So here I sit at a desk, on a come down as I have just returned from (yet another) trip to France. This time it was a fun-filled family holiday at a lovely gite nestled in the hills of the Lot Valley.
Given the remote location and the potential intensity of a full week with my family (sorry mum and co who read this), I decided to drive to give me some freedom to escape and explore on my own.
Driving as a wheelchair user is generally easy. I drive an automatic car with hand controls to accelerate and brake. Normally I would travel with a companion but on this trip I took on the journey alone, perhaps foolishly.
The drive to Figeac is 756 miles one way. In reality that’s days of driving.
I didn’t quite realise that in order to drive along a motor way at 70ish miles an hour for days, I would have to grip the hand control constantly. City driving vs long distances are two quite different things. When I eventually arrived my hand and forearm were genuinely aching.
On a previous trip to France I had come across issues with toll roads.
Once I am in the car I can’t move from my seat, my wheelchair folds up and sits on the passenger seat thus obscuring any reach I could have. But also I am not Inspector Gadget – my arms are only so long.
I can’t nip out and around the car to throw some change in. On the last trip I struggled with blocking lanes to the extent that someone from the toll road company would come and assist me.
On my return I overcame this with a piece of cardboard and a fly swat. I crafted a sign saying ‘je suis en chaise roulante aidez moi’ roughly translated to ‘I am in a wheelchair help me’. It worked but was stressful to say the least.
On this occasion my mum found an amazing solution.
The toll roads have a proximity system called telepeage. You buy a small box that sits by your rear view mirror, fill in your bank details online and it direct debits the cost from your account.
Also that means no faffing about with cards and tickets and pocket change. You simply drive up, the box beeps and the light turns green and up the barrier goes. All I had to do was order it online and arrange the bank registration before I left the UK.
As a wheelchair user I love to travel as I did before my accident yet whichever mode of transport I use there is always some thought that goes into how can I do this with the least amount of faff?
Often a solution for someone with a disability is a solution for everyone. So irrespective of whether you have a disability or not, if you are travelling through France, I highly recommend telepeage for a stress free journey and a relaxing start (and finish) to your trip.
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