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Transportation and tourism for the disabled: an assessment.

Travel and tourism for the disabled are opportunities for the traveler and provider alike. While much public attention and many policy formulation efforts since the late 1960s have been given to barrier-free architectural design and local public transportation access, the most recent being the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, few similar consistent efforts have been made in long-distance travel and tourism. The disabled, or "alternatively abled," in politically correct terms, represent a not insignificant portion of the population.(1) With a continued increase in social awareness and acceptance of handicapped in all walks of life, it is appropriate to examine the constraints and opportunities for travel and tourism for the disabled.

This article examines and analyzes general issues and opportunities related to travel and tourism for the disabled. It presents a travel-related background of the disabled as part of the population in the United States. It further looks briefly at the evolution of transportation access that has been made through public policy and investment directives as well as the effectiveness of private sector offerings to date. But the main contribution of this article is a micro-level managerial model for the development of travel and tourism for the disabled that is positive in orientation. Several related issues are also identified and investigated.


The intent of this research was to investigate travel and tourism for the disabled and to identify related issues. The subject is quite diverse. Since the field lacks a single, cohesive focal point of data, background research, and involved groups, the research for this article had to be conducted using several approaches.

Initial investigation included an examination of the literature on tourism, current state-of-practice by passenger transportation carriers, hotels, and other providers of travel and tourism services, offerings by specialized travel agencies in the disabled person market, and current publications and information for travelers on the subject. Further, interviews and surveys were conducted with personnel in the following organizations: National Council on the Handicapped, National Organization on Disability 2000 - CEO Council, Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation, National Easter Seal Society, Family Health Services of Pennsylvania, Speech and Hearing Clinics of Pennsylvania, Office of Aging, Pennsylvania Association for the Blind, American Society of Travel Agents, two rehabilitation hospitals, twelve travel agencies, and thirty-two persons legally handicapped who travel long distance at least once each year.


Demographics of the Disabled

The National Council on the Handicapped estimated in 1986 that there were 36 million handicapped persons in America. Over 6.5 million non-institutionalized people used one or more specific aids for mobility, whether it be wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, canes, artificial limbs, or other devices.(2) Specific data regarding the extent of disabilities and impairments in the United States population is shown in Table 1. It is based upon published Department of Census data and projected to the entire population of mid-1987. The rate of handicapped occurrence is based upon a number per 1,000 in the population. With the exception of asthma, which decreases in older age groups, all of the chronic conditions and impairments increase across the census age groups of under 17, 17 to 24, 25 to 44, 45 to 64, and 65 and over.(3) For example, arthritis, which often presents mobility constraints, is in only 3.3 per thousand in the under 17 age group, but it is 455.1 in the 65 and over group. This is followed, in the age 65 and over group, by hypertensive disease (376.5 per thousand), hearing loss (282.1), heart disease (271.2), and deformities/orthopedic impairments (149.8).


The Council suspects the data to be conservative due to a less than complete census data-gathering process. Also, data do not include persons with temporary impairments and conditions that result from accidents. Further, it does not include disease impairments experienced by disease patients or persons recuperating from surgical care and under other forms of similar care. This data suggests that there is a large sector of the United States population for whom there are trip-planning constraints that are not necessarily constraints for, or are more easily overcome by, the non-disabled. These all represent a sizable segment of population and market for travel and tourism providers.

Public Policy Efforts

In the past several decades there has been a general increase in public awareness of disabilities as well as a more accepting attitude toward the disabled. Legislation has reflected much of this shift in attitude.

Federal government efforts started over twenty years ago were aimed at increasing accessibility of the disabled to all public buildings and transportation. The Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 requires that facilities constructed using federal funds must be accessible to all persons, regardless of disability.(4) The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that no program receiving federal funds may deny an individual access on the basis of disability.(5)

In the transportation area, the Urban Mass Transit Act of 1970 asserts that disabled persons have the same right to use public transportation as do non-disabled persons.(6) This and subsequent amending legislation set forth specific guidelines and deadlines for accessibility by state and local transit systems, rail and light rail services, and bus companies. Similarly, the Air Carriers Access Act of 1986, as promulgated in Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations, prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by all air carriers.(7) The intended result of these legislative acts is that most public buildings and all public transportation should be accessible to all persons. The thrust of these efforts, however, emphasizes hardware solutions consisting of physical structures and vehicles.

