It's Time to Get Off the Sidelines

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Disabled travelers are tasting the great outdoors in greater numbers

Accessible travel, like travel in general, has expanded to include people of all means. The mobility-impaired traveler, once ignored, is now no minor niche: The Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality estimates its market spent $13.6 billion on vacations in 2002 alone. From South African safaris to diving vacations in the Caribbean, rates for disabled adventurers finally compare favorably to mainstream prices.

Safaris in South Africa

Outfitted with oversize A-frame tents and a special Mercedes truck with hydraulic lifts, Epic Enabled--an offshoot of Epic Expeditions, a player in overland treks since 1992--takes an eight-day tour, beginning in Johannesburg, that spends three days at Kruger National Park, one of the world's best state-owned safari grounds. Other highlights include two days at a private game reserve (where passengers get to pet a cheetah), a visit to a local village, and a stop at Blyde River Canyon, with its inspirational vistas. The trip departs once a month.

Contact: Epic Enabled, 011/27/21-782-9575, epic-enabled.com/, from $965 for trek safaris.

Sailing tall ships 

Wide decks, signs in Braille, and a speaking compass are just some of the amenities Jubilee Sailing Trust provides on its specially designed tall ships, which even enable chair-bound passengers to ascend the masts for heart-thumping views. Promoting integration between physically disabled and able-bodied vacationers, JST's mixed-ability crew sails to a variety of Caribbean, U.S., and European destinations. Think Halifax; Antigua; Newport, R.I.; and the Azores. Voyage lengths vary from four days to several weeks.

Contact: Jubilee Sailing Trust, 011-44/23-8044-9108, jst.org.uk/, from $880 for tall ship adventures.

Canoeing the Everglades 

Wilderness Inquiry has conducted integrated active vacations since 1978. One of its most popular is a canoeing excursion through the Florida Everglades' Ten Thousand Islands, a maze of vegetation where freshwater and saltwater meet. The six-day trip includes guides, food, tent lodging, and specialized equipment for people of all abilities, such as non-paddling "sling seats." There are three 2004 departures (Mar 2, 13, and 22), but it runs annually.

Contact: Wilderness Inquiry, 612/676-9400, wildernessinquiry.org/, $745 for six-day paddline trips, $680 for six days hikes.

Skiing Colorado

Integrated Outdoor Adventures, by the nonprofit Colorado Discover Ability (CDA), are inexpensive ski lessons for people ranging from amputees to those with spinal injuries. Based in western Colorado's Powderhorn Resort, it uses an inventory of adaptive equipment including four-track, three-track, and mono-skis. It also provides lift tickets and private instructors. Outside of ski season, CDA runs kayaking trips on Lake Powell and rafting trips down the Colorado River.

Contact: Colorado Discover Ability's Integrated Outdoor Adventures, 970/268-5700 X2307, cdaioa.com/, skiing $25-$50.

Hiking in Hawaii 

Wilderness Inquiry conducts walks through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island and, among other places, the Kilauea Iki caldera trail, the Mauna Ulu crater rim, and the Hapu`u fern forest. Designed to include the blind, deaf, and those with developmental concerns, the seven-day trip includes specialized guiding, beach camping, and meals. This year, it departs Mar 21 and 28.

Contact: See above (Everglades).

Scuba in Bonaire 

With 23 years of experience certifying both able-bodied instructors and disabled divers, Handicapped Scuba Association International brings anyone--even quadriplegics--to the reefs of Bonaire, 50 miles off the Venezuelan coast. For $1,100 (a respectable price for any diving package), vacationers get a seven-night stay at the Flamingo Beach Resort (part of the Divi chain), three guided boat dives a day, unlimited shore diving, round-trip airport transfers, and breakfasts and lunches.

Contact: Handicapped Scuba Association International, 949/498-4540, hsascuba.com/, $1100 for weeklong Bonaire trip.

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