Tag Archives: Holidays

Accessible holidays: how I became a cruise-convert

Fiona Gosden is the Disability Specialist at DisabledHolidays.com and is a wheelchair user with Ollier’s Disease. Fiona has travelled extensively throughout Europe and is excited about going even further afield as her confidence grows.

She is keen to support others with disabilities or health conditions to enjoy independence, gain confidence, and create happy memories by encouraging people to go on holiday.

Before I had experienced an accessible holiday, I felt overwhelmed by the thought of travelling abroad because of my previous experiences of the barriers and challenges I had faced.

The thought of travelling highlighted my disability and I felt disadvantaged compared to my friends who were always planning to travel. I thought it was easier to accept that I would never explore the world like they could, but then I thought ‘how is that fair?’.

When it was suggested that I should try cruising I imagined an over-crowded ship where I had to endlessly circle around looking for an available sunbed and feeling claustrophobic whilst away from land. I also imagined being restricted to staying on board because of excursions not being accessible – and what about if I couldn’t access all the areas of the ship?

I couldn’t have been more wrong!disability_cruise_SCOPE_blog2

“I’m now a cruise-convert”

I know others with a disability can experience the same anxieties about going on holiday, and I can completely relate to it, but I hope that this blog will reassure you that with a bit of planning and careful selection about which companies you book with, everyone can enjoy a wonderful accessible holiday. Despite my pre-conceptions about cruises, I am now a complete cruise convert – they are an absolutely fantastic option for an accessible holiday!

Here are some of the reasons I love cruises:

  • Accessible cabins – many ships have accessible cabins, and the newer ships in particular are excellent. They are larger than standard cabins, have wide doorways and a fully adapted wet-room with roll in shower. There are even companies that will allow you to hire equipment and deliver it to the cabin, including hoists and electric beds! It’s a wonderful feeling not having to worry about accommodation accessibility, especially if you have a balcony cabin to just sit and watch the world go by!
  • Visiting the world without having to fly, and only unpacking once! I have found long flights to be very uncomfortable and thought that there would be countries I could never visit, but cruising takes you to the locations you want to go – what can be better than having locations brought to the doorstep of your luxurious floating hotel!
  • Floating from city to city and island to island without having to consider the accessibility of buses, trains and ferries. Before cruising I often found it impossible to get to a bus stop let alone get on the bus, but when cruising adapted shuttle buses come to the ship so you can explore your destination without barriers.
  • Waking up to a new exciting place every morning and exploring a wide range of adapted excursions. The first time I cruised I didn’t realise that there were adapted excursions and I felt limited by barriers after I’d be dropped into a city on the adapted shuttle bus. I have now discovered adapted excursions which can be booked before your holiday to avoid stress and disappointment, and are a great way to see new countries and cities.
  • Relaxing on-board your floating hotel. I didn’t know what to expect when I heard that cruising was like being on a ‘floating hotel’. On board most cruise ships there is a huge choice of activities which are all accessible, including entertainment, shops, indoor and outdoor cinemas, swimming pools, a huge choice of restaurants and bars, outdoor activities and spas. The range of entertainment is genuinely staggering and the food in the restaurants is some of the best I’ve had; you could stay on the ship for days and still have more to do.

I have discovered that travelling with a disability is easier than I thought and it has helped me to discover who I am in a way that only a holiday adventure can bring. I haven’t felt like my disability is my identity since travelling and there are always stories and memories to share which means I can join in when my friends chat about their travelling experiences.

I am delighted to say I now work as Disability Specialist at DisabledHolidays.com (the UK’s largest travel company specialising in holidays for people with disabilities and mobility impairments), and I can use my experience to help even more people with a disability or health condition to experience a perfect holiday.

Working here has really opened my eyes; there’s so much more than I ever thought would be possible, not just in the UK but abroad too – from adapted cottages and caravans to villas and hotels (and even adapted skiing and safaris) – and , of course, cruises!

I want to enable others to experience the satisfaction I feel when I finish a trip and look back at everything I have been able to accomplish; a disability does not have to be a barrier to going on holiday. This satisfaction gives me the energy and motivation to plan future travels without feeling restricted.

Looking for more information on accessible holidays? Read our help and tips suggested by members of Scope’s community

10 Christmas present tips for parents and carers

The festive season can be a stressful time. Our online community has hundreds of practical tips to help you this season – from dealing with extended family to having days out.

Here are some of our favourite tips from the community for buying, wrapping and giving presents this Christmas:

1. Have a whip round

Friends and family never seem to know what to get George for Christmas and what they do give him nearly always ends up getting
broken or ignored. So this year I’ve suggested they contribute towards buying him a tablet, which he will definitely use. I think they’re quite relieved not to have the stress of choosing something for him.

2. Sparkly Christmas paper

For visually impaired children or those with a sensory impairment,
buy lots of sparkly Christmas wrapping paper as it’s very good for
catching and holding their visual attention. Gold, in particular, or anything with a rainbow/prism effect seems to work well.

