For Travelers with Disabilities
The key travel firms catering to travelers with all sorts of impairments
Americans with disabilities are the largest minority in the country, over 54 million persons. Yet until recently, and especially before passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, they were not well treated by the travel industry, and numerous vacation possibilities were effectively barred to them. And even when travel industries were friendly to people with disabilities, many times a lack of money destroyed a person's chance of taking part (a recent census survey found that 28 percent of people with a severe disability were below the poverty rate). With a growing, national sensitivity to their plight, reflected not merely in words but in legislation, the situation is today improving, though much remains to be done. Enforcement of the law is spotty, implementation is slow, and a great many travel facilities have not yet been adapted to the needs of our fellow citizens with impairments.
The key advance has been in the creation of travel organizations and tour companies for those with disabilities, a movement that is still in its very earliest years. These fledgling firms, many of them actually headed by persons who themselves are affected by disabilities, have already enabled thousands of others to enjoy the rewards of travel, and they are capable of assisting even greater numbers if their existence becomes known. Below are short-cuts to specialized listings for disabled travelers:
City and adventure tours
SEARCH BEYOND ADVENTURES, INC.
4603 Bloomington Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55407
phone 800/800-9979 (in Mpls.-St. Paul area call 612/721-2800)
Kailash Dhaksinamurthi founded Search Beyond Adventures in 1979 as a wilderness adventure company specializing in the developmentally challenged and mobility impaired traveler. Over the years, however, S.B.A. has truly become a worldwide tour operator, reaching destinations across the globe, from Iceland to Vietnam.
Aside from its large repertoire of destinations and tours, the company's forte is its ability to match each disabled traveler with just the right-sized group--the appropriate staff-to-vacationer ratio--to suit their needs and level of independence. Group sizes range from 4 to 30 travelers, but the staff to vacationer ratios only range from 1:2 to 1:4.
It is crucial to understand, however, that at SBA travelers are not grouped according to disability, but rather according to how much individual attention they require, and how mobile they are. In other words, there is no differentiation between the blind, the hearing impaired, the developmentally impaired, and the mobility impaired, etc; differentiation is made based on level of mobility and overall independence.
The pros and cons to this approach are considerable. The downside is that a traveler with one set of needs may not wish to be lumped indiscriminately in a group of people with different needs; e.g., a visually impaired traveler may find it pointless and inconvenient to be the only visually impaired person in a group of mobility impaired travelers.
On the other hand, a visually impaired traveler could opt for a group with a 1:1 ratio, thus acquiring the two services most needed by a blind traveler: an individual guide and a good descriptor.
The bottom line: no matter what your needs are, Search Beyond Adventures can accommodate you with the appropriate ratio, so that even someone demanding constant one-on-one attention can participate in group travel.
Those looking to travel with SBA will eventually pass a screening, in which the Special Assistance coordinator will determine how much special attention traveler requires, and how mobile the traveler is. The Special Assistance coordinator will then suggest the appropriate tour category.
Search Beyond launches about 175 all-inclusive tours each year, the majority of which are of the "Regular Tours" category, (that is, a 1:4 staff-vacationer ratio for ambulatory travelers). Among the U.S. tours, the most popular destinations are Florida and California, (which often includes time at either Disney World or Disneyland), and the Music City tours, which travel to Memphis, Nashville, Branson and New Orleans. Plenty of the New England and Mid Atlantic states are available, as well as Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Alaska, and Hawaii. Camping trips, cruises, and baseball game outings are also available, as well as a number of international trips to Europe, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, the Fiji Islands, Sri Lanka and Africa. The shortest tours are four days long, the longest are 11 days. Prices vary, depending on the length of the trip, the destination, and the category.