Carly Findlay standing on a walkway, beeside a stone wall

Carly Findlay’s Tips For Getting Your Access Needs Met

by Carly Findlay

I’m lucky that my speaking job involves a lot of travel. I feel very privileged that I get to see Australia and meet so many wonderful people for my work. 

When I travel as a speaker, I have a number of access needs; just like reasonable adjustments in an office or a classroom, these help me do my job better.

Every disabled person has different access needs. Mine are unique to managing my rare, severe skin condition, Ichthyosis. There are many types of Ichthyosis, meaning other people with Ichthyosis don’t have the same access needs as me. 

When I fly domestically, I request an aisle seat. I also joined the Virgin Lounge so I can relax prior to flights, and have a shower if I am delayed at the end of a long day. I don’t carry a medical letter to explain what Ichthyosis is nor a list of the medication I travel with when I’m travelling within Australia. 

Travelling internationally requires specific preparation, though. I use paraffin ointment for my skin, so sometimes I have to pack up to ten kilos depending on how long my trip is. I also take Panadol, antihistamines, bath and shower products and strong painkillers. I ask my doctor to write a letter which explains what Ichthyosis is (including that it’s not contagious, and that my fingerprints aren’t very visible), a list of medications that I’m carrying, and requests for the plane trip. These include extra luggage allowance to carry my many kilos of ointment, a bulkhead seat so I can stretch my legs out, extra water so I don’t dehydrate, and also a lounge pass so I can shower as close to the flight as I can. 

Sometimes it’s hard to negotiate these access needs because the airline staff aren’t as familiar with Ichthyosis as they are with other impairments and access needs.

Carly Findlay (left) attending the Ubud Writers' Festival, standing with a woman in front of a lush audience area.
Carly Findlay travelled to Bali and Semarang for the Ubud Writers’ Festival. Credit: Carly Findlay

I was invited to the Ubud Writers Festival in Bali and Semarang. I hadn’t considered going to Bali prior to this invite, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity of this working holiday. 

Bali is hot and humid at that time of the year (October/November), and I don’t cope with the heat well. The festival staff were excellent in meeting my access needs as best as they could, providing air-conditioned hotels, cars and venues, water, and a lounge pass on the trip home. If it wasn’t for their assurance and organisation, I couldn’t have gone. Many access provisions granted in Ubud not only benefited me but the other speakers and audience as well. 

I was quite sore when I left Indonesia and I needed a wheelchair at the airports. A new writer friend I worked with in Semarang was travelling with her father, who is Indonesian. He wrote down some key terms in Indonesian for me – “I have a skin condition”, “I am fit to fly” and “I have a doctor’s letter.” I presented these terms when seeing the airport doctor (who spoke English anyway) and when I met with airline staff at check-in and customs. I noticed how differently I was treated compared to when I travel without a wheelchair. Everything was done for me and no one talked to me, just about me. While I am well aware of the barriers that people with impaired mobility face when travelling, it was a new experience for me.

Carly Findlay’s Artist List of Access Needs

Having become more confident in talking about my access needs, I developed a list which I send to my speaking agent and to any festival I am involved in: 

  • Food and water backstage 
  • Air-conditioner/heating (weather dependent)
  • Chair (I can stand for 20 minutes but prefer to do long events with a chair)
  • Water on stage  
  • Prefer not to shake hands 
  • Freezer pack in the heat (I often bring my own)
  • Blanket in the cold (I often bring my own)
  • Overnight stays are good
  • Hotel room with bath 
  • Flight with Virgin as I have a lounge membership

I would prefer my events to be accessible to my audience and other speakers – wheelchair accessible (entrance and toilet), Auslan interpreted/captioned, recorded if possible, accessible performance space and backstage area.

A few people have likened this list to celebrity riders – the lavish demands celebrities make when they’re backstage, like expensive alcohol or only blue M&Ms. Sometimes I joke about this, but I urge you to remember that access requests are not outrageous, diva-like behaviour. This perception causes people guilt and fear when asking for access needs to be met, and creates the misconception that access needs are difficult or laughable.

I believe it’s important that disabled people become comfortable with asking for our access needs to be met and that our access needs are not regarded as burdensome or frivolous.

This article first appeared in Travel Without Limits magazine. You can subscribe here.

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