The most sweeping legislation in the area is the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Public Law 101-336.(8) The purpose of the act is (1) to provide a clear and comprehensive national

mandate for the elimination of discrimination

against individuals with

disabilities; (2) to provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable

standards addressing discrimination

against individuals with disabilities; (3) to ensure that the federal government plays a

central role in enforcing the standards established

in this act on behalf of individuals

with disabilities; and (4) to invoke the sweep of congressional authority,

including the power to enforce the fourteenth

amendment and to regulate commerce,

in order to address the major areas of

discrimination faced day-to-day by people

with disabilities.(9)

The act covers employment, places of employment, transportation, public accommodations, and public facilities. In travel and tourism it spans intercity and local passenger rail transportation buses, and public accommodations and services operated by private entities. These include, but are not limited to, inns, hotels, restaurants, theaters, stadiums, convention centers, stores, shopping centers, services such as laundromats and barber shops, terminals, depots, parks, zoos, schools, and places of recreation such as health spas and golf courses.(10)

For disabled persons the act prohibits "denial of participation" and discrimination, and it requires access for "opportunity to participate" in public functions.(11) Section 12101 defines disability as

...with respect to an individual - (A) a

physical or mental impairment that substantially

limits one or more of the major life

activities of such individual; (B) a record of

such an impairment; or (C) being regarded

as having such an impairment.

Further, Section 12131 defines "qualified individual with a disability" as individual with a disability who,

with or without reasonable modifications to

rules, policies, or practices, the removal of

architectural, communication, or transportation

barriers, or the provision of auxiliary

aids and services, meets the essential eligibility

requirements for the receipt of services

or the participation in programs or

activities provided by a public entity.

Minimum guidelines for construction and other compliance with the act are to be supplemented by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board.

Specific compliance by a business or other public entity is allowed if it is "readily achievable," meaning that it can be carried out without much difficulty or expense.(12) This provision has already been criticized as a major loophole that might diminish compliance with the law.(13) With the enactment of the law on July 26, 1990 and many provisions that took effect on April 26, 1991, and January 26, 1992, it is too early to determine whether this is or will be, in fact, a problem.

The airline industry recently made a move to limit persons in emergency window seat rows and near other exit areas. The standard policy at this time is that airline personnel assign persons who upon check-in appear to be capable of handling emergency procedures (primarily based upon age and physical condition), but state through on-board announcements that if anyone seated in these rows cannot or will not act during an emergency that alternate seating will be made available to them. This does not severely limit access to air travel by the disabled.

Much progress has been made in reducing the constraints of and opening accessibility to transportation for the disabled. While they go far in reducing barriers to general travel mobility of the disabled, there still remains a general lack of an overall travel and touring systems perspective for the handicapped. The problems encountered by the disabled go beyond available transportation segments and public facilities. Transportation and related facilities must still be viewed in a systematic manner with interfacing and peripheral functions that make up an entire travel and tourism experience.


Some insights into travel and tourism decision processes for the disabled can be gained from literature. Nichols and Snepenger, in surveying 3,717 travel parties, studied the family decision process in their research effort.(14) Their work covered the planning variables involved in the trip. The findings indicated that advertisements by the destination and travel providers were the most frequently used decision-making factors for the trip, with about half (53.5 percent) of all vacation parties acknowledging using them in their planning effort. This was followed by use of a travel agent (41.5 percent), brochures and guidebooks (39.9 percent), and family/friends being consulted (38.1 percent). Godbey found that lack of awareness was a primary reason for not participating in public leisure activities.(15) Neither of these studies provide any direct reference to disabled travelers. However, they do indicate the strong role of information and facilitating agencies in trip-planning efforts.

