Mainstream Travel Accessibility for All
There was a time when travel was a luxury only the able-bodied could fully enjoy. If you were free of disabilities and could afford vacations to fascinating distant lands, those opportunities were open to you. You could make domestic and transcontinental trips in comfort and ease. But what about those adventurous souls who longed to experience faraway places — or even other parts of their own nations — but faced physical challenges? Blindness. Deafness. Physical infirmities…. Those dreams were difficult or, in some cases, downright impossible to realize.
Now, thanks to the resourcefulness of some compassionate and creative thinkers in the travel industry, those days are as good as gone. Hospitality services, airlines, tour companies, and cruise lines are going the extra mile to make time away from home safe, convenient, enriching and enjoyable for all.
Airbnb, for instance, is at the forefront of accessible travel. The company has revamped its website, making graphics easier to read for those with vision problems, gathering crystal-clear information from their hosts and dispensing information such as: Do their homes have step-free entry to rooms? Are the entryways wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs? They’ve partnered with Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired to do research studies that will help Airbnb fulfill their mission: “To create a world where anyone can belong anywhere.”
In recent years almost all airlines have dramatically improved their policies to make flying easier for the disabled. Qantas is among the best. Not only will they provide mobility aids for those who need them, they will also make provisions to allow passengers to bring their own. Customers can simply call the Qantas office and specially trained experts will help ensure that their wheelchairs or other devices can interact with the airline’s own equipment.
Cruise lines have been making great strides in the direction of adapting their ships to better serve travelers with physical limitations. “Cruise ships are an ideal way to see the world on vacation while having wheelchair-specific comforts on board,” states Accessible Journeys, an accessible travel provider.
Since 2015, thanks in part to the U.S. Department of Justice, cruise ships that sail in U.S. waters have to be compliant with the American Disabilities Act. But many lines are going above and beyond what’s required. Princess Cruises is a good example. Each of their ships boasts an impressive 31 wheelchair-accessible cabins. They’ve widened the doorways and revised or removed thresholds making it easy to get to the bathroom and into the cabin itself. Sinks have been lowered.
Elsewhere on the ships, Princess has made every effort to make it easy to get around. Those with hearing difficulties have access to infrared listening systems in theaters. Additional equipment can be requested.
Royal Caribbean International, too, is making the disabled feel welcome. Every one of its ships has accessible staterooms with a 5-foot turning radius. Bathrooms in their accessible cabins feature grab bars, roll-in showers, lower sinks and raised toilets.
Tour companies, too, are stepping up, including some that cater specifically to the disabled. One such company, Planet Abled, customizes their tours to clients with a wide variety of physical challenges. They provide “travel buddies” for the blind and work with museums to allow clients to actually touch and feel the relics and other articles on display. They also provide sign-language interpreters for the hearing impaired.
Alvaro Silberstein was paralyzed by a devastating accident when he was 18. Still, he’s visited wilderness destinations in more than 30 countries. His company, Go Wheel Around the World, specializes in helping others with mobility disabilities explore places like Machu Picchu and Easter Island, and even go on safaris in Tanzania.