Posted on 03/08/2018

Accessible days out for physically disabled parents

Accessible days out for physically disabled parents

There’s nothing like having a few days out with the family – especially over the summer holidays when the sun’s out and the kids are raring to go! But when you’re a parent living with a physical disability, travelling somewhere new may not seem like such a simple idea.

Everyone deserves to explore new places and enjoy some well-deserved days out in the sunshine this Summer, no matter what their abilities may be. That’s why we’ve spoken to four physically disabled parents to find out their top tips for keeping the kids entertained over the school holidays and ask them which accessible days out their families have enjoyed the most.

Ideas for accessible days out

Lizzy Bunton is a 31-year-old YouTube Vlogger and a mum of three. She was born with a severe form of CMT disease which has caused complete muscle wasting in her arms, hands, legs, feet, diaphragm and also vocal cord paralysis, yet she uses her YouTube channel to raise awareness of her life as a disabled mum.

“We love discovering new things we can do together. Recently my husband and I took the children to Decoy Country Park which is a big lake with a park and an area where there are water fountains squirting out so they can run around and cool down when it's really sunny. I filmed this for my YouTube channel as it's a really accessible place for us.”

Lizzy explained how she believes finding somewhere flat with smooth surfaces is most ideal when you’re living with a physical disability, which is why her family have also enjoyed days out at the local zoo, as well as theme parks.

“We love being outside in the summer so accessible places with smooth surfaces are our favourite outings. We have 2 daughters who love Disney so my dream would be to take them to Disney World where I know that it will be accessible. I love roller coasters so I would love to take the kids somewhere where I can join in too, even if it involves a bit of manual handling!”

Joe Entwistle, 46, is a father of two adopted twin girls, and has been lucky enough to take his family to Disney already. After incurring a spinal cord injury whilst wrestling in high school, Joe was left paralyzed from the shoulders down with a C4/C5 SCI. After he and his wife adopted their twin daughters, they decided to travel to Disney World and experience the magic together.

“One of the best experiences we’ve had out, was at Disney. We find a way to have fun no matter where we are and what we are doing, but Disney allowed us the opportunity to share in amusement rides. That’s the only place we’ve ever been able to share that experience.”

Joe admits that travelling to Disney was one of the more “special” experiences he has shared with his family, but is keen to point out that there have been many other days out which have given him, his wife and children the opportunity to spend quality time together.

“While Disney is a more grandiose example, we utilize every experience to share in the activities that we can all participate in and where we can.

“We love national parks and places where there is a lot of physical activity. I will go as far as I can with them, and the rest of the journey will be escorted with Mom and the girls alone. While I wait, we give them things to think about and identify so they can come back and report on the experience, which is another way to share in the experience and solidify the memories.”

Improvements still needed for accessible facilities

One of the main things that can make someone with a physical disability feel anxious about visiting somewhere new is not knowing what toileting facilities are available. Although many places in the UK are starting to become more accessible, the disabled parents we spoke to agree that the one area which needs to be drastically improved for days out with the family to be more enjoyable, is access to disabled toilets.

Gem Hubbard is a mother-of-one and incurred a spinal cord injury due to an aortic rupture after heart surgery complications when she was just 9 years old. Her YouTube Channel, Wheels No Heels, has over 20,000 subscribers and she regularly documents about life as a wheelchair user. When we asked for her thoughts on accessibility across the UK, she explained how places need to focus on the “finer” details.

“I think here in the UK places are pretty good at being accessible. But a lot of places need to concentrate on the “finer” details. I went to a farm recently with my daughter and went to use the disabled toilet, but the bin was slightly overlapping the door which made it almost impossible to get in, plus the bin was so big I couldn’t turn my wheelchair round to transfer or get out of the door! I think more thought needs to go into attractions etc, and the best way to make that happen is to get people with a wide variety of disabilities to give them feedback.”

The issue of adequate toileting facilities was also raised by Lizzy, who told us how there have been times when her family have travelled for days out and she hasn’t been able to go to the toilet all day due to lack of access – something which she, quite rightly, believes is unacceptable.

“It's fundamental to human life to be comfortable in going to the toilet during days out and most places just aren't good enough. If a company provides an accessible toilet, be open minded but also speak up if something isn't good enough for your needs.”

For mother-of-two, Fi Andersen, who was born with a rare muscle-wasting disease called Multiminicore Myopathy, even a standard accessible toilet poses problems due to the extent of her disability. She believes all theme parks and large attractions need ‘Changing Places’ facilities to help those with profound disabilities go to the toilet which, in turn, will mean they can spend more time enjoying their days out with family and friends.

“I personally can't use a standard disabled loo. ‘Changing Places’ toilets have a hoist and an adult sized changing bench. The added bonus is by having our toileting needs met we can stay out longer with the kids.”

Does being a physically disabled parent limit days’ out for the children?

We wanted to know whether physically disabled parents ever feel like their mobility issues result in their children missing days out or taking part in other physical activities.

Whilst Lizzy admits that “family activities are limited because of my disability”, she also says she is happy for her children to take part in activities with just their dad rather than miss out altogether so that they don’t “resent” her.

Gem and Fi are both adamant their children have never missed out on anything, with Gem saying:

“I have never thought that my daughter has missed out on anything. If she wants to go somewhere that’s not accessible, I’ll ask a friend or my husband will take her. I have a really good support network around me. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Fi was keen to add:

“I make sure if I cannot go with them because of an access issue that I swallow my pride and let my partner or another close relative take them. As a mother you put your children's needs above your own, no matter what.”

Joe even believes that his family’s experiences have given his daughters a much more robust preparation for life than your average, disability-free family.

“Having a disability means that you’re constantly figuring out how to successfully work around obstacles that are in your way. These are the critical skills I would want to teach my kids, regardless if I had a disability or not.”

We’d like to thank Gem, Fi, Lizzy and Joe for taking the time to share their thoughts with us and have included a short list below of all the accessible days out their families have enjoyed in the past. We hope it helps spark some ideas for the school holidays and gives parents with a physical disability the confidence to explore new places this Summer!

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