t have to queue for an attraction. This is particularly suited to anyone accompanying someone with intellectual disability who finds it difficult to wait in a queue. Rides are not as accessible but walking around the theme parks is very enjoyable as well.
Overseas we have loved our travels within the USA. The Americans with Disability Act has paved the way for travellers with a disability to have an enjoyable holiday without barriers. There is good accessible infrastructure, and we find that people working in the tourism industry have a good level of understanding of what makes travel easier and more accessible for those with a disability and their families. I loved Fiji as well.
Could you please give us some tips about where else to visit in Australia covering accessible travel for adventure and leisure?
I would say that the Gold Coast ticks the box for accessibility for both adventure travellers and those who are looking for relaxing holiday. Skydiving and tandem go-karting are good for thrill-seekers and the beach wheelchairs provided at many Gold Coast beaches allow people the opportunity to relax.
For a leisurely time, the promenade walk from Burleigh Heads in Queensland all the way along the coastline is beautiful as well.
What is your favourite family holiday memory?
It’s tough to pick just one. It would be an equal tie between our first trip to Disneyland and our more recent travel to Fiji.
Disneyland was our first overseas trip as a family of 4 and it was truly wonderful. Sharing the rides and Disney’s magic was a great bonding experience for us all.
In Fiji, physical accessibility was not easy, but the inclusive attitude of the Fijian people was the best we’ve ever experienced. My son was able to go quad biking and do other activities he had never tried before because of their ‘can-do’ attitude. It was a holiday that we have never experienced before, a new, beautiful tropical destination with beautiful people.
Tell us about the worst place you’ve travelled, or where it was really challenging?
I research and plan so much we have not had a ‘worst’ experience. I make sure we will be able to access a good variety of activities before I book a holiday. I make the appropriate phone calls, emails, plan the days and activities.
There is nothing worse than investing a large sum of money in a trip to find out the destination is not PwD accessible.
My biggest tip is to put the time into research and planning to ensure the smoothest of travels. It does not always work out as you planned, but it generally does make travel more successful.
Start planning well in advance. Be aware that accessible cabins on ships often sell out a year in advance. Even hiring accessible vehicles can be a challenge if you do not book it early so before you book your flights, make sure you have an option to book your accessible vehicle.
Book your accommodation, tours, and activities early too so they are not booked out and inform the tour organisers about your condition to avoid last minute unpleasant surprises.
And when planning expensive local holidays and definitely overseas, organising travel insurance is a must.
Do you take a support worker with you, or do you have any experience with hiring support workers at the holiday destination?
We took a support worker with us on a holiday to Uluru and it was successful. She was someone we knew would be a good travel companion and helpful at our destination.
We’ve also hired a support worker at a destination, which was also successful. It allowed our son independence and gave my husband and I some time to relax.
What are your tips for traveling on a plane and which airline do you like to travel with?
We start by researching to make sure that a destination offers enough accessible activities that will please the whole family. We like to make sure everything is available at our destination before booking our airfares. We then book our car hire, airfares, accommodation, and travel insurance.
When we travel by plane, we call the special handling department of the airline at the time of booking to give them the dimensions and details of our son’s wheelchair. We also request seating which we hope will work best for him.
At the airport, we talk to staff about what we need and how they can best assist us to ensure smooth travels for our son. At the aircraft door we remove our son’s wheelchair’s arm rests and cushion and take those onboard with us for safe keeping.
Communication is key at every step of the process, from booking to the day of travel.
We’ve had good experiences with many airlines including, Qantas, Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand.
Do you hire equipment when you travel such as power wheelchairs, accessible van, hoists, bathroom’s chair and so on? Is it easy or does it depend on the location?
No, we travel with the equipment our son needs and prefers. We haven’t hired any.
In Australia there are plenty of companies that hire equipment, but it does depend on the destination. For example, Tasmania does not have many converted accessible vehicles, so travellers need to book well in advance and check the availability of a vehicle before booking a holiday if it is essential for a successful trip.
What do you look for regarding accessible rooms? What happens if all the accessible rooms are book out?
We look for spacious accessible accommodation with an interconnecting room as we are a family of 4. We can make do if the accessible accommodation is booked out as our son doesn’t require full accessibility in a hotel room. We usually ask the hotel beforehand to send us images of the room and find out if it suits our needs.
Do you pay for these trips out of your own pocket, or do you have any tips about the use of NDIS funding?
We pay for our own travels. NDIS has paid for our support workers when we’ve used them.
Any tips with travel insurance for overseas travel for pwd?
It is always best to get an obligation free quote before booking travel to ensure you can get cover for any existing medical conditions and to also understand the costs involved.
Mentioning your condition and your specific needs before getting the quote is also very important.
It can be expensive and worth considering a different destination with similar attractions. For example, insurance is extremely expensive for some existing medical conditions for travel to the USA. Reading the fine print is also a must.
Also consider travel insurance for domestic trips that cost a fair bit of money. Having travel insurance was very beneficial for our family trip to Uluru. Our son got hospitalised and our flights needed to be rescheduled and thanks to the insurance, this all was covered.
Are there any international organisations that help pwd if travels don’t go according to the plan?
Not that I’m aware of. Smart Traveller is the go-to government website for assistance. Also, contacting your travel insurer is a good first step if things don’t go to according to plan. They can provide assistance and advice.
What happens if someone get sick on a trip, or the equipment breaks? Does all your family come home?
When my son was hospitalised in the Northern Territory, we all stayed. Our travel insurance covered the cost of our changed travel plans and we enjoyed our holidays at the end. We also carry with us a toolbox to be able to fix if something happens to my son’s wheelchair.
Other than your own, what travel blogs, Facebook or Insta pages do you view for inspiration and advice?
I follow some overseas travel blogs and Facebook pages for inspiration. My favourite is Curb Free with Cory Lee. He’s a US blogger.
Are there any open online communities and groups that share their travel accessible travel insights and where we can share ours?
Yes. The Accessible Travel Club is great for European travels. The Accessible Travel Forum in New Zealand is also good. I have several Australian Facebook groups including Accessible Sydney, Accessible Melbourne, and Accessible Brisbane.
Thank you, Julie, for your insight into traveling with pwd
You can follow Julie’s blog, helpful advice and travel adventures via https://havewheelchairwilltravel.net/ or subscribe to the beautiful magazine https://www.travelwithoutlimits.com.au/