3. A few of my favourite things

Wrap up some old favourite toys as Christmas presents if your child is not keen on opening presents as they have new and unfamiliar things in them. You can secretly hide some favourite things in the weeks leading up to Christmas – sometimes unwrapping something familiar is very reassuring!

4. Sometimes the simple things are the best

A couple of years ago we bought Reece helium balloons, and I think we spent about a tenner – and that was what he played with all day! Whereas everything else we got him, he didn’t want any of it!

5. Play with wrapping paper

Give wrapping paper to play with ahead of Christmas, cut, tear… so your child gets comfortable with the noise and look of it. Choose less
‘visually noisy’ paper and avoid patterns that can produce sensory
difficulties to your child.

disabled-girl-given-present6. Ready to go

When we give our daughter a gift, we make sure all packaging is removed, batteries are in, and it is set up ready to use as soon as she’s unwrapped it. For someone with limited attention and suspicion of new things it can make the difference between acceptance and rejection.

7. Spread out the presents

Don’t feel that all the presents have to be opened on Christmas morning in the traditional way. Our son would get so overwhelmed he couldn’t cope so it was much easier to allow him a few gifts at a time throughout Christmas Day and Boxing Day. He opened them all in the end without any tantrums and was much calmer and happier, meaning we all had a far more enjoyable time!

8. Design your own wrapping paper

Get your family to design wrapping paper. Simply buy lots of plain brown paper and allow them to have fun with paints in seasonal

Parents-with-disabled-son-unwrapping-Christmas-presents-half-size9. Opening cards and presents

My son has trouble with fine motor skills so I ‘doctor’ his cards and presents to allow him to open them easily. Makes for a much happier time for all and gives him a sense of satisfaction that he can complete tasks!

10. Don’t forget the giving

Help and encourage the person you are caring for to give gifts. This provides an excellent opportunity to work on social skills like thinking of other people, other people’s needs and interests and being kind and helpful. I support my daughter to make gifts for her family and friends. She also looks forward to actually giving out the presents as well!

Got your own tips to share? Share them on the community or let us know in the comments below.

(Photo credit: Katy Warner)

From my wheelchair I’ve seen humanity at its greatest – #100days100stories

Justin Skeesuck was the first person in a wheelchair to complete the entire Camino Frances, a 500 mile trek across northern Spain. Unable to use his legs or arms, the 38-year-old could not have completed the journey without his best friend Patrick, or the help of many strangers. Scope’s Campaigns and Communications Officer met the best friends while walking the Camino. We’re republishing the story here as part of our 100 days, 100 stories campaign

The back of Patrick pushing Justin along a road

The sun was scorching as I trudged up a steep road with vineyards and valleys on either side. Up ahead I could see some fellow pilgrims, who were moving a bit slower than I was. When I reached them I could see why – one man was in a large off-road wheelchair and the other was pushing him.

Pilgrims helping Justin up a rocky path
Getting up a steep path with the help of fellow pilgrims

Patrick and Justin asked if I’d pull one of the wheelchair’s handles to help get them over the hill. Just this little bit of extra help made a big difference to the visible strain Patrick was under. The road turned into an uphill dirt path strewn with large rocks – so the tactics changed.

I strapped myself into a harness to help pull the wheelchair from the front, while Patrick pushed. We moved along like this for the next hour or so, manoeuvring around large rocks and stopping every couple of minutes so Patrick could rest, and drink or eat something to keep going – he was burning around 10,000 calories a day.

The call to adventure

For more than 1,000 years pilgrims have made the journey through the Pyrenees in France and across Spain to reach the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. In medieval times the Camino was an important Christian pilgrimage. Today, hundreds of thousands of people make the journey each year for a range of reasons.

Justin was inspired to do the Camino after watching a travel show about the route: “Something inside kind of said this is something I should try, and wouldn’t that be crazy to do in my wheelchair?”
Justin taped the programme, and a few weeks later showed it to Patrick, who said “I’ll push you”.

It took a year for the friends to plan the journey. They had a special wheelchair made and sent over from Canada, and Patrick trained intensely in the gym to prepare to push his friend 500 miles.

Justin and Patrick by a 100km road mark
Justin and Patrick with just 100 kilometres of the Camino to go

Justin’s story

Justin has a a rare progressive autoimmune / neuromuscular disease called multifocal acquired motor axonopathy – known as MAMA for short. Justin was an athletic 16-year-old when a car accident triggered the disease, which had been dormant in his body. About eight months after the accident, his left foot started flopping around while playing football.

“It just kept getting worse as months went on; then years went on”, Justin explains. “My foot started flopping around a lot more, (then) I started having weakness in my left leg.”

“By the time I got to college, (the disease) had jumped to my right foot, and I was wearing what are called ‘drop foot braces’ – they helped keep me vertical, so I wore them for many years. And it pretty much stayed to my waist and below, and then I got married and started having children.”

As the disease progressed, Justin added a cane, a walker and eventually needed a manual wheelchair to get around. Four years ago Justin was just getting used to his chair, when the disease jumped to his right shoulder. In just 40 days it spread down his right arm, then down his left: “I lost about 60-70 per cent of my arm strength, and that’s when my life really changed”.

