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REVIEW: Helping the physically challenged get around the big city

28 Feb 2010

Big cities can be daunting for any first-time visitor, whether he or she arrives on work or leisure. But when one has a disability, it can even prove more of a challenge to move around in an unfamiliar setting.

Wheel Away Disabled Travel – Hong Kong is the first guidebook of a series that aims to provide helpful, if not vital, information to create a productive and enjoyable experience for special travellers and their companions.

Author Sarah Fuller has compiled the material based on personal experience, having travelled many times with her father, who uses a wheelchair and her mother (his primary caregiver), both of whom are avid adventurers. A long-time resident of Hongkong, she started her research with the city she knew best, and intends to move on to other major Asian hubs and explore their provisions for the handicapped.

The handy sized booklet is thoughtfully sectioned, starting with the all-important “Planning” stage through to maps of popular areas such as Central and Admiralty on Hongkong Island and Mongkok and East Tsimshatsui in Kowloon. Fuller also inspected a range of hotels (over a 100 to be exact), observing: “It’s quite interesting what hotels actually classify as a “disability” room. Some hotels are cheeky enough to think that simply widening the door entrance and putting a hand-rail in the bathtub make a room disability-friendly!” Other details she took note of were lobby access to the street level and best table locations for the wheelchair bound in various F&B outlets, as well as measurements of guestroom front doors and bathrooms doors.

Notably missing were facts about the hotel’s meetings and conference facilities, which, perhaps, Fuller could include in a second run of the guidebook, as well as on the bigger meeting venues around the city such as the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and AsiaWorld Expo at the Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA). She does, however, touch on HKIA early on in the book, describing it as well equipped to meet the needs of disabled passengers.

All in all, the information benefits not only the physically challenged but also the hearing and visually impaired and not-so-nimble seniors.

Fuller’s first attempt is commendable for the amount of detail she packed into this unique city guide. Her message is clear – getting on with one’s life or doing business doesn’t have to stop due to physical disability or serious illness that has rendered one with less mobility.

But it takes facing up to daily realities and more planning and research before each journey. A guidebook like Wheel Away can help smoothen out some of the bumps on the road.

For more details, visit www.wheelawaydisabledtravel.com

Margie T Logarta

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