At first glance you'd probably think my impairment is easy to spot - I have Cerebral Palsy, and use a wheelchair. But there's something else that isn't obvious; for the last ten years I've battled with anxiety and panic disorder.
Most people know that I love to travel, to the next town or somewhere far away. I'm an organiser, a planner, and a list maker. Researching new places to go is what I love to do, and it's also been part of my role as Information Service Manager at Tourism for All for the last 12 years.
What is less-often mentioned is the anxiety that comes with travelling as a disabled person. Will the airline refuse to carry my wheelchair? Will they damage my wheelchair? Will I be able to access the on-board toilets? Will my accommodation really be as accessible as it claims to be? Will I be able to buy travel insurance that covers my pre-existing medical conditions without tripling the cost of my holiday? These questions and many more fight for space in my brain before I've even begun my holiday search.
My most recent trip was particularly fraught with worries, as it would be the first time I'd travel with my new lightweight wheelchair and power pack. The airline didn't like the sound of the lithium-ion battery, and the power pack, along with the wheelchair would have to be carried in the hold. After many telephone conversations, submitted documents, weights, dimensions and certifications, the flight was confirmed. As the flight touched down in Pisa I was filled with terror, and convinced that I would be met at the plane door by a mess of mangled metal. The immense relief when my fears were unfounded and my chair arrived in one piece was amazing, but that doesn't mean I won't panic every time I fly. After all, anxiety is the fear of things that might - however unlikely - happen, and in my job I hear stories every day of baggage handlers throwing around wheelchairs and airlines refusing to pay appropriate compensation.
On arrival at my hotel I discovered a large step at the entrance, and no ramp. My husband bumped my chair up and once we'd checked into our room we found it was very small, with no thought to accessibility other than a wet-room style bathroom. I was devastated. This was supposed to be a special trip for our wedding anniversary, and so far it had been full of worry and disappointment.
After a discussion with the hotel's management we found an alternative entrance with ramp (it was a fire exit and used for transporting luggage, but whatever works, right?!). Once the hotel understood that although I'd prefer a wheel in shower, I could manage with a bath tub and my husband's help and what I really needed was extra space and grab bars for safety, they moved us to a more suitable room.
Happily, here's when the holiday started to improve. We spent the next few days exploring Florence and Pisa, negotiating public transport and cobbled streets with relative ease. And my happiness soared. Here's the thing about travel; it enables us to push the boundaries of our comfort zones, reminds us of what we are capable of and opens the mind to new experiences.
Accessible travel isn't always easy, it does require a lot of extra planning and sometimes there are surprises along the way. For me, that makes the beach sunsets, the rooftop city views, and the countryside landscapes even more beautiful. To have overcome what feels like a million extra obstacles and be able to say 'I got here!' is an amazing feeling. That's why I have such a passion for the industry I work in; every day I help people to realise their accessible travel dreams, and help businesses to make those dreams possible.
Manager Tourism for All UK
Campaigner Tourism is for Everybody
HuffPost UK Lifestyle has launched EveryBody, a new section calling for better equality and inclusivity for people living with disability and invisible illness. The aim is to empower those whose voices are not always heard and redefine attitudes to identity, lifestyle and ability in 2017. We'll be covering all manner of lifestyle topics - from health and fitness to dating, sex and relationships.
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