Monthly Archives: August 2013

ABTA pledges to boost disability awareness

“The Association of British Travel Agents, ABTA, looks forward to working together with Reduced Mobility Rights to increase disability awareness in the Travel industry.

ABTA and Reduced Mobility Rights management met in London on Thursday to discuss concerns raised by a recent research into availability of information for passengers with special needs on travel agents websites.”

Full story here.

Link to the Travel Agent Website Gold Standard

Er, maybe the airlines should make sure they can keep the WCHC designation in their system first ….


Thanks to Reduced Mobility Rights for the information.

Wheelchair Travel: Budapest

Budapest I

In 2005, Helen and I and our designated travelling companion, Jo, aka, Joanna, aka Jobi, aka Jobianna, found ourselves with a three day weekend and money available for a trip but with no specific designation in mind.

Somehow Budapest, Hungary came up, and off we went.

We took a budget airline, and all went well, and we took a taxi to our hotel, the Kempinski, a five-star establishment, beautifully located close to the river and next to a little square of lawn, trees and fountains called the “Ersebet ter”.  I usually try to learn at least the basics of the language (“Sorry”, “Thank you”, “Please” etc) when we travel to non English-speaking countries, but when I tried to thank the cab driver in Hungarian he just laughed at me.

Note to anyone going to Hungary, don’t even try to speak Hungarian unless you’ve studied it (or possibly unless you speak Finnish, as the two are closely related).  It’s a very difficult language to learn, but there is no need, as everyone we dealt with during the entire trip spoke fluent English.

One of the first things we learned is that Budapest is actually two cities that merged. The hilly Buda is on the west side of the Danube, overlooking the more populous Pest across the river on the east.

The hotel was properly accessible, with a roll-in shower complete with shower bench, but our room felt hot and stuffy. We couldn’t get the heat turned down, and when we tried to open the window there was an anti-suicide safety catch that prevented us from opening it any wider than a couple of inches. We called the front desk and they sent the maintenance guy up, and he unscrewed the catch and opened the window.

And then he just stood there in our room.

It took us a couple of minutes to realize that he wasn’t going to leave the room with the window open, so we reluctantly asked him to close it back up and he sealed us in and left.

It was misty outside when we went out to eat, and it felt magical and very atmospheric, with a halo around each of the street lights.

We found an accessible restaurant (“Muveszina’s”. Can be found on Google maps)) on the northeast corner across the square in front of our hotel, but the waiter told us they wouldn’t have a table for us for an hour or so. This seemed like a good opportunity for us to go find somewhere to have a drink.

We walked along the very pleasant Andrassy Street (wide, smooth, tree-lined sidewalks) looking for a place to have a drink while we waited, and we passed a lot of bars and restaurants that had steps, with no ramps apparent.

I have to apologize for this next bit, because upon recent research I have discovered that this establishment no longer exists.

We did finally find a bar (“The Wall Street”) that looked inviting, even though it had a 6-inch step at the door. By then we were thirsty and didn’t feel like wandering around anymore so with a boost from Helen we were in.

It was lovely, with high ceilings, wood furniture, a four-page drinks menu, attentive wait-staff and a very accomplished bartender.

It was relaxing and nice, and I am saddened to know that it no longer exists, even if we never make it back to Budapest.

Our dinner at Muveszina’s was very good, if a little salty.

The next day we discovered that through sheer dumb luck, our schedule meant that our first full day in Budapest happened to be their National Memory day, (October 23), when the Hungarians observe the anniversary of the 1956 uprising which was subsequently crushed by the Soviets. The city was relatively quiet, with entire streets blocked off and displays of 1950’s era military hardware parked around the square by the river, and a band in period costume playing rebel songs from the back of a flatbed truck.

We walked and rolled a short distance to the famous Chain Bridge; a beautiful suspension bridge with two big granite lions on either end that spans the Danube. The bridge was closed to motor traffic for the day and there were autumn leaves and rose petals scattered on the tarmac among some candles that gave a soft glow in the misty air.

The bridge is accessible and easily crossed for wheelchairs, and there is a spectacular view of the parliament from halfway across the river if you take the pavement/sidewalk on the north side.

