Altogether Travel is the UK’s first Care registered Travel Company. Our Holiday Companions travel with customers across the world, with a wide variety of support needs. With customer and staff experience we hope to share some Travel Tips with Hidden Disabilities.
Hidden disabilities relate to medical conditions that are perhaps not obvious immediately when meeting someone. Examples include autism, dementia, hearing impairment, having a stoma, and mental health conditions.
Keep in mind anyone can have any combination of conditions which require support. Most of all, be kind – everyone is different. Give the person space or ask if you can do something to help.
Fear of Flying courses can also be available in the UK which may benefit people who are nervous about flying.
In 2016, Transport Minister Robert Goodwill stated: “According to CAA research, as many as 7% of all people could be avoiding air travel because of a hidden disability”.
Autism affects how people communicate with and relate to others, and how they make sense of the world around them. As autism is a spectrum, people can experience similar difficulties, but can be affected in different ways. It can be difficult to understand and interpret people or situations, which can cause anxiety. At times autistic people may feel like they are getting too much information at once and need some time to process this.
Everyone is different, but some things people can share are a love of routines, sensory sensitivity to noises, smells and light, and being particularly interested in certain things. Giving the person with autism choice can help them enjoy the idea of a holiday. They could pack their own things in a bag to have with them and be responsible for these familiar things.
Along with the excitement and sometimes stress of organising a holiday, there are extra considerations with travel for people with autism. Doing research for places that may be ideal for the person with autism is key, and you can find out facilities and staff experience or understanding as the National Autistic Society tells us Autism Friendly Award holders – the UK airports shown are Bristol, Birmingham, Edinburgh & Gatwick.
People with autism may find change difficult, so speaking with them about the holiday can help prepare them with what to expect. This may reduce anxiety and help them enjoy the experience more, as each stage of an unusual day can be challenging and may be overwhelming.
You could take some time to look at photos of the destination and hotel to give visual support for the holiday idea. You could have these available in a book or phone for understanding stages of the holiday experience, describing times when you may be waiting.
For the holiday itself, it may be a good idea to ensure enough time for breaks and normal routines the person with autism has. Include them to join in as much as they feel like, and you could show what the day could be like with visual support. This can help things not to become overwhelming and routines can make people feel more comfortable with the situation.
You can also explain possible social situations such as delayed travel and how you would respond to this together, such as playing a game to pass the time. Resources are available online to help show such situations visually which may help to explain things. You can also take these supportive materials with you in case the person with autism becomes unsure of something. Speaking clearly with limited gesturing or facial expressions may help someone with autism to process information, and patience is key.
You can include the autistic person in decisions such as where they would like to sit on the plane – if they like to look out of the window, or if they would prefer someone they know to sit either side of them. Ear defenders can block out noise, but would the person also enjoy their favourite type of music? You could make a holiday play list together and have this ready, especially for the travelling parts of your holiday. Anything which may be comforting for them is a brilliant idea to have during the holiday, if they have a favourite item or piece of clothing perhaps.
Please check out the National Autistic Society for more information.
National Autistic Society:
“More than 1 in 100 of the (UK) population have been diagnosed with autism. Over 99% of people have heard of autism, but only 16% of autistic people feel the public understand them”.
“Some autistic people may manage their experience of a journey through repetitive physical behaviours, for example, tapping their fingers or flapping their hands. This is perfectly normal; try not to stare or make them feel self-conscious”.
If the person with dementia tends to walk around, it may be a good idea to have contact information in their handbag or wallet in case they become lost or separated from you. This can also indicate that the person with dementia may be confused or distressed and show what could help. It may also be a good idea to carry a recent photo of them and note a description of the clothing they are wearing.
People with dementia can find the environment or situation they are in confusing and can experience anxiety or stress as a result. For a holiday to be enjoyed by everyone it is important to plan for what people will enjoy and avoid what may be distressing such as busy crowds and noise. Also, a holiday outside summer months can be less busy and may save you some money!
