Travel advice: What is it like travelling with a disability?

Picture this: you're planning the annual family holiday. All year you've been looking forward to escaping the daily grind of appointments, tantrums and therapy.

It's not as if you can hop on a website and book a random hotel. There are specific requirements when you have a child, or parent, with a disability.

Finally, you find accommodation that fits. The reservations consultant assures you it's "accessible". After a series of questions, your jaw falls to the floor. "There's a few stairs to get to the lift," the consultant says, "if the person in the wheelchair is fine with that." 

"I was left dumbfounded," Julie Jones from says. "There've been huge improvements in facilities for people travelling with mobility restrictions and access needs in recent years. But the main difficulty is a lack of understanding from some tourism providers."

Twenty years ago, Julie's son, Braeden, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of five months.

Imagine travelling with a sick child as part of your "bucket list"? Or a parent with MS who can't manage a long-planned road trip? One in five Australians has some form of disability. And access isn't all about ramps. Many folks can't fly because of the tiny toilet cubicles.

Julie says larger hotels usually have better facilities, but coastal parks – particularly in areas with an elderly population, like Port Macquarie in NSW – now offer beach wheelchairs. And TrailRiders are free to loan in several National Parks. "It was lovely to see a lady using a wheelchair on the Arthurs Seat Eagle in Victoria, celebrating her 100th birthday," she says.

Hotels and attractions in the United States must describe room dimensions and inclusions, to comply with federal legislation. Disneyland has information on each ride's accessibility available on their website, so visitors can plan in advance.

In Australia, you can get an extra free ticket to many attractions using a National Companion Card ( and Qantas has a Carer Concession Card, which halves the price on certain flights.


But Julie says it's not enough: she's campaigning for information tabs on the first page of travel websites, photos and detailed descriptions of hotel rooms, and an industry standard for rating accessibility.

Her advice to families is to plan, research and drill down. "No question is too silly," she says. "It can make the difference between a holiday being a disaster or a success. Lastly, travel with a positive attitude."

Sure, it's an uncomfortable conversation. Hoists, wheelchairs and continence products aren't often featured in those glossy brochures. But if the travel industry is to keep up with the demands of an ageing population, it needs to pitch its products to all Australians: not only the able-bodied. And what better way to build a relationship with family travellers, than care for the children who are most vulnerable?

A little extra information could make the annual family trip a dream instead of a debacle.