There is a traffic circle/roundabout on the Buda side of the river when you get off the bridge, and this too was closed off to traffic and people were milling around eating sausages and bread and pretzels from the stands that had been set up. We walked through the big tunnel (about 50 meters) that leads into the city, and where there would normally have been two lanes of cars whizzing through, there were instead displays commemorating the uprising, with photos and text. I don’t read Hungarian any better than I speak it, so without any English translations we had to find the context ourselves. It was pretty self-explanatory, and I felt privileged to be there on such an important day for the Hungarians.

When we came out of the other side of the tunnel there was a 1950s era green army vehicle parked in the road blocking the tunnel serving as both an impromptu roadblock and a piece of playground to the half dozen kids clambering over it. There were trees lining the road, and the buildings were scenic and old, but the sidewalk looked rough and the curb was unramped so we turned around and walked back through the tunnel. The sidewalk/pavement on the right hand side of the tunnel if the Chain Bridge is behind you is wide and smooth and easy to traverse in a wheelchair.

We had dinner at a restaurant complete with gypsy violinist, and again, the food was just slightly oversalted.

Our breakfast the next day was slightly oversalted as well. As a matter of fact, every single meal we had in Budapest was just slightly oversalted. Not terribly so; definitely not enough to complain to the staff, and it’s a minor complaint overall, but the cumulative effect was noticeable and by the time we left Budapest all three of us were feeling somewhat parched.

After our too-salty breakfast we walked back over through the now busy streets and across the Chain Bridge again. It was open to motor vehicles, and the change in atmosphere from the day before was incredible, with clouds of blue exhaust filling the air and hundreds of little cars racketing by.

The roundabout was a bit more of a challenge with little cars zooming around it, but the crosswalks are signalled and ramped, so it was doable.

There is a “Funicular” (a tram that runs up a steep hill) with a terminus just past and to the left of the traffic circle thatr carries passengers up to the top of the steep hill, where the Buda Palace is. It is fully wheelchair accessible, and so we rode it up. I recommend this journey for the views, even though the square at the top of the hill is very roughly cobbled.

We headed north from the square up a cobbled road and found a café serving coffee and beer with outdoor seating. There are quite a few of these establishments in the area, and if the weather is good and one can handle the cobblestones, it’s a nice way to spend an hour or so soaking up the atmosphere. The narrow cobbled streets and old buildings of Buda have a calmer, almost medieval feel to them, compared to the more imposing architecture of Pest.

From the café we progressed further north to the Fisherman’s Bastion, which is a beautiful fortress of sorts made of white stone, with turrets and spires and an amazing view of the river and Pest. Most of it is easily accessed in a chair, although, again, the road getting up to it is cobbled. There is a slight incline upwards as one travels north from the Palace Square, but it’s not steep enough to be a problem. There is a huge white church with a very tall steeple in the square by the Bastion, but there was a long line of people waiting to get in neither Helen nor Jo nor I are big fans of churches, so we didn’t bother.

We walked on beyond the Fisherman’s Bastion to the Vienna gate, and at this point I made a mistake which caused a slight problem. Jo and Helen wanted to find a cab, but I don’t like making transfers out of my chair unless I absolutely have to and I didn’t think we absolutely had to take a cab. I though we could just as easily continue on through the gate and go down and around to get back to the Chain Bridge. This was a big mistake, and if you are in a wheelchair, do not do this.

Take my word for it.

We made it, but the road was dangerously steep without solid shoulders, and with the cars flashing past me just inches away I felt very unsafe. It would have been more dangerous and difficult to turn around and go back however, once we realized how steep the road was, so we continued on and made it back, but it got a little tense for a bit.

I am sorry that I cannot give more details regarding the meals we had, but all of the restaurants that we patronized have either gone out of business or relocated.

On our last day, Helen and Jo wanted us all to take a cruise on the river. There are dozens of tour operators offering what sounded like spectacular cruises up the Danube, but none of them were accessible for wheelchairs. It was pointless. We must have checked over a dozen before I gave up. Helen and I decided to go drown our disappointment drinking beer and writing postcards in the public square at the top of Vaci Street (a pedestrianized road lined with shops). It was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon.

