Planes and Boats and the search for winter sun

I’ve just returned from a lovely break in the Carribean. Winter in the UK or somewhere nice and warm? Not a difficult decision! Two weeks cruising on a luxury liner being spoilt rotten sounds like a good idea. Well like everything there is another side.

First you have to get to the Carribean. This usually involves a long haul flight of around eight hours on an aircraft that lacks accessible toilets. One of the fundamental rules of flying long distances is to drink plenty of water. Not advisable if you can’t visit the bathroom. Our flight out to Barbados was nine and half hour long, the seats lacked and any form of adjustment and were extremely uncomfortable. Once we landed I had to wait an hour to be off-loaded from the plane. We were then taken straight to the ship, bypassing customs and the airport terminal toilets; the journey lasted another forty-five minutes. Embarkation took around half an hour, so I went eleven and three quarter hours without using the loo! Much self-control and crossing of legs is the name of the game

Cruise liners are brilliant from an access point of view, and P&O’s ship the Azura is no exception. She has spacious wheelchair accessible cabins with roll in showers,  lift access to all decks, swimming pool hoists making swimming possible for the most severely disabled passenger.

Picture of cruise ships berthed in the Dominican Republic
Cruise ships berthed in the Dominican Republic

The trouble begins when you go ashore. Our ship was able to berth in all the places we visited, so there was no need to use tender boats. To appreciate the Caribbean islands you need to venture inland, unfortunately, very few tour buses are wheelchair accessible. The result is that mobility impaired people are forced to stay close to the port to while away their time in endless identical shopping malls. P & O do provide a list of available tours but on our cruise, the accessible buses that were available only had one wheelchair space. I saw, at least, a dozen wheelchair users so this provision was wholly inadequate. In one location they had provided a shuttle bus to get passengers from the ship to the town. Unfortunately, those people using wheelchairs, but who could walk a little, were refused access because there was nowhere to store the wheelchair. It seemed a little ironic that the very people the shuttle was designed to help were excluded from using it.

I do understand some of the places we visited do not have the resources to provide the kind of accessibility we have come to expect in the UK but what I find puzzling is why P & O won’t do more to cater for the increasing number of mobility impaired passengers. The last straw was we

Sign in St Maarten advertising accessible tours
Sign in St Maarten advertising accessible tours

left the ship in St Maarten to see a kiosk a hundred yards from the port entrance advertising wheelchair accessible tours.

Many disabled people find cruising one of the best ways of taking a holiday, it is possible to see places that you might not otherwise be able to visit. I’d be interested to hear about your experiences so please send me your comments and I will do my best to see they are passed on.

To end on a more positive note the sun shone beautifully, my tan has improved, my waistline has expanded as a result of the food being plentiful and excellent, and we met some fascinating people.

Here are some links to this week’s other news. I hope you find them of interest.

Government agrees four more years of ILF transition cash for councils

Maximus ‘has falsified results of fitness for work tests’, says MP

Anger at Osborne’s working-age benefits freeze

Police duo jailed over failure to protect disabled murder victim

News provided by John Pring at

www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 

One Door Closes and Another One Opens!

It now seems quite a while since Sue and I were sailing round the Norwegian fjords living in the lap of luxury. I have to say it was an extraordinary trip. I’m usually very sceptical about how accessible things are when people tell me that they are very accessible! I could not find fault with the ship (Ventura) and everywhere that non-disabled people went I was able to go to. (Sounds a bit like the nursery rhyme involving Mary!) During our voyage we spent four days in various ports along the coast of Norway notably Bergen and Stavanger and two ports inside the fjords themselves. All except one of these was fully accessible. On this occasion the ship had to anchor in the middle of the fjord and passengers were taken by tender boat from ship to shore. It was not possible for wheelchair users who cannot transfer from their wheelchair to the boats to go ashore at this destination. We knew this was going to happen as it was clearly stated in the accessibility instructions which were sent to us before we sailed. We were therefore able to enjoy a day on board doing a variety of other things while at shipmates went on seven-hour coach trips which by all accounts were very beautiful but very tiring. The accessibility of the vehicles that were used to take people on excursions did present some difficulties a number of them could accommodate wheelchair users but given the number of disabled passengers the great British queue was much in evidence! I’m sure that over time this will improve.

It was great to see so many visibly disabled people on the trip. I stopped counting when I got to 30 wheelchair users and I saw at least nine sight impaired people with white canes. In my experience it is extremely rare to have to queue behind numbers of wheelchair users in order to get a table in a restaurant! The only other times when I’ve come across this has been when I’ve been living in an institution or waiting for an accessible vehicle! Clearly P&O have got something right. It was also good to see so many younger families on board; given the variety of entertainment available this was clearly no accident. There were a large number of older people on board but it does seem to be something of a myth that cruises are the preserve of older people. As you have probably gathered this trip was a huge success for both of us so when the brochure came out announcing P&O’s world cruises Sue and I did not resist and promptly booked a trip from January to March 2011. All we’ve got to do now is save the money to pay for it.

Well the 31st July 2009 will be a momentous day for Simon and me. This is the day that the Minty & Friend Ltd closes its doors for the last time. As many people know this has largely come about because of our mutual desire to develop our interests in different directions. It has been a tremendous 10 years and we have done some pretty amazing things together. I’d like to think that we have contributed a number of innovative ideas to help drive the agenda of disability equality forward. I guess most notably concepts like Dining with a Difference, Acting on Disability, Abnormally Funny People, the Reasonable Adjustments Assessment Service they are all projects which Simon and I have both thoroughly enjoyed and are very proud to have been involved with.

It will also be very sad not have quite the same level of contact with those of you who have been on the journey with us. We both intend to stay in touch and any work that comes our way which would be more appropriately done by one of you we will of course pass in your direction. If you have projects which you think Simon or I might be able to help you with we’d be delighted to explore this with you.

So you soon

Phil