We were delighted to be featured in the Sunday Times Travel supplement on 12 January 2020 in a list of “Ten of the best accessible holidays”. Being part of this article on accessible travel helps us get the word out far and wide about our transformative adventures.
You can read the full text only transcript below. The original article on the Times website is available behind a pay wall.
Ten of the best accessible holidays
By: Sean Newsom, published in the Sunday Times
From cruising the Norwegian fjords to skiing in France, the world of accessible travel is changing fast, thanks to a number of intrepid pioneers.
Robbie Crow knows exactly how transformative accessible travel can be. The 28-year-old charity worker was born with two rare conditions, microphthalmia and coloboma, and has been registered as blind since birth. But that didn’t stop him boarding a yacht when he was 14, courtesy of Ocean Youth Trust Scotland, and learning how to sail.
“I’d been told from an early age that my life would be constrained — that I’d never drive and never go mountain-biking,” he recalls. “But on that boat I realised sailing is not so much about seeing. It’s about feeling: what the wind is doing, how the ship is moving, the state of the waves. And I realised I could be as good at it — if not better — than a sighted person.”
Now, aged 28, he’s a regular on board the purpose-built tall ships of the Jubilee Sailing Trust, Tenacious and Lord Nelson. The trust’s aim is to give teams of mixed-ability sailors the chance to discover their potential at sea — and one of Robbie’s talents is helming. With the help of a talking compass and a spotter (who watches for other boats), he guides the three-masted ships across the open sea.
When he’s not at the helm, he’s climbing the rigging. “When the topsail blows in a force 7 or force 8 wind, I’ll be one of the madmen who goes up and brings it under control.” he says. “Sailing feels like freedom.”
Robbie is part of a new wave of disabled travellers who are testing the limits of what’s possible when it comes to exploring the world. Some are daring themselves to try ever more extraordinary experiences, including the tetraplegic paraglider Jezza Williams. The subject of a bittersweet and beautiful short film, Limitless (available on YouTube), he’s also the founder of traxtravel.co.nz, which aims to make adventure travel in New Zealand accessible to everyone — whether it’s tandem skydiving, white-water rafting or whale-watching.
Others are busy mapping out the world according to their needs. In 2013, Euan MacDonald — who has motor neurone disease — founded euansguide.com, with the simple aim of helping disabled people “find great places to go”. It now hosts more than 7,000 reviews of venues in the UK and beyond, from Edinburgh Castle to Disneyland Paris. Every entry is written by a disabled traveller (or a carer) who has visited the venue, so readers get an honest picture of how accessible facilities work in practice. How easy is it to park nearby, for example? Crucially, each review is clear about its target audience, whether they’re users of wheelchairs, powerchairs, walking aids or symbol canes.
With this sense of adventure comes a more assertive spirit. Travellers in wheelchairs, for example, are now calling out airlines if they are left stranded on a flight because their prebooked assistance doesn’t materialise. Meanwhile, schemes such as the Blue Badge Access Awards, launched last year, are encouraging hotels, bars and restaurants to up their game when it comes to the design of accessible facilities (bluebadgeaccessawards.com).
There is, of course, a long way to go. Designers of many accessible toilets still don’t seem to understand that their disabled users are not all challenged in the same way. For many, flying remains a stressful experience, too, especially if they face more complex disabilities.
London barrister Marcia Shekerdemian QC has been travelling for many years with her son, Leo, who has cerebral palsy. For them, moving about inside a plane is difficult. “The aisle chairs are fine if you’ve got trunk support,” she says of the small wheelchairs designed to get disabled passengers up and down the cabin. “But my son doesn’t have trunk support — it takes three or four people to make sure he doesn’t fall out of the chair.”
There is, however, no doubt that the opportunities and facilities are improving. Specialist tour operators such as Enable Holidays are offering expert advice and itineraries tailored to a range of disabilities.
More widely, there’s been a change in attitudes — one that Marcia has been struck by on British Airways flights. “Now nobody balks at helping me to lift Leo into his seat,” she says. No wonder, given recent estimates that the “purple pound” contributes £12bn to the tourist industry in the UK alone.
For the travellers themselves, the rewards are considerable. “As a person with a disability, aeroplanes, trains and even taxis can be challenging,” Leo says. “But going to places I’ve never been gives me so much to look forward to.”
Helmsman Robbie is equally enthused by what he has learnt. “Sailing has taught me to take life’s challenges as they come,” he says. “When the wind turns into a gale, you have to think on your feet and solve immediate problems, rather than the ones you anticipated. It’s an invaluable lesson.”
And here’s what they wrote about our upcoming voyages in Antigue – please note we are aware the cost isn’t accurate, we currently have berths at £995pp:
Sailing from Antigua
With the Jubilee Sailing Trust, it doesn’t really matter where you sail. For most of its crews, it’s the personal discoveries that count, as they learn to helm a 200ft ship or hoist themselves onto the crosstrees, halfway up a mast. That said, its island-hopping Antiguan itineraries have a special allure — thanks in large part to the delicious balm of a Caribbean breeze when it’s winter back home. In February, it has two 11-day voyages planned on the fully adapted Tenacious, exploring the islands to the north and south. Both cost £2,200pp, full-board, excluding flights. First-time sailors with a wide range of disabilities are welcome (jst.org.uk).