Overall, we enjoyed Budapest very much, and although we didn’t see everything (there is a large “People’s Park” that sounded interesting), we did absorb much of the atmosphere, and it felt as though a spending  a long weekend was as much time as was needed to feel fulfilled.

Our cab ride back to the airport was a little more adventurous than we had expected.

See the video here (30 seconds long).

In closing, I would definitely recommend Budapest as a holiday destination for wheelchair travellers, especially if one’s schedule is compatible with being in the city on October 23rd  ( check the dates to be sure).

Wheel New York Kickstarter project

Just noticed this Kickstarter project to create a website and mobile app that will allow the disabled and elderly to safely navigate and enjoy New York City…

Part of the spiel reads “currently there is no centralized place for them to get all the accessibility information they need to safely navigate and enjoy the city.”

Understandable if this were a little town somewhere in the Cotswolds but this is NEW YORK!  It beggars belief that so many big cities do not have this information.

Good luck to everyone involved in the project.

Travel insurance for the disabled

Very professional and surprisingly affordable – only £180 for two people worldwide for the year, with full disclosure of all medical conditions.



UN Enable

UN Enable

The official website of the Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities



Underwater wheelchair

“Although both scuba gear and wheelchairs extend people’s range of activity, Sue Austin says one accoutrement is associated with excitement and adventure, while the other garners a completely different response. In order to challenge misconceptions about disability, Austin — who has been in a wheelchair for the past 16 years — set out to create live, underwater performances that would promote positive, empowering images of people in wheelchairs. Watch the mesmerizing video above and it could challenge your perception of disabilities, both by land and sea.”

Wheelchair Travel: Iceland




Best place for a party:





Wheelchair Travel: Italy


Wonderful assistance from Elodie Vivier at Accessible Italy for our trip in 2010 including drivers to take us to and from airports and train stations.

Tour organizer:  Accessible Italy (Regency San Marino, Via C. Manetti, 3-47891 Dogana, Repubblica di San Marino, Tel: +378 549 941108


Venice:  Hotel Residenza Parisi, Santa Croce 548, 30100 Venezia

Tel:  0039 41 520 6955

Florence: Hotel Azzi – Locanda degli Artisti, Via Faenza 56/88r – 50123 Firenze

Tel: 0039 055 213806

Rome: Hotel Lancelot, Via Capo d’Africa 47, 00184, Rome

Tel: 0039 067 045 0615


Wheelchair Travel: Istanbul


We were initially nervous about visiting Istanbul – with stern warnings from friends about how hilly it is – but with a few caveats, we would definitely recommend it to other wheelchair users.


Holiday Inn

The room was a bit shabby but spacious and well set up for a wheelchair.  Generally a nice hotel with a pool and covered outdoor space to lounge around. Excellent staff – very helpful in sorting out the problems we had (such as out fridge was not working).  Paid approx. 100 euros per night.

It was perfectly situated very near to the tram stop (Pazartekke) which is fully accessible.   This will take you straight down to the fun places around Sultanhmet.  3TL (in 2012) for a jeton for the trip but wheelchair users travel for free.  The last train leaves Sultanhmet at about 12.15 (ish).  If the carriage is packed, it is worth waiting for another train.

We made the mistake of going down a hill at the back the Grand Bazaar (north down to the waterfront) which was dangerously steep, jammed with traffic and with very poorly maintained road and sidewalk surfaces.  Resolved to move around on the tram system rather than try to roll everywhere.

Extremely friendly and polite people – very willing to help out. Some in fact would not take ‘no’ for an answer….

Favourite bits:

  • Best restaurant by a mile: Anatolia  Very friendly hosts and fantastic food.  Plus cats!
  • Beers on the Galata Bridge (west side) late afternoon – listening to the call to prayer as the sun sets (be careful of the fish hooks being slung over the side of the bridge from above though).
  • German Fountain – smooth and no traffic.  Touristy but a nice relaxing area near the Blue Mosque.
  • The food is superb. Especially the Imam Bayildi!
  • Hagia Sophia area and Topkapi Palace grounds are beautiful and quite accessible.  Nice loos too.

