Traveling with a Mobility Disability in Ireland and Scotland

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

As a traveler with disabilities, I am well-aware of the challenges of traveling - and the great rewards! There are many more things to think of as a traveler with disabilities - access, transportation, cultural views of disability, and more. I am always learning the hard way, it seems, about both written and unspoken rules of disability travel, 23 years after my accident! We're headed to Ireland and Scotland in September, and since I have a mobility disability, I was a bit concerned about what to expect. I've been to Scotland (although not to the Highlands) and was eager to learn about access in Ireland. I queried the forum on Pat Preston's, and people responded with their own experiences, which helps on the ground, for sure .

Disability travel Ireland


I also contacted Candy Harrington, the Guru of Accessible Travel. Her book, entitled Barrier-Free Travel: A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers - 3rd Edition, is FILLED with gems of information. We talked with her about traveling with a CPAP (for my husband), and asked her about traveling with a mobility disability there. She shared fantastic tips with us - here's what Candy had to say...

WE: What should travelers with mobility disabilities expect in Ireland and Scotland?

CH: The UK is very similar to the US as far as access is concerned.  Most newer properties and facilities are wheelchair-accessible or at least
doable, but some historic properties and inns have access obstacles. For the most part they have a good infrastructure of curb-cuts, sidewalks and accessible paths of travel. A lot of access information is also available about properties and tourist attractions, with a good chunk of it available on the internet.  Additionally,  wheelchair-users who travel with carers (that's what they call your  companion or attendant) usually get free admission for the carer to attractions. And the people are very helpful, so all in all I think it's a great place for wheelers and slow walkers to explore.

WE:  What laws are there, regarding disability access, in Ireland and Scotland?

CH: In 1995, Britain passed the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), which made it illegal for most providers of goods, services and facilities to discriminate against any person with a disability. The DDA applies to public accommodations such as hotels, airports and entertainment venues, as well as to most ground transportation providers. In October 2004 the DDA was further modified and strengthened to include even the smallest businesses.

WE: How can travelers with mobility disabilities make their experiences easier in Ireland and Scotland?

CH: Just like in the US, you need to contact hotels and inns directly to find out if they will be able to meet your access needs. On the plus side, Scotland has a voluntary access rating program administered by VisitScotland. Properties that participate in this program are inspected by a trained professional, who then determines their access rating. These ratings -- which are displayed in guide books and websites -- are classified as Category 1-3, with Category 1 having the highest level of access. Although this program is voluntary, it's pretty widespread, so you'll find a lot of properties displaying their access ratings, which really helps when choosing a property. You can search for accessible properties on the VisitScotland website.

Additionally it's important to ask about access at historic buildings or sites. In order to preserve the historic integrity of these buildings, structural alterations are in most cases prohibited; so some offer portable ramps or other hidden access adaptations. In other words, don't just assume something isn't accessible because it looks that way, as there very well may be a ramp hidden in a nearby closet. Always ask!

WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share?

CH: I highly recommend buying a copy of Open Britain ( before you hit the road. This excellent access guide is divided by geographic region and contains listings of over 1,000 hotels, B&Bs, self catering properties and caravan parks throughout England, Scotland and Wales. The book also contains loads of access information on attractions plus a wide range of access resources and companies that provide accessible tourism services.

If you'd like a scooter for distance in some cities, you can always check out what the local Shopmobility branch has to offer. This UK-based charity provides manual wheelchairs, power wheelchairs and scooters to the anybody with limited mobility so they can shop and visit leisure and commercial facilities throughout town. Some locations provide for the free use of equipment, while others charge a nominal rental fee. Some require advance notice or reservations and others have equipment available on a walk-in basis. And although this service was originally designed for daily use, many schemes now offer weekly rental, which is the ideal option for visitors. You can find local branches in their online directory at

WE: Thanks so much, Candy! We appreciate your information - it helps so very much.

For more information, please see Candy's Barrier Free Travels blog at

UPDATE! I wrote about disability access in Ireland over at IrishFireside - take a look!





Photos courtesy of Creative Commons, Flickr: