Anticipation can be one of the best parts of a holiday. Planning where you’ll go and what you’ll do can stir up a sense of excitement long before you go away. And it can colour the way you experience the holiday itself.
The internet heightens this experience, exposing us to troves of photos and stories that help us plan and visualise the holiday. It also simplifies the logistics – because these days you can book almost every aspect of your holiday online.
Unless you have a significant physical disability, that is. In which case you can book almost no aspect of anything online, ever. Including holidays.
This is partly because online booking systems aren’t designed to cope with the complexities of a non-standard booking request. And it’s partly because venues and services often aren’t designed to cope with the complexities of a non-standard body.
So most of the time you need to follow up your online booking with an email or phone call. Or in some lucky cases, you can bypass the booking system and skip straight to the phone call.
Either way, it’s a lot more time consuming than booking online, and far more prone to stuff-ups through human error, miscommunication and the sheer lack of established processes.
Given that people with disabilities make up nearly 20 per cent of the population*, I don’t understand why online booking systems aren’t designed to meet the needs of such a large market segment in the first place.
My boyfriend reckons it wouldn’t be viable to design a system that could deal with the huge number of variables that would entail. He’s paraplegic. And a programmer. So, okay, he might know a bit about this stuff.
But I’m the tool who volunteered to take care of all the administrative aspects of our three-week, four-country holiday, and it doesn’t feel like an unreasonable thing to expect the customer service peeps to make it all a little bit easier.
Because between the multiple trains, hotels, flights, tours and activities I’m booking, it is really complex, labour-intensive, and quite emotionally exhausting.
I receive inexplicably shouty email responses: “our hotel rooms are NOT accessible for wheelchairs !!!!”
I get into an argument with a London hotel that changes our booking despite my objections, to a much smaller room with very wide doors, which they tell me will be more suitable for us.
In the weeks before I head off, people at work ask me if I’m excited, and I give them grim answers like: “I’m so sick of how horrible it’s been organising the whole thing! I’m just looking forward to that part of it being over.”
At the same time I’m acutely aware of my privileged position; I only have to deal with it for a few weeks and it will culminate in a holiday. Millions of people have no choice but to deal with this crap as part of their everyday lives.
Then just when I come to expect difficulty and frustration as the ordinary fruits of my quest, a few small successes arrive, giving me an inordinate sense of achievement.
A Swiss rail company replies promptly to my email, saying we will have no trouble boarding their train, fitting down the aisles or stowing the wheelchair.
The reservation manager at an Italian hotel contacts me, apologetically explaining that his building is centuries old and not wheelchair accessible. However, he offers – quite genuinely – to welcome and assist us in Florence, even though we won’t be staying at his hotel.
Several outdoor adventure companies reply to my enquiries, saying yes, they are equipped to throw paraplegics out of planes and off cliffs – on a purely consensual basis, of course.
And so, the defensive, angry little ball that’s been burning in my gut starts to unfurl once again into anticipation.
*this figure comes from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ ‘Disability, Australia 2009’ report, but I’m assuming that Australians aren’t an especially afflicted bunch and this percentage would be fairly representative across developed countries worldwide.