Author: Paula Moulton
Disabled Daredevils airs on Channel 4 on Tuesday 30th August 2016 at 11.05pm and features one of our founders, Paula Moulton. Here’s her story of how she got involved.
“If you’re told often enough you can’t do something you will start to believe it. It’s time though we start to focus on ability and normalise disability”
Roll back to December 2014 when I had a random request to speak to someone about an upcoming documentary on extreme sports. This seemed a bit odd as I’ve never considered wheelchair dance sport “extreme”, other than the odd time you might fall out of your wheelchair from time to time or Gary has slipped and accidentally kicked me on the head – but you can hardly call that extreme!
I was then asked “if you were allowed to do any extreme sport what would you like to do?”. My response was downhill mountain biking that was all, although there’s things that I know I wouldn’t be able to do like bungee jumping and skydiving as I’ve been told “you can’t” in the past.
Roll forward to August 2015 and suddenly I was meeting up with a group of strangers, all with various physical disabilities, for a week-long adventure doing extreme sports – but the scariest thing was, none of us had any idea what sports were going to be thrown at us!
It was a challenge in itself getting 8 people all with different needs to the same location for the same time, complete with multiple wheelchairs, hoists, walkers, spare limbs and of course our Pas, never mind a film crew with all their kit!
The gang assembled were; a mouth painter called Bazza, actors Jenna and Kain, wheelchair fitness instructor Kris, model and campaigner Gemma, Motocross fanatic Billy, football and travel mad Caroline and me – a wheelchair dancer and campaigner.
So what did they have planned for us, how would we do these things, had our GPs and consultants signed our permissions? So often there’s so much red tape and health and safety issues it’s not worth the pain of even attempting extreme sports.
The first day found us being swung on a giant swing over a quarry then zip wired over the flooded quarry to finish jumping (or being thrown) in for a swim!
Quickly we all realised that some things were becoming common…lots of body harnesses, wetsuits and the prospect of a week of early starts!
More sports followed throughout the week with water skiing, bungee jumping and the final big challenge – a freefall skydive!
Personally, for me, the challenge that terrified me the most was the bungee jump. I didn’t in a million years expect that I’d be allowed or able to do it. How wrong could I be! My consultant signed me off with the message “Don’t worry if you break yourself we can mend you!” Whilst giving me confidence that it wasn’t going to kill me I was still terrified being hoisted up in a cradle over Bristol Quayside to be dropped on a big rubber band!
But, I did it! With lots of encouragement from the gang below I was bouncing around on the end of the bungee rope. It was an awesome experience, and so happy I did it, but it’s one that I wouldn’t repeat, unlike the sky dive which I can’t wait to do again!
Despite the extreme sports and the efforts the teams went to so we could take part, we came down to earth with a bump when ironically we could not get in to a restaurant one night (even though it was booked as a party with several wheelchair users) – their idea of a ramp was a flimsy piece of wood with a step on the other side of the doorway!
Actually the whole week was pretty ’normal’. We took part in adrenaline sports, made new friends, had a few drinks, danced, played silly games, shared stories and swapped tips dreams and desires. All pretty normal things for time away on any break, the only difference was our bodies. However, we all had something else in common, that we were beginning to feel we could conquer anything!
Sometimes the world can be unforgiving and you can get bogged down in the day to day things, whether it be issues with care or getting around and facing access needs. This trip reinforced that we can do it.
It’s always a bit of a downer when people say you can’t do that or call you “inspirational” because you’ve got on a bus on your own – sorry, but I’ve been doing that for years, just like you. I think you get blinkered by society treating you as an inspiration for the slightest little thing and you forget sometimes that you truly do do things that are inspirational.
Now being called inspirational because you’ve skydived or bungee jumped; I think we could all accept that.
What the week did make several of us realise, was not to let other people’s perceptions of what you can and can’t do define you. And a simple thing that it is okay to need more support and that accepting that support does not make you less able, it helps you focus your energy on the things that matter.
Would I be one of the “Disabled Daredevils” again? Yes, in an instant!
