Are you a traveler with a special need looking to add an excursion or tour to your cruise vacation plans? Perhaps you are simply a slow walker. Whatever your level of need, a tour or excursion specifically designed to accommodate travelers with special needs will be easier and more enjoyable. Today, there are more travel agents than ever offering trips and excursions for persons with special needs. These professionals understand your physical limitations, know how to book accessible transportation and can ensure destinations are accessible. How do you find the right travel agent?
Kristy Lacroix of Wheelchair Escapes recommends working with agents who are certified in Accessibility Travel by the Travel Institute and who are members of SATH, the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality.
You should also look for an agency focused on your specific need – wheelchair use, slow walking, respiratory problem, visual limitation, hearing impairment or other. Specialists are more likely to deliver quality planning and expert handling tailored to your requirements. Some agencies partner with special needs organizations such as the National MS Society or the Diabetes Foundation, and also include educational components to their trips. Check with the local association for your special need.
Do you prefer group or individual travel? Lacroix designs custom travel for individuals and small groups while Alana Mizowicki of Fun Cruises and Travel specializes in large groups of 100 or more in partnership with special needs organizations. Find the right fit.
Ask why the agent was drawn to this niche. Lacroix started her career after a few problematic trips with her wheelchair-bound husband: “I wanted to create a better way.” Mizowicki was inspired by a friend with Multiple Sclerosis. Personal involvement means the agent has intimate knowledge of your challenges and understands the situation from your side.
Does the agent know how accessibility standards and rules vary by country? On a cruise, for example, your service animal may not be permitted ashore on certain islands. Agents should be candid about identifying trips that are unsuitable for you.
Verify – rather than “assume” – that all details important to you are in place. At destinations, are the sidewalks and terrain wheelchair-friendly? Will museums and other venues have ramps, elevators, or hearing devices? What are the doorway widths? Are bathrooms accessible?
The travel agent should be comfortable with the questions you ask. If not, he/she may not be right for you. Mizowicki, who has been developing trips for slow walkers and wheelchair users since 2001, says, “The knowledge curve is endless. I learn something new each trip that benefits my clients.”
It takes teamwork to deliver a memorable vacation experience. Does the agency have a collaborative mindset and a good team in place? According to Mizowicki, her team consists of the cruise line staff, her agency associates, the partnering foundation and service providers such as Special Needs Group (http://www.specialneedsgroup.com/), the leading global provider of special needs equipment. She also uses physical therapy, acupuncture, and exercise professionals. “Travel is the opportunity to explore new possibilities; going beyond the diagnosis to become the most you can be,” she said. “That takes teamwork.”
Believe in your abilities. Trust yourself to conquer difficulties. Things will not always be perfect, but a knowledgeable agent can ensure the best match between the trip of your dreams and your ability.
“Everyone deserves to travel,” says Lacroix. “Just because you are in a wheelchair does not mean you cannot travel the world with dignity.”