Budapest. A Saturday in June. Two Hungarian ticket inspectors have already been trying for almost ten minutes to lower the platform on which I am stuck with my wheelchair in the hope of getting off the train. In desperation, they open Youtube to find a video explaining how to operate the bloody lift… And apparently, you can really find anything on Youtube, even demonstrations of how to use a wheelchair lift on this ageing model of Hungarian train, because a few minutes later, here I am again, safe and sound, on the firm tarmac of the station platform.
That day, I think we reached a summit! It may not be as extravagant every time, but travelling in a wheelchair is always a challenge and can sometimes turn into an obstacle course, despite a good preparation beforehand. It’s at times like these that you really appreciate what’s accessible and what’s not. When I am sitting behind my desk, whether I am in a wheelchair or not doesn’t really make much difference… But when travelling, the wheelchair makes all the difference.
Booking your trip (without forgetting the wheelchair service)
It all starts at booking time. No matter whether you are travelling by train or by plane, you need to book a wheelchair assistance service, which is free and very convenient, but which also needs to be booked at least 48 hours in advance (which is tricky in case of emergency…) and which actually, you would not need if trains and planes were wheelchair accessible. As far as trains are concerned, I’m hopeful, having already seen some trains in Austria, where this was the case. For planes however, the assistance service will certainly not be superfluous soon, given that they take the wheelchair down from the plane onto the tarmac, so that it can then be put into the hold… Who knows, maybe one day, we’ll be able to take a plane like we do a train, sitting in our wheelchair. Even if you can also sit in a seat on the train. Definitely more pleasant for a longer journey.
Booking an (ideally accessible) accommodation
Going on holiday also means finding an accessible accommodation. Sometimes more complicated than you’d think.
Accommodation search websites don’t always have the appropriate criteria. While Booking.com has had the subtlety to define general criteria such as “lift” and “accommodation on the ground floor”, Airbnb’s criteria are very (too) specific (width of doors, seat in the shower), forgetting the most basic ones such as “lift”. After all, what’s the point of having a fully accessible interior if it’s on the third floor and there’s no lift?
It’s just as important for the website criteria to then be properly selected by the owners of the accommodation. Back to Budapest: the hotel that was supposedly wheelchair accessible – and I had taken the trouble to check beforehand that this was in fact the case – had 5-6 steps at the entrance before reaching a lift which, that day, unluckily, wasn’t working. Even if the elevator had worked, 5-6 steps and a wheelchair just do not work. I’m lucky enough to be able to get out of my wheelchair and walk a bit, but generally, that’s not the case for all wheelchair users.
At this planning stage, a few months or a few weeks before you leave, you tell yourself that it will be fine (or at least mostly fine), because you’ve planned everything. You’ve even checked which museums are accessible, how you’ll get there, whether public transport is accessible, and so on. But as we all know, that’s not always enough…
If you want to support and promote this blog, do not hesitate to buy one of my books: Un bac sous perfusion (available in paper format and as an e-book) or Wheelchair hop on hop off (also available in paper format and as an e-book).