I’ve enjoyed travelling for almost as long as I’ve had my disability. I was diagnosed at 18 months old with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a genetic condition I’ve had since birth. I don’t really remember my first holiday, as I would have been just a toddler. However for as long as I can remember, travel has been one of my greatest passions and is always on my yearly vision board.
Having SMA means that life isn’t always normal. However, as my family has always said, what exactly is normal? I’ve used a power wheelchair since the age of three, require full-time care assistants to live independently, rely on various pieces of equipment (lifting hoist, shower chair etc), and obviously the vital funding for the above.
I’m generally ok healthwise, but I have to watch out more with winter colds. With my health and independent living inputs in order, I’ve been able to gain a master’s degree, travel the world and start various businesses. Whether it’s travel or business, I love exploring new things and creating a positive impact in the world.
One of my proudest moments combined both of these passions. After many years of travelling and entrepreneurial life, along with my friend Srin Madipalli, I created Accomable, an accessible travel resource. Also billed, by us, as the Airbnb for disabled people.
Using our experience and knowledge, we were able to find accommodation globally, vet how accessible it was for people with different impairments (physical, visual, hearing, neurodiverse etc), and connect the dots for the 1.3 billion disabled people in the world. Not only would it help many disabled people and their families, it would enable tourism businesses to grow their customer base too.
We won a social enterprise award from the Skoll foundation. This gave us vital startup funding to launch our idea. After persuading lots of independent accommodation providers to join the site and grow the community of disabled tourists, we received angel investment. After further growth, Airbnb themselves acquired the business in 2017 and as a result improved their accessible travel offering on a much bigger scale.
With all of this said, accessible travel isn’t as straightforward as it should be. Even in 2022. The pandemic has hit the tourism industry hard too. However I’m ever the optimist and believe things are on the up once again. So I wanted to share my advice and tips when travelling with a disability:
1. Dream big
Whatever the perceived and real limitations we all face, it’s best to start any travel plans with the blue sky thinking part. Just daydream or write down your dream destinations and why you’d want to visit them.
For example, I want to scuba dive in Tenerife because it just sounds awesome.
2. Get real
This might sound more blunt or contradictory than intended. This part is to, without emotion, daydream or write down the things you absolutely need when travelling and the things that are desirable.
For example I need assistance on the flight, an accessible vehicle so I can transfer to the hotel in my wheelchair on arrival, a wetroom shower in an accessible accommodation, and with Scuba diving I need instructors with experience of supporting disabled people.
3. Make your dreams come true
Talk is cheap when nothing comes from it. So be sure to act. Write a list of tasks whereby each one moves you a step forward to taking the trip.
Planning is the key to success. For example, research airline assistance for Passengers with Reduced Mobility (PRMs), accessible transfers, hotels, insurance providers for people with medical conditions/equipment. And perhaps specialist Scuba diving instructors! Book all the preferred options and grab a drink to celebrate completing all the tasks.
4. Awesome adventures await
But like any budding tourist, you’ll need to know the costs and save up. Don’t forget there can be additional costs with things like mobility rentals, accessible vehicles and specialist insurance. Starling’s Saving Spaces feature can be handy for all of this, making the budgeting easier than you think - you can create separate saving goals for each travel item, so they don’t get mixed up with your main account. You could do one for flights, one on hotels, another for excursions, or as many as you need.