Research into senior citizen travel attitudes and behavior has some parallels here, because of the much higher prevalence of chronic conditions or impairments in this specific group compared to the overall population. Blazey conducted research into differences between senior citizen participants and non-participants in travel programs.(16) The major constraints found were insufficient money to go on trips (32 percent), health preventing the travel (26 percent), not having a travel companion (22 percent), prefer not to drive during hours of darkness (21 percent), and having a disability which makes travel difficult (21 percent). Unlike the Godbey research, Blazey confined his interviewing to 680 senior citizens who had access to information about specific trips. Similarly, Tongren investigated travel plans of persons over 65 and found frequently mentioned travel problems were expense, uncomfortableness of the travel mode, scheduling problems, and health reasons.(17)

A general model of traveler destination choice was presented by Woodside and Lysonski that is also useful in identifying the decision process for disabled persons.(18) The major elements of the Woodside and Lysonski model are as follows:

1. Marketing variables - product design, pricing,

advertising, channels 2. Traveler variables - previous destination

experience, age, income, lifestyles, values 3. Affective associations - positive and negative

attitudes about specific destinations that

will include or preclude certain choices for a

certain trip or for all future trips 4. Traveler destination preferences - a rank

ordering of travel preferences 5. Situational variables - constraints that make

certain preferences not available for the next

or any future trip, or situations that force a

certain choice (connected with business,

family, etc.) 6. Intention to visit - may be different from

traveler destination preference due to situational

variables 7. Choice - the one chosen

This model is useful in a disabled traveler context because it highlights the macro-decision factors inherent to a travel choice decision. However, though these are useful, there is a need to delve deeper into some of the specific micro-level travel elements that are often critical in a disabled person's travel and tourism decision or non-decision.

A Systematic View of Travel and Tourism

for the Handicapped

Woodside's general model for travel choice is a helpful starting point for developing a systematic approach for travel for the disabled. The nature of the travel decision and travel choice is often primarily dictated by 1) the available information specific to, and 2) the constraints faced by the nature of the disability. These are the marketing variables and the situational variables that link the available services to the desires and needs of the traveling disabled person.

There are three basic options available to disabled persons who want to travel. The individual can use the services of a regular travel agent, seek out a tour agency that caters to disabled travelers, or plan a trip independently with the help of books written for disabled travelers and government publications on accessibility.

Travel agencies. An obvious option for a disabled person who wants to travel is to use the services of a regular travel agency. These organizations can arrange for transportation and lodgings that are designated as accessible to disabled persons. They can also make arrangements on some tours to accommodate the individual's specific needs.

If an individual selects to work a regular travel agency there are many possible difficulties. First, many travel agents do not have access to all of the disability-related information necessary to plan a full trip. Most frequently lack comprehensive information about ground transportation incidental to air travel for the disabled. Second, travel agents may have inaccurate information. Most hotels and restaurants hold out their services as being "accessible," when in fact many are less than fully accessible for particular disabilities. This is due in part to there being no single accepted definition of the words disabled and accessible. There is also some lack of consistency of services to the disabled within hotel chains between the company-owned units and franchise-owned units. Third, many travel agents have a limited background in working with disabled travelers. They may not fully comprehend the needs of the disabled above and beyond what is apparent, and some critical trip-planning details may be overlooked.

Tour agencies. For travelers interested in taking trips specifically designed for disabled there are tour agencies that arrange these tours. Whole Person Tours, Wings on Wheels, Flying Wheels Travel, and Helping Hand Tours are all tour agencies that design and offer tours for the disabled. These agencies offer tours for persons with variety of disabilities. In addition to tours for mobility-limited persons, there are tours for the blind, for persons requiring dialysis, for persons requiring respiratory equipment, and for other disabilities. Most of these agencies are owned by disabled persons who understand the needs and desires of their clientele, and this enables the agencies to create unique tours that are accessible to all of the tour group.

Many of the problems associated with regular travel agents are circumvented when a disabled person chooses to use a tour agency that caters to disabled travelers. The experience of the owners helps to insure that most of the possible problems that could arise are addressed and avoided. These trips offer individuals the chance to be part of a group with similar disabilities and this may be a welcome change for some. The pace of these trips are specifically set for the needs of the group.

The drawback of these tour companies is that the individual has little say in the planning and timing of the trips. The trips depart at times which may not convenient, and they may be too long or too short for some persons. The trips may also not be going to areas of interest for some. Additionally, these tours may be simply too expensive for some persons. Lastly, these services tend to be designed for tourism purposes and not necessarily for point-to-point, non-vacation travel.

