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Travelers with disabilities: are they having fun yet?



Individuals with disabilities have long been overlooked (not perceived as consumers) by the travel and tourism industry. Traditionally, travel agents have been reluctant to explore this market. Industry personnel were often deficient de·fi·cient
adj.
1. Lacking an essential quality or element.

2. Inadequate in amount or degree; insufficient.



deficient

a state of being in deficit.
 in both knowledge and experience necessary to meet travel needs of various disability groups. Moreover, there has been broad skepticism about profitability because of the immense preparation, study, and pre-planning necessary to make travel for those with disabilities both safe and enjoyable.

While a handful of specialized travel agents have served travelers with disabilities, it is only over the past ten years that major strides have been made to improve travel for this population. In 1986, the Air Carrier Access Act, and in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act Americans with Disabilities Act, U.S. civil-rights law, enacted 1990, that forbids discrimination of various sorts against persons with physical or mental handicaps. , were passed by Congress to ensure that persons with disabilities will be treated in a fashion consistent with all travelers.

Legislation is not the sole reason for the travel industry's pursuit of the growing market of travelers with disabilities. Economics also play a major role. At a time when the industry is frantically fran·tic  
adj.
1. Highly excited with strong emotion or frustration; frenzied: frantic with worry.

2.
 searching for new specialized niches to enhance their bottom lines, many agents are studying the potentially large market of travellers with disabilities as a possible profitable option (ASTA Agency Management, May 1996).

Current Strategies

The earliest formal recognition by the travel industry of the rights of people with disabilities occurred with the founding of the Society for the Advancement of Travel for the Handicapped (SATH SATH Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality
SATH Shop At Home (stock symbol)
SATH Sage Thrasher (bird species Oreoscoptes montanus)
SATH Society for the Advancement of Travel for the Handicapped
). Since 1976, SATH has worked vigorously to foster public interest in travel, tourism, and recreation for people with disabilities and to assist corporations, states, and countries in the development and expansion of an accessible tourist infrastructure.

In recent years, SATH has sponsored, with industry-wide support, the following:

* The Travelers with Disabilities Awareness Week (1991) which is held annually in recognition of the industry's need to develop strategies for addressing the underdeveloped un·der·de·vel·oped
adj.
Not adequately or normally developed; immature.
 market of travelers with disabilities.

* The Access to Travel Magazine (1995) which focuses on the destinations, attractions, adventures, and accommodations for a broad range of consumers with various disabilities.

In addition to the work of SATH, in 1990 the American Society of Travel Agents ASTA, short for the American Society of Travel Agents, claims over 20,000 members in 140 countries. Its members include travel agents and companies who offer travel products, such as tours, cruises, hotels, car rentals, etc.  (ASTA)--the world's largest travel trade organization--in an attempt to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities, established the National Committee on Travel for Persons with Disabilities. ASTA also conducted its First Disabilities Symposium during September, 1995. One hundred and seventy-five travel agents from around the country attended what would become an annual event.

Within corporate America, it appears that American Airlines American Airlines

Major U.S. airline. American was created through a merger of several smaller U.S. airlines and incorporated in 1934. It continued to buy the routes of other airlines, becoming an international carrier in the 1970s; its routes include South America, the
 has taken a leadership position. American is the only airline with a Committee on Serving Customers with Disabilities, a group which is comprised of representatives from various advocacy groups for those with disabilities.

The federal government held the first-ever White House Conference on Travel and Tourism (October 30-31, 1995) to establish a strategic plan for the industry. A priority action of the conference was to have the Travel Industry Association of America develop guidelines guidelines,
n.pl a set of standards, criteria, or specifications to be used or followed in the performance of certain tasks.
 pertaining per·tain  
intr.v. per·tained, per·tain·ing, per·tains
1. To have reference; relate: evidence that pertains to the accident.

2.
 to accessible services, procedures for problem resolution, and disability access information.

Remaining Problems

More and more Americans with disabilities Americans with disabilities comprise one of the largest minority groups in the United States. According to the Disability Status: 2000 - Census 2000 Brief [1], approximately 20% of Americans have one or more diagnosed psycho-physical disability.  are enhancing their lives through travel. Travel for this population, however, is still fraught fraught  
adj.
1. Filled with a specified element or elements; charged: an incident fraught with danger; an evening fraught with high drama.

2.
 with barriers and inconveniences. A sample of such concerns are:

* Can my battery-operated wheelchair be accommodated?

* What about my service animal?

* Are personal assistance and medical attention available?

* Will my special dietary needs be met?

* Can I bring my own oxygen? Today these questions and other concerns can be minimized by the many services available to travelers with disabilities. These services include:

* Tour operators with a staff of experts who test drive travel destinations to assure accessibility and accommodations.

* Travel companions who act as travel escorts to provide individual assistance throughout a journey.

* Travel services and resources on the Internet for individuals with disabilities.

However, despite the attention and significant improvement made in accommodating travelers with disabilities, uncertainty and, at times, dissatisfaction, may still be experienced. The diverse physical needs of individuals with disabilities prevents the travel industry from tailoring a foolproof product that adequately serves the needs of all customers. This is particularly true when traveling outside the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area.  where there are as many varying standards and degrees of accessibility as there are countries. So, travelers need to take heed to be careful or cautious.

See also: Take
 and do their homework for both the tour operator and the destination.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Challenge Publications Limited
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Huber, Joseph H.
Publication:Palaestra
Date:Jan 1, 1997
Words:718
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