Our articles

Travelling with special needs

a5rcn8626ck-dino-reichmuth

With some kids, travelling can become a real family favourite pastime. Whether they’re obsessed with planes, Thomas the Tank Engine or going on the bus, travelling can often be just as much fun as getting there.

Sometimes medication, equipment, specific food/drink, behavioural or sensory problems can make travelling with a disabled child a bit tricky. Pretty much everything can be sorted out, though, if you plan ahead and talk it through with the right people. Here are a few questions to consider before you go:

  • What plans can you make in advance to help your child cope with change/noise or new sensations?
  • Do you have a plan if you need emergency medical help while you’re out?
  • Do you need pre-existing condition insurance?
  • What letters do you need from your doctor in order to travel? You may need separate verifications for their condition and equipment.

If you’re worried about behavioural problems, or your child is on the autistic spectrum, have a look at this brilliant site: Travelling on the autistic spectrum

Also, DisabledTravelers.com is a resource dedicated to accessible travel information.

Planes

Here are a few tips for travelling on a plane with your child:

  • Before you book, call the airline to discuss your child’s needs. This includes what plans need to be in place if there is an emergency, and any special equipment you need take on board (eg oxygen).
  • Get help at the airport from check-in or airport staff – you’ll probably be fast-tracked depending on your child’s needs.
  • Get written permission for your child to fly from your doctor or consultant, and keep a copy with you at all times. The letter should include permission to take your child’s medication and any equipment on the plane.
  • Bring a repeat prescription, just in case.
  • The loos on the plane are very tight – if this might be an issue for your child, talk him or her through it beforehand, and avoid giving them lots to drink just before take-off.
You’ll find lots more advice here:

Parenting.co.uk Top 10 tips for flying with young children and babies

Disabled-world.com Flying with children

Directgov Air travel if you are mobility impaired

Airport and airline services for disabled travellers

Spinal Injury Network Services for disabled passengers and additional seating fares for travel companions.

The Guides Network Regional and international airport guides for disabilities. They also do camping guides.

Trains

Travelling by train can be a great family adventure, so long as you plan ahead. Have a look at these links so you’ll know what to expect, and read our tips about reducing stress for you all.

Top Tips

  • Check accessibility along the whole journey and include any platform changes. If you need help, let all the stations know in advance.
  • Prepare your child with books and pictures about what to expect.
  • Pack toys, food and drink to use on the journey
  • Find out where the toilets are along the way, and their accessibility.
  • Have an emergency plan with contact numbers – remember your mobile might not work on the underground.
  • See if you can get a train driver or staff member to chat to your child. It can reduce stress for your child and might help avert a meltdown.
  • Avoid rush hour if at all possible.

Eurostar

If you prefer, you can stay in your car on Eurostar the whole way from boarding to when you drive off in France. Just display your Blue Badge and tell staff that this is what you want to do when you check in. Follow the overhead signs for disabled travellers and board at the front of the train. Seeing eye/disabled assistance dogs can travel on Eurostar.

For up-to-date information on special needs travel on Eurostar, check out these pages.

National Rail

Here are a few useful links for when you’re travelling on National Rail.

Basic information for travellers with additional needs

Regional train operating companies with map

For specific journeys you might need to contact individual train companies to check for accessibility to and from the platform. Here is the National Rail link with a handy map.

You can get up to 50% off an anytime ticket depending on your child’s disability and need for a ‘companion’. The criteria are quite specific, so have a look at this link.

Disabled Person's Railcard

Disabled kids aged 5–16 may be eligible for a Disabled Person's Railcard. They pay the normal child's fare, but one adult can travel at a discounted rate of one third off the fare. The medical criteria are quite broad and include epilepsy and mobility Disability Living Allowance. There is some extra information about the railcard on the Directgov site.

 

The Underground

London Underground

Not all stations on the London Underground are accessible to everyone. Have a look at the Transport for London map  – it shows step-free routes and there is also an audio guide.

For kids with sensory issues, the London Underground can get a bit full-on – very hot in the summer, noisy and crowded in rush hour. Occasionally trains will wait in tunnels and although the driver will keep you well informed, this might not stop your child getting distressed.

All London Underground trains have priority seating for disabled passengers and spaces for wheelchairs. However, you may not be able to count on getting these, especially during rush hour.

Most of the Underground has no mobile phone reception, but London Underground staff members will be able to get your child emergency medical help if needed.

The Glasgow Subway

Wheelchairs and large pushchairs are not allowed on the Glasgow Subway. Guide dogs and hearing dogs are welcome, though. Be aware that access to almost all the stations involves steps.

Ticket offices have amplification equipment for customers with hearing problems.

Merseyrail

Merseyrail Trains are well designed for disabled access, with priority seating and with reserved spaces for standard-size wheelchairs and mobility scooters. Contact Customer Relations at least 1 hour in advance if you need help at a station.

