By now, you’ve probably heard the story of wheelchair-user Ann Fisher, who was denied passage from Liverpool on the Fred Olsen liner Boudicca. The problem is, Liverpool doesn’t have any overhead boarding bridges or sloped gangways, so passengers have to board vessels by climbing up stepped gangways. And if they can’t do this with “minimal assistance” they won’t be allowed to cruise.
Interestingly enough, Fisher had cruised on this same ship from Liverpool previously, however the policy of the cruise line has since changed. On her former cruises four employees carried her up the steps to board the ship. Fred Olson Cruise Lines now has a policy in place that prohibits employees from carrying or lifting passengers. So today you need to be able to walk with assistance to board the ship.
Now to be fair, Fisher wasn’t denied boarding at the port. Instead the cruise line prohibited her from booking the cruise, because she could not walk to board the ship. And that restriction is specifically mentioned on their website. The website also points out that the regional ports of Avonmouth and Rosyth use stepped gangways, so fulltime wheelchair-users are not able to disembark at those ports either.
And although it’s sad that Fisher wasn’t able to cruise, this incident serves to remind us that access rules and regulations vary from country to country. So it’s basically a case of buyer beware. Never assume that something is going to be accessible – always ask. In the long run it will probably save you a lot of heartache.