Editor’s Note: The real key to success is taking your disability and turning it into an advantage- it’s about what you can do, not what you cannot do. In the story of Dr. Scott Rains, a consultant on travel and disability, you’ll see that his wheelchair has become his marketing tool. Dr. Rains, “New Mobility” magazine’s Person of the Year, is known worldwide for opening up many countries, businesses and vacation sites to physically challenged individuals and has enabled these places to become more inclusive. Part 5 of a 5 part series.
Right now, I’m working with the Rick Hansen Foundation in Vancouver, Canada, that works with spinal cord research. In May of 2012, we’re hosting an international conference to mark the 25thanniversary of Rick Hansen going around the world in his push wheelchair. People to donated to the foundation. When he arrived home, he learned that $26 million had been donated, which had two main focuses: a cure for spinal cord injury and the elimination of political barriers and physical accessibility.
The conference is called Interdependence 2012 Conference and Exposition and will be held May 15-18 in Vancouver. Half of the conference will focus on cures for spinal cord injuries and will feature speakers who are doctors and medical researchers. The other half of the conference will be on physical accessibility, which is the part of the conference with which I’ll be working on and involved. My focus will be specifically on tourism for people with physical challenges.
There are resources available that detail traveling destinations for the physically challenged. When you look at them, you’ll be overwhelmed at the number of places that you can go and travel to that have made modifications to make their destination much more accessible to not only people in wheelchairs, but people with all types of injuries.
The Rick Hansen Foundation is also currently starting the Global Accessibility Initiative. If you do a Google search on the Rick Hansen Global Accessibility Initiative, you’ll see a map tool where individuals who travel can add their own comments on where they’ve gone, what they’ve done, and how accessible this destination was for them.
What we’re hoping for is that the entire travel industry will make accessibility a part of the education, information and advertising in the way that they market their destinations and/or venues.
We want to help the travel industry make travel easier for disabled people. And, if we travel more, they’ll make more money. The map tool that the Rick Hansen Foundation created will allow people to comment on their trip. When you see a location marked on the map, and click on that location, our hope is you’ll be able to read comments from a physically challenged person who can say, “Been there, done that.”
What we’re really striving for is for physically-challenged people to be recognized and included in the travel industry worldwide as a market that destinations and venues want to promote and advertise to and provide services and benefits for these people. I believe that one of the problems is that most companies don’t realize how much money that people with disabilities spend each year worldwide on travel.
Often corporations may consider the physically challenged because of the ADA, which requires them to have accessible rooms, but they forget to inform everyone. Have you noticed that travel agencies or venues don’t show disabled people enjoying their facilities? Consequently, when we’re searching for a place to go and can’t find any information about the accessibility of that destination, we’ll have to travel to somewhere else. We’ll go to a different destination that does a better job of advertising accessibility.
When hotels and destinations begin to realize that the physically challenged are potential customers and say, “Let’s make this information available,” then they’ll include that information that they send out to travel agencies. That information needs to be available to everyone in the travel agency business. We want the travel industry to not only say, “We’ve made our facilities accessible,” but to revel in the fact that they want us to come and spend our money with them.
Two major professional organizations that help disabled people who want to travel are:
* ENAT, the European Network for Accessible Tourism, a project done by the entire European Union.
* SATH, which stands for Society of Accessible Travel and Hospitality in the U.S.
A private company that’s based in Australia is TRAVability. On this website you’ll see these people really have made a case for companies, venues, etc. to consider the physically challenged as a market. They’re making a conscious effort to let the travel industry know what physically challenged people need, and how big our market is. They even go one step further and tell the travel industry how to make money by providing accessibility.
To learn more about Dr. Scott Rains, please visit his blog.
About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at http://www.nighthawkpublications.com