America the Accessible
Travel Blog • Jenna Schnuer • 04.23.09 | 3:48 PM ET
Fifteen years ago, when nobody else was really servicing the community, writer Candy Harrington ditched traditional travel writing and launched Emerging Horizons, a travel magazine for people with disabilities.
“Back then most of my friends and colleagues thought I was a few fries short of a happy meal for making such a drastic change,” says Harrington. Silly colleagues. Other travel magazines come and go but Emerging Horizons is still running strong, and Harrington also writes books, articles for magazines and websites, and a blog on the subject.
We checked in with her to find out about the state of accessible travel in America—and some of her favorite accessible travel adventures around the 50.
OK, stupid question but how do you define accessible travel?
Not stupid at all, as there are many definitions. Accessible travel is the short “catch all” phrase for what I cover. More succinctly, I cover travel for people with mobility disabilities—from slow walkers to wheelchair-users.
What’s the current state of accessible travel in the United States? Does the American tourism industry do enough? What can they improve on?
Well if you look at things over the long term, I think access in general has greatly improved over the past 20 years. I remember talking to a friend who uses a power wheelchair and back then the only way he could get to the airport was in an ambulance. Great way to start a vacation, eh?
Well things have changed today. Our population is aging and more and more people want to travel. So although our access laws have mandated access, I think the market has also encouraged voluntary changes from tourism providers. Bottom line is, they want as much business as they can get and if making a few simple adaptations will get it, then they are happy to do it. I’m seeing improved accessibility more as a marketing edge rather than a mandate today.
Could we use improvement? Sure. I believe the weak point is the availability of affordable and accessible public transportation. For example if you want to rent a standard car at your destination you can do that for say $35 per day if you shop around. If you need an accessible van, the going rate is $100 per day. It’s hard to fault the providers for the high cost, because the insurance and equipment is very expensive. Still, folks need an affordable way to get around at their destination. So more accessible taxis would be great. And more accessible airport transportation. Although the latter is improving more than the former.
What are some of the most accessible travel-friendly towns or cities in the United States?
I’m going to have to put Las Vegas at the top of the list, because most of the tourism providers there have gone above and beyond the minimum access requirements. They want to make sure that everyone can come, enjoy their casinos and spend their money. For example, most of the hotels on the strip have more than the minimum number of accessible rooms; and a few hotels
(Treasure Island, The Mirage) have even installed ceiling track lifts in their “high needs accessible rooms.” You can easily get an accessible taxi at the airport, which is great.
Chicago also gets high marks from me, not only because of their physical access but because of the great access guide that they’ve put out. It’s available online and it includes access details of hotels, attractions and public transportation in Chicago. It’s a great resource.
Are there are any types of travel in the U.S. that have surprised you with how accessible they are?
At this point, I have to say that you can make just about anything accessible; although some adaptations take a little more time, effort and money than others.
One thing that really made me go wow are the accessible houseboats that Forever Resorts manufactures. Not only do they have an accessible bathroom with a roll-in shower, but they also have an elevator to the top deck. We just tried one out on Lake Mead and we’re set to test drive another one on Lake Powell in a few days.
I’ve also been wowed by the accessible tidepools at Yaquina Head up in Oregon. You can just roll right down to the tidepools at low tide. It’s so cool. And if you want to stay overnight, there are accessible yurts located nearby, just south of Waldport at Beachside State Park.
And the accessible treehouse at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, Virginia is awesome. It’s huge, and again, you can just roll your wheelchair right up into it.
And just last week, I stumbled across a rafting outfitter that is able to accommodate wheelchairs on their Colorado River day trips. Black Canyon Adventures is based outside of Las Vegas, and they have four-hour trips starting just below the Hoover Dam. It’s a nice easy float and because of the design of the raft, you can just roll a wheelchair right down the center aisle. And they’ve also installed a great ramp an their put-in/take-out spot. It’s a fun trip and seeing the Hoover Dam from below is awesome.