You might have just come back from your summer holiday abroad.

All the excitement about where to go, what you want to pack, and the food you are going to enjoy eating and the joy of the beach. You go, handle the airport fuss, arrive and (hopefully) have a good time freely taking in the new place.

This week I caught up with one of our parents, whose daughter comes to Cherry Trees for overnight respite stays. Her daughter is 11, uses a wheelchair, has self-harming tendencies and is non-verbal.

Their family decided a proper holiday was needed and opted for Portugal – the warmer climate benefitting all, a beach to head to and a chance for the whole family to be together and enjoy. It took a lot of planning, a lot of research and an awful lot of compromise to make it all happen, but it was all worth it.

‘Most holiday destinations say they are disabled friendly but that’s not always so. We checked with the hotel we had chosen in Portugal before we traveled if the nearby beach was wheelchair accessible and they assured us it was. It was gutting when we got there to see there was no access to the beach, with the lift stopping well above the beach. My husband and I were left to carry a wheel chair down the edge of a rocky cliff face. They did their best to help us out one day with a pick-up truck, but it meant the beach became an off-limits place, so we had to compromise with mainly pool time. However seeing our daughter swim in the pool in the sun made all of us really happy and because our daughter is very sensory the sights and smells of a new place meant it was really good for her – she lessened her self-harming and the change of routine was good for us all.’

Preparing for the actual holiday it ‘self takes a lot of time and a lot of research, with lots of things to consider before making any bookings.

 ‘Everything has to be thought of. At the time we want to fly, how crowded will the airport be? (For lots of autistic children the noise and activity of an airport is a really stressful experience). What would the facilities in the hotel be like? Standard room sizes are out for us, because we need more room to put my daughters’ special cot and adapted loo seat into. We wondered if the hotel could cater for our daughter’s dietary needs, because for us this means needing all her food pureed. We also know outside of the hotel that not all local restaurants would be willing to puree food ordered off a menu and then you have the whole question over whether a restaurant has wheel chair access’……our Cherry Trees parent trails off when asked about her holiday.

Navigating busy and noisy airports and accessing the often narrow single person toilets on planes can be quite a stressful part of travel for families with a disabled passenger flying with them, but there are also some very modern improvements underway to make the airport and flying element of leaving the UK easier. Bristol airport has a ‘hidden disabilities’ lanyard scheme underway, Makaton is starting to penetrate check-in desks and British Airways online pages to assist disabled passengers is well laid out covering lots of aspects of travel with most airlines having an on-board wheelchair in situ.

Our Cherry Trees parent wanted to share her survival tips for other families across Surrey who want to get a late summer holiday deal and feel they can make the trip out of the UK worth it all.

‘I would really recommend getting a clear and detailed letter from your family GP about your child’s medication, aids and condition to carry with you. It’s solid evidence of why you may need to make additional requests and you feel better prepared having it on you. I also came across the DPNA code (stands for Disabled Passenger Needing Assistance) – really good for letting airlines know in advance that you have a passenger with extra needs. When you book your flight, type it into one of the text boxes or comments section and this will enable staff in the airport and on flight to help with things like priority boarding, getting served food first and keeping families together. Expedia is also really good for booking flights with as their filter system lets you check the access information which is quite helpful. We found the staff at the airports in the UK and abroad really helpful and did a lot for us.’

‘We had some special moments on holiday – like the one day we got to take my daughter into the sea – we took the happiest of photos of her and her brother together in the sea – it made it all worth it.’ 

This article was co-authored by Anna Reid and a Cherry Trees parent - thanks to her for her time and assistance

Found this article useful and would like some more handy links to travel related articles for individuals and families with passengers with disabilities ? 

Still relatively unknown and not widely used, but there to help - more on DPNA codes:

Excellent article for people with autism looking to fly from a UK airport - really clear and full of information on autism friendly support available

Guaranteed wheelchair access, help with bookings with specific requests - it's all here for people who want a sunshine break in The Algarve

Feeling down-beat and a trip away is full of obstacles ? Martyn Sibleys' (blogger and vlogger) upbeat written style and photos will renew your vigour to get out there and travel. Lots of handy descriptions and information on foreign travel in his regular first hand accounts.