sunshineParents of children with learning disabilities face multiple barriers when taking their child on holiday, with the majority concerned about getting the right support and the attitude of the public, a study has revealed.

In a survey of 400 parents of children with a learning disability by learning disability charity Mencap, 58% said they had concerns about the attitudes of the public when taking their child on holiday. Meanwhile, 42% were concerned about the attitudes of staff and 30% said staff skills were a barrier while on holiday.

The survey also found that the majority of parents struggle to get the right support or care while on holiday – with 62% citing this as a barrier. Of these, 86% found the barriers to the right support to be significant or very significant.

Transport is also often a barrier with 60% feeling that airplane companies haven’t made the necessary reasonable adjustments to cater for families where someone has a learning disability

As a consequence, some parents have not been able to take their child on holiday. Of these, 41% say the main reason for this is that they are worried about the lack of support available on holiday.

Jenny Buchan, who has a son, Max, with a learning disability, says staff attitudes can make a real difference when she goes on holiday with her family. “Staff attitudes can really make or break a holiday and it’s important for the UK leisure industry to realise this,” she said. 

“I took Max to Paris recently, and made sure to explain to the crew that he sometimes gets a bit confused about when to keep his seatbelt on. At one point during the flight, Max got up to go to the loo on his own. The pilot put the light on because there was a bit of turbulence, but Max didn’t see it. One of the crew just said ‘go and sit down’ to him, and when he tried to explain, the steward spun Max around and frog marched him back to his seat. Max wasn’t impressed. 

“I’ve been to many different places and had really good experiences as well as really bad ones. Max went off to kids club one day and I arranged to pick him up in a couple of hours. When I went back, he wasn’t there. The staff told me his sister had come to pick him up, even though he doesn’t have a sister. I found him at the pool on his own. I was so angry, but didn’t even get an apology. 

“At the same place, later in the week, the kids were playing musical chairs. Max never wins this game because he’s slow, but the staff kept stopping the music when he was by a chair, so he ended up winning. The manager of the kids club put him on his shoulders and paraded him around on his shoulders to ‘We Are The Champions’. Max was so thrilled. It just goes to show how staff attitudes can really impact your experience.”

Ciara Lawrence, a spokesperson at Mencap, said: “As somebody with a learning disability, I know how negative staff attitudes can make travelling even more stressful. On a flight to Dublin, my luggage was overweight. I ended up confused and upset because the staff didn’t explain this to me in an accessible way. It is so important for staff to have disability awareness training so that they can deliver a good service to the 1.4 million people living with a learning disability in the UK.” 

Rossanna Trudgian, head of campaigns at Mencap, added: “Families have a right to take control of their child’s life by being more actively involved in decisions about their support as a result of the Children and Families Act 2014. Support such as childcare and kids clubs, is crucial while on holiday in order to give parents a chance to relax and for their child to access activities. Positive public and staff attitudes can make a great deal of difference to people’s experiences of going away. Encouraging the public to see the person, not the disability, will bring about more opportunities for people to live their lives as equal citizens, an issue that needs addressing locally as well as nationally.

“It is incredibly important that we challenge discriminatory attitudes towards people with a learning disability. The UK travel and leisure industry must prioritise listening to people and their families and give them the support to live their lives as they choose to.”