Being supportive can help people cope with changes to what they think of as their normal routine. Find out as much information as you can about a destination, for things the person with dementia may be interested in and how accessible the area is if they also have limited mobility. Going to a place the person with dementia has mentioned enjoying may be fun, as during the holiday this can be a talking point of why you are there together.
It may be reassuring to have a mattress protector with you or request extra bedding to be in the room to be prepared for any accidents. Keeping the bathroom door open can help someone find their way, particularly during the night. Temporary signs can also be placed with images such as a toilet, to indicate what the door leads to with visual support. Another idea is to place a ‘Keep Out’ sign on the back of a hotel room door to deter the person with dementia from exploring. A small hotel without long hallways with many doors may be easier to navigate than a larger hotel.
A person with dementia may interpret a large door mat of a hotel as a hole in the ground, or similar with a dark taxi seat. Try to reassure them and you can place a colourful blanket on a seat to show it is safe.
Making a list of things to remember can help with packing, medication and holiday information to have handy before and during the holiday.
Keeping certain familiarities can bring comfort and help anchor the person with dementia in the holiday or any situation. These can include having extra clothing, their favourite newspaper, book, music and family photographs handy and available during your stay.
Travel Tips: Hidden Disabilities
These travel tips are relevant for people with various hidden disabilities, and main points include arranging passenger assistance before and bringing comfort items that may help with any new situation.
- Communicating support needs with a hotel or airline is important so staff can be helpful. Airlines, train and ferry companies will have a medical or assistance form to complete for a clear record of the person’s requirements. It is recommended to take this with you on holiday, plus any relevant communication or confirmation to show if need be.
- As you will be communicating support needs, you can request to sit in a quieter part of the airport while waiting and it is likely you can board first or last, depending on your preference.
- Either way, with many people around it is best to have any comfort items such as music, noise-cancelling headphones, books or a pillow for travel.
- By describing changes before it happens allows these to be less surprising at the time, so an experience may be somewhat expected. You could show this on a calendar and count down the days before together, asking them to tell you what might happen that day.
- Giving people the opportunity to ask questions and express themselves is a great way to be supportive, as uncertainties can be addressed and lower anxiety.
- Some tourism attractions have a ‘Carers go free’ policy, so this is always worth checking out before you go.
- While on holiday some people choose to take a small card explaining autism/dementia/the hidden disability briefly – these can also be available online. It may also be a good idea to translate this into the destination language, or have short phrases prepared explaining with things that could be helpful in case someone does not seem to understand immediately.
- It is important to think with a sensory perspective – is there a quieter area or part of the hotel that the person may prefer?
- Usually the passenger requiring assistance will be prioritised for ‘fast-track’ with immediate carers (2 adults’ maximum).
- An airline can communicate information to the airports you will be using and staff will be expecting your arrival (some VIP treatment!).
- It is recommended to arrive at least 2 hours early for your flight to reduce stress and allow enough time to move through the airport.
- Travel insurance is highly recommended and ensure this covers the medical requirements of each individual travelling.
Air Travel Examples:
Lanyards may be issued for hidden disabilities as an indication for airport staff to assist discreetly, to help your time in the airport go smoothly. The example shown is issued by Edinburgh Airport and a visual social story is available to download from the website with helpful information. Visits to the airport can be arranged before travel to become more familiar with the environment – this does not include security or onboard aircraft for security reasons. Edinburgh airport also advertise induction loops for people with hearing impairments and work with Stomawise to raise awareness of concerns people may have. Other information is available for people with a heart device and it is advised to have a Patient ID Card in your hand luggage, along with medication.
Aer Lingus also have helpful visual guides available to download from the website.
An example of Edinburgh airport lanyards and badges.
Thank you for reading our Travel Tips with Hidden Disabilities. We hope this may be helpful and encourage you to travel. If you would like us to put together holiday options for you to consider, or if you are interested in having a Holiday Companion support you please get in touch with us.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.