The World is Our Playground and We Want to See It

Traveling in general takes weeks of planning, but it could take months if you are traveling with a disability. I and many others notice there’s an enormous gap of access and resources to help guide us when taking a trip, whether it’s just going across town on public transportation or crossing international waters on a plane. As individuals with disabilities, especially with mobility limitations, we have to adapt to the world around us, but the world around us needs to adapt with us by providing adequate resources for traveling. In recent years, construction companies have strived to incorporate universal designs in buildings and structures where everyone can benefit from the accessibility. However, it’s time for this concept of universal design to carry over into the travel industry. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, in 2017 the travel industry generated 8.2 trillion dollars toward the global economy. Yet, this industry has so much more potential to grow if they catered to the disability population, proven by three student interviews.  

Tamia- Sophomore at The University of Florida

What type of road block do you normally encounter when traveling on a trip?

It’s not necessarily that I can’t travel, but sitting in a car for a long time is not necessarily the most convenient for me. I haven’t traveled on a train or plane so I don’t know about that.

What about the bus? Sometimes the bus drops me off somewhere where there isn’t a sidewalk, so it isn’t a safe place to get off. Also sometimes there are things in the way in the disabled area, like strollers.

Do you think your disability affects your thinking about travel? Why?

I think it does, I’m apprehensive about traveling because I have a disability, there isn’t much guidance about how to travel with a disability, I don’t know what I would do if I encountered a problem while traveling.

What method of transportation do you think requires more improvement in terms of accommodation and How? (air, car, public transportation)

For the bus, the problems I talked about like the sidewalks or not having room in the disability area. With the car, it’s inconvenient to travel for a long time in the car, not a lot of cars have a ramp or anything to help me get in the car with a wheelchair. I haven’t traveled by plane or train so I don’t know about that.

What’s your biggest fear about traveling abroad?

I fear places that aren’t accessible, like if there’s no elevators or curb dips in the sidewalk, the plane ride there seems scary, especially because I’ve never been on one.

Why do you think there is a lack of resources in studying abroad for those with disabilities?

Maybe because it costs more money, that kind of thing needs more resources. There’s a lack of people willing to take the extra mile to help someone with a disability when traveling abroad.  

Have you always had the desire to study abroad? Why?

Most definitely, I think because I’m a first generation student, my parents didn’t get the opportunity to study abroad so I feel like if I have the opportunity to do it I should, plus I’ve always wanted to go to London.

Why do you think there is a need for more resources on traveling with a disability?

People with disabilities are people first, we should have the same opportunities to study abroad as other people.

Tamia had several points I could agree on. However, her struggles on public busses enlightened me on how difficult it is to independently navigate the city. Additionally, I think her desire to travel to London, but apprehension due to a concern over accessibility, demonstrates the gap in the market.

Robyn- Freshman at The University of Florida

What type of road block do you normally encounter when travelling on a trip?

We normally drive places, so I guess hotels! Accessible hotel rooms can be hard to find, it’s hard for my mom to help me get a shower and stuff sometimes.

Do you think your disability affects your thinking about travel? Why?

It didn’t when I was younger but it does now, because now my parents aren’t always with me to help me find a hotel room or help me get in and out of a car so it’s harder because I don’t know how I’m going to get help.

What method of transportation do you think requires more improvement in terms of accommodation and How? (air, car, public transportation)

I guess cars because I don’t fly much but I’ve noticed especially lately that for me I need a lot of leg room to get in and out of car and there aren’t a lot of cars that allow enough room for me to swing my feet in and out.

What’s your biggest fear about traveling abroad?

The logistics of it, I don’t know how it would work or how accessible it would be.

Why do you think there is a lack of resources in studying abroad for those with disabilities?

Because people don’t think about the kinds of accommodations and accessibility things that people with disabilities need, I think that’s the case with a lot of things, it’s not malicious or purposeful they just don’t think about it because they don’t need to.

Have you always had the desire to study abroad? Why?

I don’t know that it’s a desire but I always thought it would be cool just to experience another countries culture. It’s not something I definitely have to do but if I got the opportunity and I could afford it, I think it would be cool.

Why do you think there is a need for more resources on traveling with a disability?

People don’t necessarily think about how much extra effort and thinking go into traveling for those of us with a disability. People don’t realize how different it is for people with disabilities, not necessarily difficult, just different.

A part of experiencing life and what is has to offer is learning about different cultures. Unfortunately, in Robyn’s case, traveling abroad is too risky with so many unknowns. Also, finding accessible hotels is just as important as traveling itself. If the concern over accessible lodging and traveling weren’t so great for Robyn, she would most likely be less hesitant to travel without her parents and would travel more often.

Bradley- Junior at The University of Florida

What type of road block do you normally encounter when travelling on a trip?

If you take your power chair on a plane they can break it and probably will, if you take your walker the airport is way too big, getting on the plane is a mess. We usually take Ubers and a lot of them wouldn’t take my walker, I couldn’t take my chair because then I couldn’t have used any of that kind of transportation (Ubers), people had to help me the whole time because I had to use my walker.

Do you think your disability affects your thinking about travel? Why?

Yes, for most people travel is slightly inconvenient but they still do it but for me it’s very inconvenient and requires a squad of people, you need at least one other person.

What method of transportation do you think requires more improvement in terms of accommodation and How? (air, car, public transportation)

Plane and public transport, the plane you can’t take your wheelchair and if there’s turbulence it can break the chair, because TSA doesn’t usually have to handle wheelchairs so they don’t get it. A lot of cities don’t have buses that run everywhere, or don’t always have ramps on buses.

What’s your biggest fear about traveling abroad?

I can’t even think about traveling abroad, traveling in the US is hard enough. Connecting flights would probably be hard, plus there’s a language barrier. A lot of places don’t have the same laws about accessibility like the ADA, as much as we complain about it here in America it’s worse everywhere else.

Why do you think there is a lack of resources in studying abroad for those with disabilities?

Because you have to think, there isn’t many of us in general who go to college, so they don’t even think about the concept of us studying abroad.

Have you always had the desire to study abroad? Why?

I really do want to go to Spain but I feel like I can’t ever go to Spain.

Why do you think there is a need for more resources on traveling with a disability?

Because we’re humans too, it’s basic equality, like evening the playing field.

I can definitely empathize with Bradley, especially about air travel. It’s a nightmare flying with a power wheelchair if someone doesn’t know what to expect. Fortunately, the government just passed a new law that regulates how airlines treat special equipment such as a wheelchair. This is a first step toward the right direction but there’s still a long way to go to make flying more accessible. It also struck me that he said he couldn’t even consider traveling abroad because of how difficult it is just to travel in the US, which again demonstrates how much potential money the travel industry is losing because of a lack of accessibility.

Summary

The feedback that I gained from this short questionnaire only proves that the need for resources for traveling exist in the disability market. Plus, college students are only one sector representing the whole population. I’m curious to hear experiences of the other one billion people living in the world with a disability. The travel industry is ever changing and adapting to fit an untapped customer, which is crucial to being in the lead while still serving loyal customers. I think the reason for the need is very simple. Everyone deserves to be fearless and travel the world! The mountains will move someday and when they do, the world better be prepared for us!