The Probably Won’t Bother Again bits:

  • Area around Taksim Square. A few nice side streets without outdoor cafés but quite steep and very touristy.
  • Blue Mosque (although the courtyard is stunning).

Other notes

  • Cab from the airport was 40TL.
  • Thank you in Turkish: “teşekkür ederim”.
  • Essential to have a map and a phrase book.
  • The hotel had an English plug socket and a 2 pin European socket.
  • The wifi was not great in the hotel.
  • We found a place that sold Angora red wine on Büyük Postane (16.50 TL – as opposed to 65TL at the hotel) – near the Spice Bazaar.
  • The Efes beer is a very acceptable lager. Obviously not everywhere sells booze  and there were some parts of the city where it was impossible to find a bar.Travel11

I Was Only Trying To Help You, You Jerk!

I Was Only Trying To Help You, You Jerk!


As of this writing I have been in a wheelchair for twenty-seven years. During that time I have been offered assistance of various kinds from kind strangers, but I have in most cases politely declined their help. My philosophy is that if I let everyone help me do everything, I won’t learn how to do anything on my own. I would have to depend on other people to do things for me.  Sometimes it takes a lot of struggle on my part to learn how to do something from my wheelchair, but if I keep at it and don’t let anyone do it for me, then I have gained yet another ability, and that has enormous benefit for my practical as well as my emotional existence.

There is a certain belligerence to this idea, but it has served me well over the years since I first paralysed myself, and instead of being a helpless cripple being pushed around in my wheelchair with a pitiful look on my face, I am self-propelled,  fairly self-sufficient, and very active, even if I don’t always look as though I am having a really good time.

I live. Just like you. That’s me

There have been a few cases where I have been offered help by able-bodied people because I am in a wheelchair, and when I have politely declined, the person offering me assistance has actually taken offence and gotten angry with me. And when they do, this sort of person feels compelled to express this anger.

This has happened on more than one occasion. Most common is the helpful driver of a car, who sees me waiting at the corner so that I can cross the street. I don’t mind waiting to cross the street anymore than anyone else, and unless there is a big line of cars behind them it’s no problem for me to wait for one of these helpful drivers to go past. In fact, if they are the only car, it’s actually kind of silly for them to stop to let me cross when all that they would have to do would be to continue on so that I could cross in one or two seconds behind them. Some of these helpful drivers do not agree with this idea.

Here’s what happens…I am waiting at the corner. A car comes along, and I wait for him to pass (it’s always a dude that does this). He stops and waits for me to cross. There are no cars behind him. All he has to do is drive past and I am good to go. Instead, he waits for me to take advantage of his generosity. When this happens, I studiously look the other way so that I don’t have to acknowledge or respond to him trying to wave me across. I don’t need or want this “favor”. I have found that if I look the other way that usually they’ll decide that maybe I am not waiting to cross the street and am in fact waiting for something else and they will drive off.

It’s not that I am trying to be rude, it’s just that I don’t like crossing the street in front of a car unless I have to. If I take advantage of this helpful person’s generosity, then that means that I have to cross the street while he waits for me to do so, and the fact that this dude is sitting there waiting puts all kinds of pressure on me.

Come on, man, I am only trying to go to the store. Just go past and I can go.

This seems to anger some of these guys, and I have had them start honking their horn at me. As if to say, “Come on, accept my favor, asshole!” When I have been honked at,  it annoys me and I have on those occasions asked the guy, “What, you’re HONKING at me?”

At which point they have screeched off, yelling out the window, “I was just trying to help you, you jerk!

I try not to let it bug me, but it does. If you are an able-bodied person, imagine how you would feel if someone acted like that toward you. I think it would bother most people to have some stranger in a car bossing them across the street, and then getting a big attitude about it if they didn’t comply.

That’s the exception rather than the rule, however, and most people graciously accept it when I politely decline their assistance, with a “No thank you, I’ve got it”, and even when I get honked at it’s only slightly annoying.

But then I had a little encounter with a guy at the supermarket the other day that went way past “annoying” on the dial.

