Caravan and tourist parks are usually a great option for sporting teams as they provide plenty of space for excited kids to run around in, laundries and barbecue facilities for large groups. The most affordable option found by some in our group was the Queanbeyan Riverside Tourist Park at just $75 per night and $10 per extra person. This was for a very basic cabin and you had to bring your own sheets and towels; not surprising considering the tariff. The Park does not have any accessible cabins so this was immediately ruled out as an option for me. (I do realise that Queanbeyan is in New South Wales and not the Australian Capital Territory, however we were trying to find accommodation close to the soccer fields that my son's team was most likely to be playing on.) I tried the Australian Institute of Sport as they have some accessible accommodation, but they were already fully booked months ahead of the event.
Next, I tried Canberra South Motor Park which had no vacancies and no wheelchair access anyway. As we were also likely to have one of my son's friends with us and we'd be staying for five nights, I accepted that we were probably not going to find something at the cheaper end of the market and started looking for apartment hotels. A laundry would definitely be a requirement with two boys playing up to three games of soccer each day. I contacted Canberra Short Term & Holiday Accommodation, the Medina Classic Canberra, the James Court Apartment Hotel and the Waldorf Apartment Hotel, none of which had any truly accessible apartments. Some told me that their accessible rooms were not fully accessible, which in one case meant that the shower was over a bathtub! I started to lose patience at this point and politely told the receptionist that in fact the correct way to answer my initial question was “No madam, we do not have any accessible apartments”. This raises another irritating issue which is that the sector still doesn't always understand the meaning of “accessible”. The Abode Apartment Hotel had one accessible option but it only slept two people so I would have to book a second studio apartment for the two boys and pay $1,500 for the five nights. It was a similar story at the Clifton Suites on Northbourne.
In desperation, I reluctantly began to consider hotels, even though I didn't relish the idea of being in a single room with two lively boys for five nights. I once again came across the issue of accessible rooms usually sleeping a maximum of three, therefore being forced to book an extra room for the boys. Some hotels didn't have a room that interconnected with the accessible room narrowing the choice even further. I have stayed at the Crowne Plaza in Canberra before so was happy to find out that they could offer me an accessible room with an interconnecting second room for the boys. Not so happy to learn that I would then be paying $2,156 for five nights in Canberra.
Finally, after calling nineteen different places and making alternative arrangements for my son's friend, I found something suitable: The Quality Hotel Woden. At $910 for five nights with a guest laundry and adjoining the Woden Tradesman's Club, this hotel probably wouldn't ever have been on my radar as somewhere I'd like to stay in Canberra, however the accessible room and the proximity to soccer fields made it a good choice for our trip. In addition, the Club was fully wheelchair accessible and was prepared to host a team dinner for over 40 young soccer players and their parents.
Just for the record, I really like Canberra. Public spaces and buildings are generally good for accessibility, although sports grounds could do with some improvements for wheelie spectators. What the whole experience did highlight though is the way that the accommodation sector, particularly in Canberra, has a very narrow view of what it needs to provide for people who travel with wheelchairs. A “one size fits all” approach does not work for the general population, so why do accommodation providers seem to think it is acceptable to use this approach for its wheelie clientele? In my experience, many places providing accessible rooms have a bed in which two people can sleep together and, if you are lucky, either a single bed or provision to add a single portable bed. This mostly works for my family as I am married to my carer and we have only one child, but what about wheelchair travellers who are not married to their carers? Or wheelies with more than one child who really need an interconnecting room so that they are close to the kids? Or families with many children but only one disabled child? I am also finding more and more examples of accessible rooms that only accommodate two people in the one bed, particularly in expensive cities like Sydney.
Consider this: for able travellers, most hotels offer quite a wide variety of rooms and suites often categorised into executive, deluxe or superior and containing one or two queen or king beds. You will also find interconnecting family rooms, special rooms just for kids and apartment hotels with one, two or more bedrooms as well as kitchens, living rooms and multiple bathrooms. Once you have found the right hotel, you can choose the appropriate room or apartment, and then decide if you want to pay extra for a balcony or special view. The choices are numerous and varied. Contrast this with my own experience and even after calling nineteen different places in Canberra, I was left with a “choice” of one.
Surely our nation's capital can do better at setting an example for other cities to follow. This would undoubtedly be gladly welcomed by all Australians with disabilities with the added bonus of pleasing international visitors travelling with wheelchairs too. While I don't expect providers to cater for every conceivable variation in parties of guests, it would be nice to think that the travel sector was at least starting to improve the glaring inequality in its offerings for able as opposed to disabled travellers. My hope is that eventually, the inherent discrimination and lack of choice for wheelie travellers will become a thing of the past.