Words cannot explain what this trip meant to me. I think we all went home and slept for a week and had bruises on bruises, but it was so worth it.
There are extreme activities I still want to do – including winter sports, even though I hate the cold! I also like the idea of bigger zip wires and downhill adaptive mountain biking. In honesty, I want to push my limits while I can!
Most importantly I want to do this for me. I no longer feel the need to qualify to anyone else whether I’m an “inspiration” or not.
Main photo credit: Richard Ansett/C4
Is flying as a wheelchair user really the horror that people say?
We’ve all heard the bad stories about flying when you use a wheelchair, however is it really that bad? Can the horror of flying be avoided and how do you do your best to make sure you, and your wheelchair, arrive in one piece at your destination?
Preparation is the key and starts before you book your flight – make sure you know the following:
- Dimensions of your wheelchair – height, width (and the same if it folds)
- Weight of your wheelchair
- If you use a power chair the type of batteries and how to disconnect them
Why do you need to know this before you fly – simply – if your wheelchair doesn’t fit in the luggage hold or allocated space in the cargo hold of the type of aircraft on that route, your chair cannot travel. Be aware though that sometimes aircraft do get changed but the airline will be responsible here as that is out of your control. The airline website should tell you the aircraft type generally used for that route and you can use websites such as FlightAware to check this too for all airlines.
Booking the flight is the easy part – simply book your flight online or with travel agent as anyone else would.
Some airlines ask during the booking process if you require Special Assistance and complete the details during your booking, others will prompt you to call a dedicated number to book assistance and it’s advisable to do this as soon as you book. They will ask for the information about your chair that you have prepared and what type of assistance you need.
This is based on how much you can walk and ability to transfer. All airlines use the same three codes and it’s worth knowing these and which you fit in to, if you are not sure, ask the airline. There are also many other codes for other types of disability assistance.
WCHR – Passengers who can ascend and descend steps and move in the aircraft cabin but who require a wheelchair for distance to/from the aircraft.
WCHS – Passengers who cannot ascend and descend steps, where the wheelchair is required to/from the aircraft and the passenger must be carried up/down the steps but is able to make their own way to/from cabin seat.
WCHC – Passengers who are completely immobile and require a wheelchair to/from the aircraft and must be carried up/down the steps and to/from their cabin seat.
When you book assistance, this is also the time to tell the airline if you are taking an additional piece of mobility equipment, which you are entitled to in the EU, free of charge. Again you will need to give them the dimensions and weight of the equipment to make sure if fits in the hold.
What if you need to take bulky medical equipment, feeds or lots of medication?
Advise the airline – they may ask for a letter from your GP or consultant. They will need to know what you are taking, its dimensions, weight and how it needs to be transported (in the cabin or hold) and should give you a free baggage allowance to transport this.
If you are travelling for a longer period of time, speak to your supplier as they may be able to deliver direct to your destination but give them plenty of notice.
Top Tip: Always keep enough medication your hand luggage to cover you for at least a couple of days with a copy of your prescription just in case luggage goes missing. Always keep medication in its original packaging.
Prepping your wheelchair for its journey
- Top Tip: Photograph your chair – take a few snaps from different angles so that you can compare if the worst happens and your chair gets damaged. This includes taking photos of it in its “packaged” state.
- Insure your chair – make sure your wheelchair is fully covered for flying and for worldwide travel. Specialist insurer Fish Insurance who sponsor all our insurances can help with this.
- Pack it up – there are many travel bags out there that will hold your chair and wheels together and pad it, but otherwise simple things like pipe lagging taped onto frame to give some padding is just as effective.
- Bits and bobs – make sure anything that comes off, comes off or is secured. Don’t risk the chance of losing a bit of your chair if it’s loose/removable – it could come off in the hold never to be seen again. Top Tip: Take your cushion into the cabin too so it doesn’t get lost.
- Some long haul flights on larger aircraft will accommodate your wheelchair in the cabin.
