Globetrotter travel advisor Roland Bigler has been in a wheelchair since a swimming accident. That never stopped him from traveling. And with his experience, he now has the right tips in store for everyone with a wheelchair who wants to travel.
The first trip takes courage
Every beginning is difficult. For people in wheelchairs, especially when it comes to daring the first trip, the first vacation in the new life situation. It didn’t take long for Roland Bigler: ten months after his accident, he was back on the plane heading for Cyprus. That was a group trip organized by the Paraplegic Foundation. And he remembers: “Maybe that was a little naive. I didn’t really know the situation, I had just started a new life. ”
And yet he was able to learn a lot on the well-organized trip, to learn a lot from the other travelers in wheelchairs, some of whom had years of experience. He laughs today that Roland’s first trip in a wheelchair didn’t end so well: “The doctors told me to drink a lot, wear support stockings and avoid the sun – I did exactly the opposite and promptly had to leave Rega with a thrombosis be flown home. ”
Roland was 20 then. Today, more experience, he has a lot of recommendations for people in wheelchairs and their first trip. “I would probably do something with the train for the first time,” he says. Paris or Lyon maybe. Or Berlin. “That’s awesome there, almost everything is wheelchair-accessible.” Except for the television tower, that’s what Roland hissed. “They did have a lift, but for fire safety reasons they wouldn’t let me up. I almost wrote to Merkel, ”he says and grins.
Olympic cities as pioneers
Overall, cities that hosted the Olympic Games are often particularly suitable for people in wheelchairs. “That’s where the Paralympics always take place,” says Roland. Cities like Vancouver, Sydney or London are then for a short time real pioneers when it comes to accessibility.
For a first flight with a wheelchair, Roland does not recommend a transcontinental flight. “Many wheelchair users like it warm,” he says. “Tenerife, for example, is very suitable.” With the Los Cristianos beach in the south of the island, one of the first top destinations for people in wheelchairs was created around thirty years ago. “There are kilometer-long promenades, access to the sea with beach wheelchairs to help you get on, numerous barrier-free toilets and excursions in wheelchair-accessible vehicles.” But Mallorca is also a good first destination with wheelchair taxis and barrier-free public transport.
Flying remains an obstacle
Whether on the short haul or across the Atlantic, air travel in a wheelchair is always a hassle – and sometimes tedious, as Roland had to experience several times. “In any case, you have to register with the airline in good time. Preferably a week in advance. ” And then all requests and special needs should be registered.
Getting on the plane with your own wheelchair is impossible, even over the passenger bridge. The entrance is too narrow, the aisle between the seats too narrow. So there is a narrow folding wheelchair for the transfer to the seat. Your own wheelchair comes with you in the hold. Incidentally, this does not cost anything, the airlines are obliged to enable people with reduced mobility to travel just like everyone else.
Looking for personal contact
The hotels are getting better and better, says Roland Bigler. “Many hotel operators now know what a drive-in shower is and write it directly on their website.” Others simply write “Facilities for the disabled” on their site. “That’s no use to me at the moment!” The problem with booking a room is still the same: There is no such thing as barrier-free travel because people can have many different restrictions. Not only people in wheelchairs need accessibility, but also deaf people and people with visual impairments. And their needs are completely different.
That’s why Roland swears by direct communication with the hotels. He looks around the booking platforms, looks at pictures, but often emails the accommodations directly. Wheelchair users are generally on the Internet a lot. Roland himself says: “I often look at my destinations on Google Street View, then I see where there are ramps or stairs.” In this way he avoids unpleasant surprises and sees in advance where it is not even worth going to.
No matter how well orchestrated a trip is, things can always go wrong. As a travel consultant, Roland tries to clear all the stones out of the way for his customers (most of them are in wheelchairs, by the way), but whether pedestrians or wheelchair users – no one is immune from all eventualities. “I have already experienced that with a customer – despite a corresponding booking – no more accessible hotel rooms were available.”
Then communication is required, and an uncomplicated rethinking. A stubborn head doesn’t get you anywhere, says Roland: “When you travel, you simply leave your comfort zone. It’s the same for everyone. Then you have to be flexible according to your abilities. “
Inspiration to others
Many of Roland’s customers are insecure and do not really know what to trust. “I try to encourage them,” says the travel agent. But he also makes recommendations. For example, he advises: “I would always take someone with me.” There are many wheelchair users who want to travel alone. “They do it anyway, and they book themselves too.” For him that would not even be an option. As a quadriplegic, he cannot move his legs or fingers. “I need so much help that traveling alone would not be possible.”