Agencies specialize in travelers with disabilities
Over the years, you've read all about the breathtaking destinations and exciting adventures awaiting travelers with disabilities in Andy Vladimir's "To Boldly Go" column in Quest. Now let's take a look at some of the travel agencies that make accessible travel a reality.
If you build it...
Owner of Wheelchair Escapes (www.wheelchairescapes.com), an accessible travel agency that she runs single-handedly from her home in Newton, N.H., Kristy Lacroix is a certified accessible travel specialist and accredited cruise counselor.
She's gained experience with obstacles faced by those with disabilities from traveling with her husband, Jerry, who has multiple sclerosis (MS) and uses a power wheelchair.
"We traveled for over 13 years with the power chair, and we ran into a lot of problems," says Lacroix, a member of the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality (SATH). "It's through those problems that I decided that somebody needs to do something about this and help other people not to have the problems that we had."
In 2001, Lacroix stepped down from her 22-year career in office product sales to "start from scratch" and open Wheelchair Escapes.
Wheelchair Escapes specializes in booking accessible cruises, but there's no limit to the kind of trips planned by Lacroix. She's planned trips for travelers with disabilities to such spectacular places as Egypt, Italy and France.
There's a great demand for accessible travel agencies, says Lacroix. Once people discover Wheelchair Escapes, they call and ask, "Where have you been? Do you know how many of us are looking for you?"
Meeting the demand
Founded in 1994 by Ann Litt, Undiscovered Britain & Ireland (www.undiscoveredbritain.com) in Philadelphia became an accessible travel agency a few years later, after Litt's cousin, who has MS and uses a power wheelchair, asked her to help plan a trip to London for him and his wife.
The couple went to a local MS support group and shared pictures of their vacation with everyone.
"The day after the meeting my phone started ringing with other people in the chapter who saw the pictures and wanted to go to Britain, too," says Litt, a certified accessible travel specialist and a member of SATH. "It started out with this one phone call and it just sort of blossomed."
People with disabilities are now more than half of the agency's clientele, and they're traveling through England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and parts of France. Undiscovered Britain & Ireland specializes in arranging accessible tours for travelers with disabilities.
Cyndi Segroves, who has facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) and uses a power wheelchair, is a certified accessible travel specialist and owner of All Access Travel (www.allaccesstravel.com) in Tucson, Ariz.
Like Lacroix, Segroves also learned firsthand the problems associated with traveling from a wheelchair and refused to be limited in her travels.
"When I talked to travel agents here in Tucson, most of them said, 'If you're disabled or using a wheelchair you need to ei-ther go to Disneyland or Las Vegas,' and I was like, 'Well, I've been there, done that. Give me something more challenging or more interesting,'" says Segroves, also a member of SATH.
"I didn't like the fact that travel agents were trying to keep people in the United States because that's what's easiest for them to book."
Last January, Segroves opened All Access Travel because she wanted people to have more options. Travelers with disabilities shouldn't have to be limited to certain destinations or certain activities during their stay, she says.
"I don't want to tell [clients] that they have to stay in the U.S or tell them where they should go," she says. "I want them to tell me where they want to go, and I figure out a way to make that happen."
Segroves has traveled to Australia, China, the Caribbean islands as well as 38 states in the United States. Currently, she's planning a trip to Japan for a client.
Setting the trend
It's important to remember that ADA rules and regulations apply only in the United States and that other countries have different standards of accessibility. That's why it's a good idea to go to a travel agent who's familiar with disability issues in the desired country.
"Within the last year, more agencies are focusing on people with disabilities and I think that's great," Segroves says. "I think the more that people ask for accessible accommodations, the more it's going to be available to them."
Services provided by accessible travel agencies will become even more popular with the aging of the baby boomers, adds Segroves.
"They've had a lot of experience with traveling in the past and want to continue traveling, and they're gonna need additional accommodations to meet their needs," she says. "I think accessibility in this country and around the world will be improved."
For more information on accessible travel, contact SATH at (212) 447-7284 or visit www.sath.org.