A week before your flight, give the airline assistance a call to confirm they have your correct assistance booked and ask for confirmation by email if possible (or note the exact date/time of the call as the airlines normally record calls). Why? We’ve had a few times when assistance has been booked but on arrival at the airport there has been no record of it. It will also help to speed up check in.
At the Airport
Check the airport website about assistance from the car park to check in – some airports offer this or have an assistance button at the drop off area.
At the airport head to check in as usual. Confirm the assistance booked and always ask the airline for your wheelchair to be “Delivered to Aircraft” and if they have a tag for that to attach it to your wheelchair as well as the usual baggage tag. This means your wheelchair should be waiting for you at the door of the aircraft when you arrive to transfer back in to.
Remember, you still have the same security checks and liquid rules to deal with. Top Tip: Pack all your medication in a separate bag and have plenty of clear bags to put any liquid medication in to be scanned. Don’t forget to check those under chair pouches for any random things you carry around that they aren’t left in there.
You will likely be “patted down” where possible as you can’t be x-rayed in your wheelchair! Don’t be alarmed if they also take swabs around your wheelchair or even from around a leg bag just to check there is nothing untoward in there.
You should be boarded first so be at the gate in plenty of time, if assistance are taking you there they will make sure you are on time. You may be boarded using an Ambulift if the aircraft is not at an actual air bridge at the gate – simply a big lift that can drive around the airport and take you to the airplane. You will have to transfer to an aisle chair – a narrow wheelchair with strapping that fits down the aisle of an airplane. When you are in our seat, keep an eye out down below as you may be able to see you chair being loaded in to the hold. This will reassure you that your wheelchair is on the plane and will be with you at the other end. Always a good feeling.
On arrival hopefully your chair will arrive at the plane door undamaged and you will be able to remove the packaging and get on and enjoy your holiday.
If the worst happens and your chair arrives looking like a clown car with wonky wheels inform the airline immediately – take photos of the damage too. It will be reported through the baggage handlers. Unfortunately, it does happen from time to time but rarely is a chair damaged that badly that it cannot be used on a temporary basis. If the worst happens try and hire a chair, or for minor damage often a local bike shop can help! Try not to panic. I once survived ten days, having broken my frame on the first day of the holiday by bumping down a curb, by the use of two spanners as splints and lots of duct tape!
The airline should cover any damage through its insurers and would usually pay the repair company/manufacturer direct. If the worst happens and your chair is beyond repair, the airline should replace it like for like. There is a loophole with a cap on compensation, however, you should fight against this as it’s not just a piece of baggage, it is your means of mobility. I’ve never had an issue in getting expensive custom chairs replaced.
Remember, problems can happen but deal with them calmly, there is no point getting angry and the more you travel the more routine it will become. Hopefully, these simple tips will help you be prepared and most of all – Enjoy your trip!
We continue our travel blog season with information about staying in hotels as a wheelchair user.
You fancy a break away, a countryside hotel a city break or maybe a trip to the sun but you need accessible accommodation, what questions should you ask to make sure what they are saying is true.
Firstly, check the location – do you really want to have to navigate a steep hill in order to access the hotel we all know it’s not too bad going one way but the other can be anything from exhausting to downright impossible! If the whole area is hilly is that going to be an issue, could you or your chair cope and how are your fitness levels? You are going on a break after all, not boot camp!
So, you’ve found the area, now the hotel. What is it that you absolutely need and what is that you would like. Make a list – for example, if an accessible bathroom and step free access is a must there are several ways you can check this. Do they provide a shower chair and what sort is it? It pays to check as it removes some of the stress when you get there. Googling or searching TripAdvisor for images for the outside and inside of the hotel can be useful.
Do you require a hoist, if so, check that it can go under the bed and check the height of the bed is suitable for your needs too.
As a rule of thumb always contact the hotel direct to ask questions. If using a travel agent that doesn’t specialist in accessible holidays, ask them to check the gazetteer but still phone or email the hotel direct yourself.
Once you have checked that the essential things are okay then you can go for the ‘likes!’ – the infinity pool, spa treatments or the best in-house dining experience.