Here’s what happened…

I had done my daily shop (I can carry a lot in my rucksack and a Primark bag that I hang off the back of my chair, but I still find that I need to make a store run on a daily basis), and I was using the self-checkout till. I almost always do this instead of using the manned tills. I know that this jeopardizes the jobs of the people who man the manned tills, but here in the UK, the supermarkets don’t employ baggers as they do in the US, which means that the customer is expected to bag their own groceries as fast as the checker can check them.

This is really stressful for me, since I need to pack my bags a certain way so that I am not loaded too heavy in the front (rucksack) or the back (Primark bag) which would create a condition of unbalance, which can be dangerous in a wheelchair. It’s hard to keep up with the boop-boop-boop of the checker, and most times they’re done checking my groceries while I am still frantically trying to bag everything. So I have to pay the checker and finish bagging while the next customer behind me is standing there with all of their groceries on the belt, waiting for me to hurry up and get out of the way.

It puts a lot of pressure on me. Like I said about the car thing, I get stressed when people are waiting for me to do something. So I use the self check, where even if there is a queue/line of people waiting for the next available self-check till, at least they’re not waiting for my till, or for me specifically.

On the day in question, I had about a dozen items, and I’d rung then up and was about to swipe my loyalty card in the card reader when I noticed some motion close to me by my right shoulder. I looked over, and the first thing I saw was a muscular, tattooed arm putting my groceries into one of the bags on the little bag hanger that they have on all of the self tills. In other words a stranger was bagging my groceries.

I turned and told him, “No thanks, mate. I got it.”
I expected him to stop but I was wrong. Mr Helpful with the muscular tattooed arms kept bagging my groceries. At this point I stopped trying to swipe my loyalty card and turned in my chair to face this guy. I told him, “No, seriously man…I GOT it.”

He stopped, held up his hands as if to say, “Ok”, but what came out of his mouth was, “You don’t have to be a jerk about it!” and he walked back over to where his wife was waiting with their baby in a pram at the manned-till and got in the queue behind her.

I was a little annoyed at this point, but then I heard him say to his wife in a loud voice, “What a fucking jerk!”

That annoyed me a lot. I turned in my wheelchair to face this guy so that I could address the problem he seemed to be having with me, and I got a good look him. He was a short man in his early thirties, maybe 5’6” with spiky hair, wearing a t-shirt, shorts and full sleeves (tattoos) on both arms. He looked “scrappy”, and in fact if I saw him in a bar, I would do my drinking at the other end of the room. I have done enough drinking in bars with enough different types of people to be familiar with his type, and unless one wants to get into a scrap, his type is best avoided in the pubs. He’s the kind of guy I would call a “walking fight”.

This is a somewhat abbreviated version of our exchange:
Me:  “Excuse me?”
Him: “I was just trying to help you, you jerk!”
Me: “What, because I’m in a wheelchair I look like I need help? You feel sorry for me?”
Him: “NO.”
Me: “Then why did you do it? What made you think I need help?”

At this point his wife, a little brunette, also in her early thirties stepped into the conversation.

Her: “He was just trying to be nice!

Now I know better than to address a man’s wife or girlfriend when they feel compelled to get involved in an argument between myself and their husband or boyfriend, because if I do, from that point on it becomes a case of me arguing with the man’s girlfriend or wife, and suddenly chivalry kicks in. It “complicates” things and the argument can very quickly escalate into a physical fight at that point. Wheelchair or no, I was pretty sure that if I got into it with Mr. Scrappy’s wife, he would lose control and swiping my loyalty card would definitely not be the next thing that happened to me.

He’d been standing behind his wife up to that point, but as soon as she got involved he stepped back out of line and got up on the balls of his feet and told me, “Yeah man, you didn’t have to be rude about it!”

I avoided looking at Ms. Scrappy and told him, “Dude, what you did was rude. Next time, mind your own business.” At which point he put his hands back up and told me “Ok, I’m done with you!”

I let it go at that point. There was no point in taking it any further, and I tried to just get on with what I had been doing, but it really got to me, and in fact I was shaking with rage so badly that it took me three tries to swipe my loyalty card in the card reader.

Imagine how you’d feel if some stranger came up and started getting their hands all over your food, and when you told them no thanks, they kept doing it, and when you insisted, they insulted you.

As if you’re the jerk.

That’s me.

%d bloggers like this: