Tanja Willems’ vacation story

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Summer already feels like a long time ago, but it has still left its mark on us. We ended our holiday with hiring a solicitor. As an ALS patient, it was something I needed to do, if only to point out to travel agencies that the use of a wheelchair ought to be a major concern when it has been requested.

We were looking for a holiday property in Italy, as we do every year. To avoid any risks, we decided to use an authorised travel agency. We became interested in an old vineyard in Tuscany that had been remodelled into a holiday home. We made it clear from the start that I was bound to a wheelchair and that the property should be fully wheelchair accessible. We also made it clear we didn’t need any other modifications, just enough space for a wheelchair.

Just to clarify: I am wheelchair bound, but I can still independently move between my wheelchair and a bed, a bath board or another chair, even though I can no longer walk, not even with crutches.

At first, the staff members stated clearly that the property did have some holiday apartments on the second floor. We immediately requested to dismiss those and to look out for something else. After two days, they contacted us again, stating that the largest apartment of the property was still available and was completely located on the ground floor. They had contacted the caretaker, and all we had to do was pay a supplement.

Obviously, we were very pleased with this suggestion and immediately booked a wheelchair accessible hotel room in Milan for the journeys to Italy and back home. Our holiday could begin. All packed and ready, with a couple of extra handgrips and the like, we finally arrived at Montalcino.

It was a beautiful and vast area with a vineyard and many, many shady trees. Our son and daughter inspected the swimming pool and then the caretaker took us to our apartment. At first, our enthusiasm grew as we saw the beautiful living room with its kitchen, the large bedrooms, and the large gate at the entrance...

With the temperature being around 42 degrees, I was looking forward to seeing the bathroom. My husband, being Italian, was still behind me talking to the caretaker, when I noticed, to my surprise, I was stuck as soon I was halfway across the doorstep! I was stuck between the sink and the shower and there was no way for me to move further forward to reach the toilet! I was so shocked I withdrew for a little while, so I could be angry and sad without burdening my children with it.

My partner discussed the situation with the caretaker, whose son had talked to the travel agency on the phone about the reservation. Apparently, he had conveyed his doubts about the accessibility of the bathroom, as it was very narrow. We got in touch with the travel agency to obtain an explanation. The conversation turned into a to and fro of reproaches between them and the caretaker, who in turn was also distressed, but didn’t come up with a reasonable alternative either. Driving back home wasn’t an option after two days of driving to get here, and the travel agency didn’t provide us with a reasonable alternative.

When we got over the first shock, we started looking into what we could do. I ended up washing myself in my wheelchair with jugs of water, with the help of my partner who needed to mop everything up. Fortunately, with these temperatures, the wheelchair dried quickly in the sun. Fortunately as well, my partner was able to carry me to the toilet, which was a proper battle considering the heath.

In such a primitive manner, we continued our holiday. But, obviously, this isn’t an option for everyone. After all, you’re already dealing with certain limitations and then an incident like this adds even more limitations for you and your family.

Unfortunately, some travel agencies seem to care more about the price tag, making it their main concern. We thought it was most sensible to contact a solicitor with photographs and the booking form, which clearly stated WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE. Whatever happens next, this sort of ineptitude must end!!!

- Tanja.


Translation: Katia Ombelets

Source: Nieuwsbrief 158 – oktober, november, december 2012