Publication. The third option is to plan a trip independently. There are a variety of books and government publications designed to aid disabled travelers. The available books on travel for the disabled cover a wide variety of topics.(19) Some list accessible hotels, restaurants, and sights. Others provide planning information and contingency options in the event of a disaster on the trip. The federal government prints comprehensive access guides for airports, highway rest areas, and national parks. There are also publications from organizations such as the Architectural and Transportation Compliance Board and the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped. Local governments and community organizations also print access guides detailing local attractions, accommodations, and restaurants. Additionally, Amtrak and Greyhound print pamphlets describing their services for the disabled.

For individuals who choose to plan their trip independently there are several advantages. First, this can often be the least expensive way to plan a trip. Second, some people find it an adventure to research and plan their own trip. Third, there is much information available for travel for the disabled. But there are drawbacks to planning a trip independently. First, while there is much information available, there is no one place from which to obtain it. There are currently about 400 accessibility guides available, but no one comprehensive source is available. Second, there are a wide variety of interpretations for the word accessible. One hotel and restaurant might interpret it as wheel-chair accessible, while others include this as well as electrical connections for assistance equipment and providing for a wide range of dietary needs.

Micro-Elements for Travel and Tourism

for the Disabled

Micro-elements for accessibility should be comprehensive by including information about transportation, lodging, restaurants, and attractions. This would make it possible for a disabled traveler to plan an entire trip or vacation ahead of time and have reduced concerns for unforeseen problems. This model should be precise in that it would include all relevant information on accessibility needed by a disabled traveler.

Access in the broadest sense of disability means the addressing of a wide range of constraints. Table 2 presents a summary of the data in Table 1 according to type of travel/tourism restriction. Though "disability" is generally approached in terms of removing architectural and facility barriers for wheel-chair mobility, many different approaches are called for in serving the wide range of disabled persons. Access is defined in law, but as Table 2 shows, each form of disability represents a different set of access requirements.
Table 2. Summary of Selected Impairments
by Type of Restriction
 Projected Number in
Type of Restriction United States - 1987
Stress 70,581,000 persons
Mobility 67,776,000
Diet 62,266,000
Sound 19,100,000
Sight 9,300,000
Communication 2,400,000

The segments of disabilities often require subtle considerations. Stress involves a wide range of conditions and experiences. It is related to dietary needs as well as affecting the choice of destinations (scenic and rural settings rather than cities, for example). Stress also often involves enroute needs such as avoiding congested and confusing settings like making plane connections, access to and from airports, the process of checking in to flights, hotels, and the use of certain types of restaurants. Mobility, usually defined as and narrowly provided for as a wheel-chair access, also includes the needs of persons requiring assistance with lifting, accessing doors, eating, and use of bath facilities. Sight is often limited to braille elevator floor markers and menus. However, hotel and facility layout information is often lacking for persons with this disability. Access is also very limited with air and ground transportation and hotels for persons requiring communication by way of sign language.

The general elements of concern for planning and executing a trip for a disabled person are presented in Table 3. The elements of concern in Column 1 represent a verbal model of factors to consider in the planning of travel for a disabled person. Column 2 shows a general consensus from the interviews for this research as to the current status and indicated perceptions of need for each element. These concerns cover basic travel and tourism factors face by any person, but some are special areas that must be more carefully taken into account for a disabled person. Generally speaking, the current services of linehaul transportation firms are quite adequate for handling a wide range of disabled persons. However, information about interfacing ground (with air) and other local (with rail and bus) transportation is often lacking, thereby representing a major impediment to disabled persons' travel.


The existence of information and its dissemination is perhaps the greatest constraint in travel and tourism systems, as is indicated by Column 3 of Table 3. While many hotels and restaurants provide high-quality services in this realm, there is no single systematic manner for a person to access such information. This is a major opportunity for travel agencies and tour operators who address specific disability segments.

Issues and Conclusions

The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is a major step forward in opening opportunities for travel and tourism for the disabled in the United States. It still remains to be seen how effective the specific regulations of Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board will be, as well as a study yet to be conducted by the Office of Technology Assessment into travel by disabled persons on over-the-road buses.(20) Further, the "readily achievable" provision of the law represents a major potential loophole that might cause many firms and organizations to not invest in or change facilities for participation by a wide range of disabled persons. In addition, though legislation has gone far in removing architectural and facility barriers, travel needs for the disabled also require some special services that are beyond the current laws. Lastly, this research focused on the situation for a domestic traveler in the United States. The issues presented here and in the micro-element model are compounded further for international travel.