As long as they have at least an hour's notice, staff can be on hand to assist at any station. To book, call 0800 0277 347 (free phone number), Monday to Friday. At other times, call 0151 702 2704.

 

Cars

Adapting your vehicle

If your car needs to be adapted to meet your child’s needs, there is support available, including the Motability Scheme. Check to see if you’re eligible.

Before you travel

For long car journeys, it’s best to be prepared in case of medical, emotional or behavioural problems. Being prepared is very empowering. It means you’ll have a lot less things to think about if anything goes wrong while you’re out, and it means you’re more able to cope with any emergencies.

  • Have an A4 sheet of all the information you might need in an emergency, including contact details for medical departments, and a list of your child’s medicines.
  • Have you checked out accessibility at motorway service stations along your route?
  • Is it worth programming the local A&E into your sat-nav to save time in an emergency?
  • Do you need somebody else with you to look after your other children in case of an emergency?
  • Did you pack the CD, DVD, iPad, cuddly toy that your child just can’t live without?

Travelling with an autistic child

If you’re worried about behavioural problems, or your child is on the autistic spectrum, have a look at this brilliant site: Travelling on the autistic spectrum

 

About parking

Hospital parking:

  • Hospitals and clinics often have special parking rules that allow you to park for longer and/or for free if your child has an appointment, is in A&E, or is an in-patient for treatment. You may not always be told about special parking privileges, so make sure you ask.
  • Call ahead if you can, especially if you have a city centre appointment. The hospital might have allocated parking for you. Finding an available space may take a while (at Great Ormond Street, for instance), so leave plenty of time before your appointment for this.

The Blue Badge Scheme

Having a Blue Badge allows you to park in disabled parking spaces, which are always closer to where you need to be. Most parts of the UK are covered in some way by the Blue Badge Scheme. You can apply for a Blue Badge from your Local Council or click here, fill out the form, and Directgov will pass it on for you. The Blue Badge moves with your disabled child, not you or your car.

  • Some cities have their own badge schemes, which make special parking provisions for their own disabled residents.
  • In Northern Ireland, a Blue Badge will give you access to some areas, but you will need a white badge for others. This single scheme applies across the whole of Northern Ireland.
  • Here is some brilliant clear advice about the Blue Badge scheme from Directgov

Taxis

In London and some other large cities, all licensed taxis (black cabs) are accessible to wheelchair users. They have a convenient fold down ramp. Contact the licensing officer at your local council to see if your area has wheelchair accessible taxis too.

Ring and Ride

If you don’t have your own car, try Ring and Ride. It provides a door-to-door minibus service with disabled access for all ages. You can use this service for short, local journeys, to go shopping, to school, college, or hospital appointments. Some also offer fun day-trips.

Registration is free, and then there is a small fee to pay per journey, although if you have a free travel pass from you local authority there is no charge for the service. Sometimes you can have a companion with you or other dependent children.

Ring and Ride is available all year, around 8am–11pm. Sunday service may vary. The kind of service you might have depends on where you live, so contact your local council to find out more.

 

For more information about travelling and parking, check out:

Blue Badge Network

disabled travel advice

 

Disability Living Allowance

There is a mobility component of Disability Living Allowance, which you can claim if you are the parent of a disabled child who needs additional assistance in getting around.

There are two different rates available:

The lower rate – for children aged five and above who need more help to get around than children of the same age who are not disabled.

The higher rate – for children who are three and above and who have a severe disability. If you are on the higher rate, you qualify for The Motability Scheme, which may be able to help you buy/lease a car. You may also be exempt from Road Tax.

lovehearts_take-a-break

See our Holidays & Days Out section to get inspired with ideas for everything from short breaks to dream holidays.

HOLIDAYS landing page

Look for specialist insurance providers and more info in our directory.

Sky Badger can also help you with...

Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

Education

Find extra help at school, information about Education, Health, Care Plans (EHCP), apps & programmes, tech and IT for supporting learning and sensory activities.

disabled holidays uk

Holidays & Free time

Find holidays, sports, free cinema tickets, theatre, clubs, art, dance, music, days out, make a wish charities and more.

gwvmbgpp-pq-steinar-la-engeland

Useful technology & kit

Find sensory toys, useful technology, trikes and bikes, wheelchairs & mobility.

disabled grants

Finances

Find grants, governemnt benefits and help with your utility and council tax bills.

oqmzwnd3thu-helloquence

Legal stuff

Find out about disability rights, educational and medical law and how to find a specialist advocate or lawyer.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

Medical stuff

Find information about your child's medical condition, medicines that they take and mental health support.

Not sure where to turn?

istock_000021104923large

Contact our helpdesk

Do you need specific help for your disabled or special needs child? Click here to tell us more about what you're looking for and our helpdesk team will do their very best to find you what you need. All of our advice is confidential and we will not share your details or personal information with anyone.