For people with learning disabilities, being able to choose where to go on holiday and what to do there - and being supported to do that - is fundamentally important, says Ian Callen.
If you look at a selection of holiday brochures, you will find a range of different images; from gently plodding along Weston-Super-Mare beach on a donkey, to enjoying a rowdy cabaret at a Skegness Butlins. From lapping up the golden sun on a warm, Mediterranean azure coastline to travelling across America on a Greyhound bus or exploring the African savannahs on deepest safari or trekking the ancient Inca trails at altitude in Peru.
Each image conveys acompletely different holiday experience. Despite this, they allshare a common thread; choice. A holiday is an independent choice that reflects a part of our personality and says something about who we are. A holiday gives us the chance to take some time out ofour normal lives, do something different and 'break' the routine,whether that be chilling by the pool with a cocktail, or going onexcursions and doing activities. Holidays also present us with memorable moments in our lives. Lifetime friendships can beforged with new and exciting people. Or it could be a chance forromance to blossom. Travelling to somewhere new can enliven oursenses and improve our wellbeing, which could lead to all kinds ofpositive changes in our lives. Or we can just come back from ourtrip away with batteries fully charged, ready to deal withday-to-day living again.
But forpeople with a learning disability, choosing a holiday can be achallenge. They have to ask many questions, such as:
- Whether they will get the right levels of support at their destination?
- What are the support staff like?
- Can a key worker or a family member be brought along to provide support?
- How much will it cost?
- Are the facilities accessible?
- If travelling abroad, can they be supported on theflight/train/coach from home and back again?
A research project concerning holidays for people with learning disabilities, undertaken by Manchester Learning Disability Partnership, The University of Manchester and Bury People First,published in June 2007, found that fewer disabled people go on holiday than non-disabled people. The main reasons disabled peopleare less likely to go on holiday include:
- Poverty and the cost of holidays
- A person's support needs
- Lack of basic disability awareness among travel agents and touroperators
- Inaccessible transport
- Inaccessible holiday accommodation
- Problems with taking wheelchairs and mobility aids.
Sometimes the 'choice' questions get lost when all the above factors need to be considered. Questions like; 'where do I want togo?', 'what type of holiday do I want?' and 'does it matter if Ihave chosen my own holiday?' But these are important factors toconsider. If you have chosen a holiday and really enjoyed it, thefact that you chose it offers a sense of enhanced satisfaction and empowerment. But mainstream travel agents and tour operators arenot always able to cater for the needs of people with learning disabilities. However, there are some specialist providers that dooffer people with learning disabilities genuine choice in their holidays, such as Go Provence Supported Holidays, a project based in Provence in southern France. Go Provence deals directly with clients when publicising its holidays, such as talking about the project directly to groups and organisations that advocate for and support people with learning disabilities. The directorsexplain in detail about what kind of holidays people with learningdisabilities can expect with Go Provence and leave a brochure withpeople who are interested. People are then free to do their own research by visiting the Go Provence website, where they can watch a short film about the project to get a better idea of the holidaylocation and the activities available. Activities include:
- Kayaking through the Gorges du Verdon
- A boat cruise around St Tropez
- Land art
- French lessons
- Traditional French meals at a restaurant
- Wild camping
- Wine tasting
- Participating in local community events like the Fête de laMusique.
There are plenty of photographs on the website as well as profileson support staff and details of how to make a reservation. Should a person then wish to book with Go Provence they can go with orwithout their normal support resources. In this way, clients who book a holiday will have done so after deciding it is somewherethat they want to go and that it is the type of holiday that theywant.
Whatever you want
Choice is a theme thatruns through the Go Provence project and manifests itself throughthe variety of holidays available. A peaceful week in the Provencalvillage of Quinson - where Go Provence is based - or a whistle-stoptour of the Mediterranean coast from Spain to Italy are just twoexamples of the types of holiday on offer. Clients can also makes requests about specific holidays. For example, if a client wants tocome with a group of friends and visit the Cannes Film Festival, or maybe a week spent hiking and camping through the Gorges du Verdon,a week can be planned around this request. Every request isconsidered. Likewise, clients can choose whether they travel byaeroplane or train. Having the option to travel by train is greatfor people who have a fear of flying. Clients are fully supportedon both means of transport. This offers peace of mind for clients,carers and family members. Go Provence has also set up the GoProvence 'Blue Sky' Fund to help people with learning disabilitieson a low income to afford a holiday. The fund, depending on income,can pay for a whole holiday or contribute to part of it. This fundenables more choice for people who may not be able to afford asupported holiday abroad normally. Having a sense of wellbeingthrough choice has far-reaching benefits for clients, carers,family and friends. Choosing where you go on holiday and choosingwhat you want to do on your holiday is something everyone should beentitled to. Choice is a chance for expression, to have some inputas to how your life unfolds. Not being able to choose whichdirection to move your life in can be frustrating anddisheartening. Choosing a holiday is just as important as choosingwhere to live or the friends you socialisewith.
Manchester Learning DisabilityPartnership and The University of Manchester (2007) We're All Goingon a Summer Holiday. Available athttp://www.mldp.org.uk/documents/Holidaysreport.pdf (accessed May13 2011).
About the author Ian Callen isco-director and founder of Go Provence. For more information aboutGo Provence, go to www.goprovence.co.uk.