COVID-19 has indeed halted the travel plans of millions of Americans. But even long before the pandemic hit, significant barriers prohibited people with disabilities from traveling safely and seamlessly. In fact, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 22.5 million people in the U.S. have self-reported travel-limiting disabilities, and an estimated 3.6 million are unable to leave their house due to their disability.
However, it’s also it’s fair to say that accessible travel has been rising. A study published by the Open Doors Organization, for instance, uncovered that disability travel generates about $17.3 billion in annual spending in the U.S. — up from $13.6 billion in spending in the early 2000s. However, the actual economic impact is likely to double, considering individuals with disabilities most often travel with one or more other adults.
As a result, significant strides have been made by those in the travel industry to accommodate more individuals with disabilities. Particularly during this pandemic, the measures taken by travel and hospitality businesses to safeguard the health and safety of their staff and customers have created better experiences for disabled persons too. For instance, flexible booking and cancellation policies, physical distancing, and in general, more space for mobility have resulted in a more inclusive industry.
Still, there’s room for substantial improvement in improving physical travel for the less mobile, and digital alternatives are needed for those with issues that prohibit travel altogether. Here are five things to consider to improve the travel experience for people with disabilities.
Pay Attention to Your Itinerary’s Detail
An itinerary is an essential component of any trip. But for people with disabilities, detailed plans are necessary for their comfortability and confidence. To help travelers get the most out of their experience, tour guides should make a note to be as specific as possible about what each excursion involves, including details on if there’s a lot of walking, sitting, climbing stairs, or frequent use of inaccessible transportation required. Also, it’s important to include information on accessible restrooms.
Every traveler wants to enjoy their trip. A well-planned itinerary gives them insight into what they can expect and will ease their minds that their every need has been catered for.
Make Airlines & Airports More Mobility-friendly
Perhaps more than anything else, airlines and airports have significant work to do to make traveling more accessible for people with disabilities. As a bilateral arm amputee, I’ve been fortunate to still enjoy a mostly seamless flying experience when I travel. Yet, I’ve seen first-hand the struggles that others with disabilities face to receive the services they need at airports (such as access to wheelchairs) in order to get them to their gate and on to their flight safely.
It seems that airlines and airports have work to do to meet the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) that requires them to provide passengers with disabilities the many types of assistance that help them board, deplane or connect to another flight. And that’s not to mention the recent news that the federal government has given its approval for airlines to ban emotional support animals except dogs, which would further limit many people’s travel options if implemented by air carriers.
Be Forthcoming About Amenities
Of course, every person with a disability has different needs. In order to deliver an enjoyable and efficient travel experience, every business must be as forthcoming as possible about the amenities they provide. For example, every accommodation provider, excursion planner, and restaurant should have readily available information that pertains to their accessibility, such as wheelchair-friendly transportation options, hotel rooms designed for people with disabilities, and accessible dining.
In fact, by the year 2030, it’s estimated that 71.5 million Baby Boomers will be over the age of 65 and demanding products, services, and environments that address their age-related physical changes. Therefore, it’s increasingly important that businesses give customers with disabilities, mobility issues, and physical constraints an equal opportunity to obtain their goods and service.
Help with Preparations
In normal circumstances, tourists seek recommendations from company websites and online reviews when preparing for their trip. But often, these sites don’t provide travelers with disabilities with adequate information before booking. Word-of-mouth, however, is a potent tool in the disability community.
Therefore going the extra mile as a tourism provider to help customers with disabilities plan an accessible vacation could see a company reap the rewards financially and generate a positive brand perception amongst a demographic that’s steadily becoming an influential spender.
Bring the World to Them!
While each of my tips can assist those that are less mobile with enjoying their travel experience, the truth is there are still more than 40M Americans with issues that prevent, limit, or severely inhibit their ability to travel. This includes those with permanent disabilities, as well as the elderly, sick, and now even those that are COVID-19 vulnerable.
Despite their limited mobility, these people still have a passion for travel like you or me. They simply may not be able to jump on a plane to their desired destination. That’s why I’m thrilled to launch Beeyonder, a virtual travel platform on a mission to foster memorable travel experiences for people who can’t travel. Those with limited mobility can visit Beeyonder.com to access and book virtual travel experiences from a growing roster of digital travel providers through our one-stop destination.
From Rome’s ancient ruins, to observing the breathtaking views at Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher, and exploring fossil footprints left by dinosaurs in South Africa, it’s all possible in the comfort of your own home. From private experiences that offer guided tours for individual travelers and their friends or families to group experiences that cater to a larger number of travelers from across the internet, everyone — no matter their mobility — can now travel the world.
Guest author Brittany Palmer is the founder and CEO of Beeyonder.
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