Remember you can take two pieces of mobility equipment with you if you are flying with European airlines, but it is worthwhile knowing that in many places you can hire equipment such as hoists and just taking your own slings with you. Similarly, if you use feeds and catheter supplies these can sometimes be delivered to a hotel abroad for you by your supply company depending on location. Speak to you delivery company for further information,
It can be daunting choosing a hotel for the first time but it does get easier. Mistakes can be made however there are always little hacks that can help such as:
- if your wheelchair won’t fit through bathroom door – ask hotel to take the door off!
- a plastic garden chair is a great substitute shower chair
- always ask for extra towels and pillows on arrival so it’s not last thing at night when you realise you need more -let’s face it – we go through more towels than average!
- don’t be afraid to ask the hotel move furniture take it out of the room completely so you can manoeuvre around the room.
- Ask the local hotel staff for advice about local accessibility
Remember the more homework you do the more informed you will be. As you become more experienced in travel planning you will do things automatically. For example, while travelling solo there are certain hotel chains we would not stay in as the fire doors are too heavy to open. On the other hand, there are others that we would stay in worldwide that we wouldn’t feel the need to even ask questions as we know they have a universal room plan. This knowledge comes with time and it’s different for each person due to individual access needs.
The most important thing though is when you get there to be able to finally enjoy yourself and relax.
Holiday season is upon us, so here is our quick guide to holidays as a wheelchair user.
Travel as a wheelchair user can be interesting and fun but being prepared is the key. Do your homework on where, how to get to and stay at your chosen destination. Your first trip abroad can be daunting but is totally doable!
We have travelled all over the world and extensively in the UK. Here are some of our top tips.
Choosing your destination…okay it’s not just the beaches and nightlife; is it hilly, proximity to airport, hospitals, restaurants etc. – you don’t need to know everything however its best to know if the town is on a steep slope. Do you want to get on the beach or swim in the sea – many European and Worldwide coastal resorts now have beach and aquatic wheelchairs available to hire or use free of charge.
When looking for accommodation, many people ask what questions do you need to ask.
- If travelling by plane or train book assistance as far in advance as you can and always confirm again a week before travel. If you are flying, you can take two pieces of mobility equipment with you free of charge (Some non EU airlines may differ).
- The same goes for resort transfers – wheelchair accessible transfers are now quite common but you need to check this early on if this is essential for you and if there are additional charges.
- Location of the hotel – is it at the top/bottom of a slope. Remember what some people class as a slight slope you might think is really steep. Google (and Google Maps) is good for more information. There are lots of online forums so ask other wheelchair users for their recommendations.
- Are there any steps in the hotel, public/garden areas or are there ramps (and how steep are they – you’d be amazed at some country’s ideas of ramps!).
- Are there wheelchair accessible rooms. Always ask the width of doors to the bathroom and balcony. Is it a level access shower or a bath? Is a shower chair provided? Don’t be afraid to email the hotel and ask for photos – don’t always rely on what your travel agent tells you (unless you are using a specialist travel agent for accessible holidays).
Whether you are travelling near or far it’s also a good idea to take some basic repair equipment with you – puncture repair kit, duct tape, allen keys and a spanner – it’s amazing what you can repair with these key items.
If possible, download the manual for your equipment to your smart phone just in case. This could be as important as having copies of prescriptions stored on your phone. If you use more bulky medical equipment such as catheters or feeds speak to your delivery company – they can sometimes arrange delivery to destinations for you. Suitcases that have 4 wheels will make moving them easier. Just be aware and keep your money and valuables safe and in front of you.
Always have Travel Insurance. You never know when you might need it. Insurance is not just about falling ill, it also covers things like missing flights and damage and loss of personal belongings. Our Travel Insurance Sponsor Fish Insurance is a specialist disabled insurance provider and will ensure existing conditions are covered.
We’ve had many fantastic trips abroad and visited great places but the key is to relax and be prepared to do things a different way. We have always found local people happy to help and have often learnt so much from these encounters.
So, don’t be afraid of travelling abroad embrace it and have fun.