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Last Updated: Monday, 29 August 2005, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
Travel industry ignores disabled
Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News website disability affairs correspondent

Photo of a wheelchair user getting on a bus
Accessible transport can make or break a holiday
Disabled holidaymakers face so many problems travelling abroad that many do not bother taking a holiday, disability charity Leonard Cheshire warns.

The charity says that disabled people encounter difficulties from the moment they try to make a booking.

It is calling on tour operators, the government and the EU to improve access in a number of ways.

The industry admits that there is room for improvement but says some progress has been made.

Taken for granted

Leonard Cheshire is publishing its report - called Wish You Were Here - to coincide with the return from the August bank holiday weekend.

Last year more than 1.5 million people flew out of UK airports during the last bank holiday of the summer.

The charity points out that while many people take foreign breaks for granted, disabled travellers are faced with a series of obstacles which can put them off foreign travel altogether.

It interviewed more than 100 disabled people to ask about their holiday experiences.

The report found that:

  • A quarter of those surveyed who had not taken a holiday in the past year said it was because of problems with accessibility
  • Almost half of those who did take a holiday thought their travel agent or tour operator lacked basic disability awareness
  • Almost 60% of those who has taken a holiday had problems with transport
  • Nearly a quarter had had a wheelchair or other mobility aid damaged in transit
  • Almost one in three people found their accommodation inaccessible
  • Nearly a quarter had difficulty obtaining travel insurance

"The package holiday has been around for over 50 years, so why should disabled people still find travelling abroad difficult?" said John Knight, Leonard Cheshire's head of external policy.

"Disabled people have a right to holiday outside the UK and the travel industry must improve accessibility to ensure they can."

Photo of a group of people on the beach including wheelchair users
Barcelona has good accessibility, beaches included

The charity is calling for the introduction of pan-European standards of accessibility that all member states will recognise.

And it says the government must bring air and sea travel within the scope of existing disability legislation.

It wants travel industry staff to receive compulsory disability awareness training, and wants the providers of travel insurance to deal with disabled people on a case-by-case basis.

Long-standing disability legislation in the US means that disabled travellers have tended to report more positive experiences, a state of affairs with which Europe has yet to catch up.

Industry efforts

The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) says it has been encouraging the tourism industry to make improvements for many years.

ABTA's head of consumer affairs, Keith Richards, admitted that there was "still much room for improvement".

"It is clear that increasing numbers of people who have some for of disability are taking holidays, and many more want to spend their money on travel but currently don't," he said.

Fear and ignorance surrounding disability issues was being compounded by air transport and overseas accommodation not being covered by UK disability legislation, Mr Richards said.

But he cited several steps ABTA was taking to improve the situation, such as providing training, using the voluntary Air Access Code, encouraging tour operators to carry out access audits on hotels and developing a checklist for disabled travellers.

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