Having a disabled child or children shouldn’t inhibit your family’s opportunities to holiday and get away from it all. More often than not though, people do find it difficult to travel when they have a child who is living with a disability. Whether your child is a wheelchair user or has a learning disability that is considered ‘invisible’ travelling for holiday purposes can be really difficult and in some instances seem like more trouble than its worth.
This doesn’t need to be the case and we’ve got together some tips which you should consider if planning to travel in the UK or abroad with your whole family.
Before you Travel
Before you travel there are many preparations you can make. You could consider booking your trip through an agency who specialises in disabled travel, this is an option most suitable to those travelling with wheelchair users. In most instances regular travel agencies have little or no experience of disability travel and won’t be able to think of everything. The planning stage of your trip will take a lot of research and your holiday itinerary will need to be detailed and specific. It may seem like a military operation but it will result in a smoother journey in the long run.
Before you travel you should also talk to any medical professionals involved in your children’s care. They will be able to advise to a point if they believe your child is ready for such a break and can give you specialist advice relating to their condition if needed. You can also top up on any prescription medication required.
Preparing your child is another point to consider. Every child and their condition is obviously different and only you know how your child will react. Children on the autistic spectrum for example may need a lot of notice and reminders so they are able to handle the change and enjoy the experience.
You will need to consider a wide range of things which could impact on your ability to travel. Consider the assistance you may need and ensure you contact your airline or travel provider. Cover all specialised elements of your child’s condition such as dietary requirements and medications.
You will also need to think about specialist equipment you may need upon a flight and below we’re looking more closely at the MERU TravelChair and how this can revolutionise travelling with young wheelchair users.
Thinking again of medical information – you should double check the locations of the nearest emergency medical facilities from your holiday home to ensure easy access if the worst were to happen. Not knowing will only cause more panic and make the holiday much more stressful.
Depending upon the disabilities of your child or children you may need to check your travel insurance covers you all adequately. In some instances you may need to purchase specialist insurance to cover all of your child’s needs.
Meru TravelChair for Wheelchairs Users
At Trabasack, we realise the worry of booking a flight when you have a disabled child. We also like to highlight the work of others to create a more inclusive and accessible world and with that in mind, we’d like to introduce the TravelChair.
Tackling the Worry of Flying with a Disabled Child
The TravelChair is a product developed by the children’s charity MERU, who campaign and work towards improving the lives of children and young adults with disabilities by designing and producing custom-made equipment that can aid independent living and support daily activities at home, at school and in the community. The TravelChair is just one product from MERU and it’s a development which could make a huge change to air travel for children with disabilities, making it both more accessible and more enjoyable.
At present, very few children with disabilities in the UK have had the opportunity to travel abroad due to what MERU describe as ‘perceived limited options of additional support in the chair when travelling on planes’. To combat this problem, MERU have developed and created the one-of-a-kind chair for supporting children with disabilities during a flight. The TravelChair fits easily into a standard airline seat and in the past few years, MERU say it has meant over 1,000 children with severe disabilities have been able to experience the holidays of a lifetime. The TravelChair (formerly known as the AirChair) is currently available on Virgin Atlantic and Monarch Airways flights and was developed with advice and input from parents of children with disabilities, airlines themselves and also the Civil Aviation Authority.
The TravelChair installed in an airline seat
The TravelChair itself is a very lightweight and easy to carry design which fits easily into all airline seats and if you were to travel with Virgin Atlantic, the cabin crew are also trained to fit the sit for you if you need assistance. It is designed for children around three to nine and provides full postural support. Some of its main features include both waist and head support, shoulder restraints, optional pommel strap and an adjustable height leg rest. Despite being extremely robust and secure, the it is also comfortable and is designed specifically for children, providing them with the full body support they may require. Other aeroplane support options are often ‘one size fits all’ which is often unsuitable for children, being too large or small, the TravelChair is different.
It is a brilliant development that is making a huge difference to childrens’ lives and giving children with severe disabilities a chance to experience foreign travel like everybody else.
For more info about the Travelchair visit MERU website here
The Travel Chair was seen at Naidex South 2012 and Meru’s Anna-Stina was interviewed about the flight chair by the OT Expert site. The interview can be heard on the link, but an edited transcript follows:
“Meru is launching a ‘try before you fly’ service so that parents of disabled children who need postural support can try the Travel Chair before flying. We are hoping that the airlines will buy them and Virgin has already ordered them. Parents can also buy them. We are offering a service where parents can try out the chair in situ in a fuselage that looks like an aeroplane and you can walk between the aisles and experience the tightness of the seats. You can actually find out “will this chair suit my child?”.
We were approached at Meru by Virgin, Monarch and British Airways one and a half years ago to design a seat that suit disabled children. They wanted a seat that would provide postural support to disabled children while flying. 10 years ago, Meru had created a seat for British Airways, the Travel Chair Mk1, so it was a good opportunity to revisit it. It has been carefully redesigned and we have done extensive research, finding out from disabled children what their requirements and needs are, we now have the finished product for sale to individuals and charities for £2500.
Civil Aviation Authority Safety Notice
You will also find some more useful facts about the use, weight and storage information of the chair on the CAA website. There is a safety document from the Civil Aviation Authority for aircraft companies and passengers about the chair here.
Video about the Meru Travel Chair
Below you can see Graham Race (TravelChair Designer – MERU) speaking at the Hamburg Aircraft Interiors Expo about the TravelChair.
As you Travel
When you’re travelling the equipment you keep on you needs to be minimal to make the journey as easy as possible. Keep all your regular travel information on your person including tickets, passports and relevant paraphernalia. Also keep a copy of the most pertinent information about your child’s condition to hand in case of emergencies and the same goes for any emergency medications.
Travel isn’t all about the admin though, be prepared to enjoy it. Stock up your child’s travel bag with their favourite snacks and games and ensure reminders of home are present to keep them comfortable.
If you’re travelling by car you should also factor in breaks to ensure no one gets overwhelmed and you are able to enjoy your journey as much as possible.
Holidays for Children with Autism
Preparing for a holiday with children on the autistic spectrum takes considerable effort and as well as all the above points you may need to be discerning with your choice of destination. There are several holidays across Europe which have been adapted especially for Autism families to ensure the whole family have a fantastic experience.
Happy Kids Holidays for example rents ASD-friendly cottages in France and the chance to prepare for the break with personalised social stories and online chats so your child can get to know their environment before they arrive.
There are also breaks in the UK which include specialised Autism-friendly sessions such as horse riding lessons at Coworth Park in Berkshire which also incorporates sensory play.
Have a Happy Holiday
Travelling with children with disabilities can be hard-going and even arriving at your destination can be difficult with children who find change hard to cope with. There are ways and means though and we hope our points give you a further opportunity to explore what’s available and take the step to introducing your child to new experiences. It’s great for the family as a whole too.