Information dissemination appears to be one effective means of opening travel and tourism for the disabled. This includes not only the availability but the quality of information. Current systems include travel and tour agencies and special documents published by major providers of services. Others are available through public agencies. Many persons and organizations have suggested that greater use of special support groups and public agencies dealing with disabilities also be used as media for information dissemination. This might be an opportunity area for a group such as the American Association for Retired People, the American Automobile Association, or similar groups. Information quality is also called for through improved guidelines in consistent reporting of accessibility and the handling of specific disabilities. Consistency through such items as menu codes, more detailed access codes than the current wheel-chair sign, and others are needed as is verification as to the extent of disabled person services. Perhaps this calls for the need and opportunity of a voluntary, consistent code or set of operating guidelines for travel agencies. At the very minimum, a reference service would be quite useful to direct travelers to specialized travel bureaus and service providers.

Potential liability of medical professionals who treat traveling persons is another area of concern. Casual medical care for on-the-road people is almost nonexistent in the United States. The inability to access specific care away from home is frequently mentioned as a travel problem. Until liability-limiting legislation or other means of accomplishing the same are implemented, this area will continue to be a travel constraint.

Travel and tourism by the disabled requires a systematic approach in its planning and delivery. Though no information is available on the propensity of disabled persons to travel, this is a sector of the travel industry that represents a not insignificant market segment. Many travel systems currently exist to serve some of these specific markets. Enhanced development and dissemination of specific and useful information would perhaps provide the most effective means for increasing opportunities for both the traveler and service provider.


(1) James Adler, et. al., "Taking Offense," Newsweek, December 24, 1990, pp. 48-54. (2) National Council on the Handicapped. Toward Independence: An Assessment of Federal Laws and Programs Affecting persons with Disabilities - With Legislative Recommendations. (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1986). (3) U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. Disability, Functional Limitation and Health Insurance Coverage: 1984/85 (Household Economic Studies, Series P-70, No. 8). (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1987) pages 70, 72, and 78. (4) Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, 42 USC Sections 4151-4157. (5) Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29, USC Section 794. (6) Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964, 49 USC 1601-1613. (7) Air Carriers Act of 1986, Public Law 99-435 and 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 382, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Handicap. (8) Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Public Law 101-336, 104 Stat. 327, which appears in 42 USCS Sections 12101 through 12213 which is officially entitled "Equal Opportunity for Individuals with Disabilities." (9) Ibid., Section 12101. (10) Ibid., Sections 12131 to 12165 and 12181 to 12189. (11) Ibid., Section 12182. (12) Ibid., Section 12181 b(A) through (D). (13) See, for example, May Johnson, "Disabilities Act - Why Business Still Carps." Christian Science Monitor, April 1, 1991, page 19; and, Mary Johnson, "A New Day for Disabled Americans," Christian Science Monitor, January 24, 1992, p. 18. (14) Catherine M. Nichols and David J. Snepenger, "Family Decision Making and Tourism Behavior and Attitudes," Journal of Travel Research 28 (Spring 1988) pp. 2-6. (15) G. Goodbey, "Nonuse of Public Leisure Services: A Model" Journal of Park and Recreation Administration 3(2), pp. 1-12. (16) Michael A. Blazey, "The Differences Between Participants and Non-participants in a Senior Travel Program," Journal of Travel Research 27 (Summer 1987) pp. 7-12. (17) H. N. Tongren, "Travel Plans of the Over-65 Market, Pre- and Post-Retirement," Journal of Travel Research 19, 1980, pp. 7-11. (18) Arch G. Woodside and Steven Lysonski, "A General Model of Traveler Destination Choice," Journal of Travel Research 27 (Spring 1989), pp. 8-14. (19) See, for example, Louise Weiss, Access to the World. (New York: Menry Holt and Company), 1986. (20) Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Ibid.. Section 12185.

Mr. Cavinato, CM-AST&L, is associate professor of business logistics, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, and Ms. Cuckovich is project coordinator, satellite engineering, Roadway Express, Inc., Akron, Ohio 44309.
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Author:Cavinato, Joseph L.; Cuckovich, Martha L.
Publication:Transportation Journal
Date:Mar 22, 1992
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