Self-determined traveling with disabilities?!

What do people with disabilities experience when they plan their vacation? How well do they cope when they are traveling? And what exactly do they want? Questions upon questions. asked around.


Photo: Wheelchair user in a winery; Copyright: Timo Hermann

Vacation resorts become much more attractive for visitors if they are accessible; © Timo Hermann

Whether it’s within Europe or far away continents – there are many potential holiday destinations. On the many paths to see them, people with disabilities in particular have very different experiences, both positive and negative ones. Oftentimes, it all begins with vacation planning.

Searching and booking on your own? Not happening!

Special searches for wheelchair accessible rooms keep fading into the background or are completely done away with in large travel search engines. This is something that bothers Adina Hermann a lot: "Just like any other traveler, I would like to have a wide variety of choices and not be solely dependent on accessible travel niche providers. It is all well and good that they exist, but rather than special solutions, I personally prefer having search filters integrated into the large travel portals."

The newlywed wheelchair user also points out that a binding online reservation of wheelchair accessible rooms is still very time-consuming. "Even though I have my choice of double rooms, suites and similar rooms, in almost all cases, I have to contact the hotel staff to book wheelchair accessible rooms. This is very annoying, especially when emails are not being answered and communicating on the phone is difficult in a foreign language."

Things are also often tricky when it comes to appropriate means of transportation. Michel Arriens also agrees that it is still not possible to book online seat reservations for wheelchairs for instance. The short young man loves to travel a lot and primarily gets around on three wheels in everyday life. "Numerous times, my scooter was not brought to the flight gate."

Battered wheelchairs

During their numerous travels, Timo and Adina Hermann also experienced that getting to the destination is often already quite complicated. "One of the highlights was without a doubt the denied entry into the Eurocity train to Prague, which marked the start of many clarifying discussions with the German Federal Railway," says Timo Hermann. "Also disheartening was the fact that we landed in Sardinia and Adina’s wheelchair was delivered with completely flat tires. We suspect that customs was interested in the tire contents, since I had recently filled them with tire foam."
Photo: Adina Hermann at the beach in her wheelchair; Copyright: Timo Hermann

Adina Hermann does not let possible obstacles take away her vacation fun; © Timo Hermann

Adina Hermann‘s current wheelchair actually didn’t survive the flight to their honeymoon on Corsica: "Apparently, it learned how to fly on its own and arrived completely distorted and battered from the cargo bay. On the return flight, the airline tried to seat us apart from each other, which was entirely impossible because of medical reasons. The flight crew managed this terribly, which prompted long discussions."

Both consider such incidents to be annoying, but they also point out that each situation could so far be resolved and didn’t ruin their vacation in the long term. What’s more, these experiences built the foundation for Hermanns‘ project titled Here he tries to process what happened and makes the information available to all people with mobility impairments in the form of guidebooks.

Helpfulness on location increases mobility

Even as a child, Michel Arriens travelled extensively. This has contributed a lot to his desire to travel today. "The difference to today’s vacations is that I could always rely on help from my average height parents if needed. When I started to travel on my own when I was about 20, I was initially very afraid of traveling more than 50 kilometers away from my parents. I was far too worried about being helpless in case of a flat tire or making the wrong decisions."
Photo: Michel Arriens with his parents and his girlfriend; Copyright: private

"My parents always had the travel bug, so that I could see a lot of the world even as a child", says Michel Arriens. Today, he still tries to keep up to this lifestyle; © private

Yet he quickly overcame these initial difficulties, which was followed by the first big trips with his girlfriend, who is also short. All of the commissioned travel agencies tried very hard to find accessible accommodations and prepare the flights by making countless phone calls and writing emails. "We experienced tremendous amounts of hospitality, charity and helpfulness no matter where we traveled," Arriens remembers. "One well intentioned ramp on the Cala Gat beach in Mallorca was far too steep for me. Four strong guests immediately and independently jumped up and pushed me up the small path towards the street."
Photo: Adina and Timo Hermann with a glass of wine; Copyright: Timo Hermann

Timo and Adina Hermann have traveled a lot since they became a couple eight years ago. They were honeymooning on Corsica; © Timo Hermann

Adina Hermann is also able to attest to a high level of helpfulness; for instance, when she docked in England with a ship and the axle of her wheelchair broke during a short excursion. "I sat in a completely broken, collapsed wheelchair and the side guards pressed into my ribs. We only made it back onto the ship because a friendly English bus driver, who had watched us from afar, suddenly came over and helped us. Even though he unfortunately didn’t have any tools with him, he bravely used whatever he had and got started. So he tightly wrapped a garbage bag around my wheelchair axle to where it reasonable held together. At least for a few hundred meters."

A nice older gentleman at the car rental service in Mallorca also fixed her flat tire free of charge when she asked for directions to a medical supply store.

Working together for accessible travel

All of these events have made Adina Hermann more relaxed during travel: "Even if the wheelchair breaks down, it ultimately still works as a funny travel anecdote." Yet she and her husband still have clear wishes for the travel industry. "A study commissioned by the EU revealed that people with disabilities and older travelers in the EU on average spend more than 780 million Euros each year for travel," says Timo Hermann. "This is why I expect the travel industry to finally recognize this enormous market segment and respond accordingly."

Even though Michel Arriens already sees initial careful steps in this direction and a general willingness to do something, he nevertheless also points out that many of the still existing barriers should actually no longer exist today. "I want the travel industry to enter into a dialog with people with disabilities, parents with strollers, older people and other potential target groups. After all, together we can remove barriers and eliminate uncertainties before they develop."
Photo: Michel Arriens, alone and with his girlfriend; Copyright: private

"My travel destinations are so varied and colorful like choosing my socks every morning. Sometimes I love bathing in the bright lights of the megacities around the world. And in the next moment I wish to be sweating in a Finnish sauna in Norway." - Michel Arriens; © private

Photo: Nadine Lormis; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

Nadine Lormis
(translated by Elena O'Meara)