A dark place

Justin, his wife and three kids at the Colosseum in Rome
Justin and his family on holiday in Rome

“I’m really a half glass full guy. I tend to enjoy life as much as possible, but that was the first time in my life where it was not where I wanted to go. Fortunately I didn’t go there.

“I decided that OK, if this is the way my life is going to be, then I’m gonna make the best of it.”

Justin had been a graphic designer for many years, but losing the use of his arms spurred a career change to become a disability travel consultant

He’s travelled extensively with his wife and three kids, even moving the family to Italy for three months last year. But the Camino has been a different kind of challenge.

Learning to let go

“When you travel with a disability you end up wanting to control things quite a bit – or at least know your parameters”, says Justin.

“But in this case it’s completely the opposite.”

“Working together with Patrick as a unit, I’ve learned a lot about letting go and seeing where the path takes me, and not being so controlled.

“I don’t even know where I’m staying every night, I’ve got no idea if I’ll fit, and I’ve no idea where I’m going to eat. I have no bathroom commode. I have no extra wheelchair for difficult spaces. It’s just me, my bag, and this off-road wheelchair. So I’ve learned a lot about seeing where life takes you if you’re open to it.

“It’s one thing to see your best friend day after day, inch after inch, mile after mile, just slugging to get you from point A to point B.

“But to meet people from all over the world who are just willing to come in and say ‘yeah I’ll push you for a mile or two’ or whatever they want to do, it’s humbling. Some people just come in like a flash in the pan, they’ll help me get up this (hill), and off they’ll go. And some people will stay with us for a week or two.

“It’s truly amazing to see it from the seat that I’m in, to see humanity at its greatest. If you open your heart and your mind and your soul to letting other people in, even for a brief moment, it’s truly amazing.”

The end of The Way

Patrick hugs Justin outside the Cathedral de Santiago
At the end of the Camino

Justin and Patrick completed the 500 mile Camino in 35 days, and were greeted at the Cathedral de Santiago by their wives and a huge group of pilgrims they’d met along the way.

Justin and Patrick are raising money to fund the production of a documentary about their journey

And check out Justin’s tips for disabled travellers.

Find out more about our 100 days, 100 stories campaign and read the rest of our stories so far

10 tips for parents and carers this Christmas

Guest post by Emma from Netbuddy. Next year Netbuddy will be joining Scope.

The festive season can be a stressful time, especially if someone in your family has learning difficulties or autism. So, to help you put the fun back into Christmas, we’ve pulled together these tips from parents and carers. Download all the tips in a PDF (731KB).

Christmas presents

English: Gift ideas for men - wrapping paper e...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. A few of my favourite things – Wrap up some old favourite toys as Christmas presents if your child is not keen on opening presents as they have new and unfamiliar things in them. You can secretly hide some favourite things in the weeks leading up to Christmas – sometimes unwrapping something familiar is very reassuring!

2. Use foil – Foil is an excellent wrapping paper. It is very sensory and makes for an easy to open present!

3. Ribbon for wrapping paper – Instead of using wrapping paper, I wrapped a present in a piece of material and tied with a ribbon. Once the ribbon was in person’s hand she pulled and hey presto, she had unwrapped it herself!

Christmas decorations

English: Artificial Christmas tree with lights...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4. Decorations outside of the house – If your child can’t cope with decorations being on the outside of the house, try telling them that the house is getting dressed up for Christmas!

5. A sensory tree – We have sensory items on our Christmas tree. Different textures, smells and things that make sounds – so the little girl I look after with a visual impairment can enjoy it too!

Christmas visitors

6. Preparing for a crowded house – I’ve started to prepare my son for a crowded house at Christmas by inviting his friends around for Sunday Club and making a party for the family to have dinner or a disco. Announce visitors on your child’s visual timetable. Allow quiet time if he/she needs to step out.

7. Talk to family members – Talk to family members ahead of time. Discuss your child’s specific needs, and gently but firmly tell them what your plans are. Be sure to let them know that this will make the whole experience better for everyone. Ask for their support.

8. Prepare a calm place – I used to worry about Dan’s behaviour when spending time at family member’s homes over the festive season. Basically, I’d take him and hope for the best! However, I’ve found that planning and preparation in advance hugely helps. I work with my family and we make sure we have a calm room or a space he can go to for when it all gets too much. I put his favourite blanket in there. Having some time alone, or just with me keeps meltdowns to a minimum.

The excitement

Girl unwrapping presents

9. Spread out the presents – Don’t feel that all the presents have to be opened on Christmas morning in the traditional way. Our son would get so overwhelmed he couldn’t cope so it was much easier to allow him a few gifts at a time throughout Christmas Day and Boxing Day. He opened them all in the end without any tantrums and was much calmer and happier, meaning we all had a far more enjoyable time!

10. Stay Calm! – If your child reacts badly to stress, staying relaxed and low-key over the Christmas period is one of the best things you can do to keep your child’s behavior in line. Save the tantrum (yours) for when you get home.

What are your top tips for Christmas? Let us know in the comments below.