Growing up, Neha Arora didn’t have the easiest time traveling with her family—her father is visually impaired and her mother is a wheelchair user. “We’d travel 2,000 miles only to realize the place wasn’t accessible or wouldn’t give us the experience we were looking forward to,” says Arora. In 2016, she founded Planet Abled, a travel company that caters to the needs of people with various disabilities, a group the World Health Organization estimates at 15 percent of the world’s population. Arora isn’t the only one pushing for more thoughtful travel experiences—here’s a look at six companies focused on accessible travel.
Travel for All
Travel for All has organized more than 5,000 vacations around the world for travelers with a variety of requirements, including cane users, slow walkers, hearing and vision impaired persons, travelers with complex health issues like dialysis and developmental disabilities, and wheelchair users. “As multiple sclerosis began to affect my own personal travel, I researched what resources could assist me with executing travel using my wheelchair,” says CEO Tarita Davenock. “I was shocked when I saw the lack of services.” Every trip Travel for All plans comes with an accessibility specialist. “We research and give our clients the pros and cons of any area in the world before planning the trip, so our client knows what to expect while they are in that destination,” says Davenock. “Meticulous planning and great attention to detail are the keystones of keeping our vacations safe.”
Seable Holidays specializes in trips for visually impaired travelers. All trips include trained chaperones—who undergo a background check—as well as inclusive sports and sensory activities like horse riding, scuba diving, kayaking, wine tasting, yoga, and tactile museum excursions. And everything is thoroughly vetted, with chaperones, activities, and accommodations tested by blind people before they’re recommended by the company. While trips are on pause during the pandemic, Seable Holidays will bring them back in summer 2022.
Easy Access Travel
Debra Kerper and her team at Easy Access Travel accommodate most types of physical disabilities in their solo trips and mixed group tours. While Kerper sometimes relies on her own experiences as a traveler in a wheelchair, she says every trip needs to be tailored to an individual client’s needs. To do so, the team spends time getting to know their clients to match them with the best vacation choice, and visits hotels and tourist spots for inspection, takes cruises beforehand, and collects information from trustworthy sources to ensure a safe, accessible, and fun experience.
Neha Arora’s Planet Abled arranges customized tours for people with different types of disabilities, and also plans group tours with non-disabled people. Their trips mostly take place in India and South East Asia, with plans to expand to countries in Europe, and popular activities include river rafting, skiing, trekking, and wildlife safaris. Some of their extra touches include assigning a travel buddy for the blind, seeking special permission from museums so clients can touch and feel the articles on display, and arranging for sign language interpreters for the hearing impaired.
Go Wheel the World
Alvaro Silberstein, the CEO of Go Wheel the World, was paralyzed from the chest down after surviving an accident at 18. This didn’t stop him from seeing the world—he’s since visited 30 countries on five continents. “I realized that people with disabilities should be able to explore places as anyone else,” he says. Most of his clients are adults or seniors with mobility disabilities and wheelchair users, and he can arrange solo travel or group trips. Silberstein wants to create more awareness around accessibility, and his company pays special attention to details like the height of beds, width of doors, and accessibility of bathrooms, compiling this information on the Go Wheel the World website. Their multi-day trips are designed with local tour operators with a focus on accessible travel, and includes access to adaptive bikes, beach wheelchairs, and equipment for hiking, skydiving, kayaking, scuba diving, and surfing—they’ve even planned Macchu Pichu trips for wheelchair users. The company makes sure “prices are competitive and the pricing is the same no matter if the clients have a disability or not,” says Silberstein.
Laurent Roffe and Aicha Nystrom spent years volunteering with an organization that provides outdoors excursions to people with disabilities. “We have many friends in wheelchairs as part of our close community,” says Roffe. “I’m a sea kayak guide and [Aicha] is a ski guide and this has always been a source of immense joy for us. Launching our accessible travel business was a natural extension of what we are and what we like to do.” Their company, Tapooz Travel, specializes in trips for those with mobility issues, including visual and hearing impairment, rather than cognitive disabilities. When they have a client with a visual or hearing impairment, they make sure there’s at least one guide trained in sign language, or have a guide who can help with things like reading the menu at the restaurant and providing a voice narration during a site visit. Their network also includes adaptive sports instructors, sailboat skippers, tribal elders, massage therapists, and hot air balloon operators, all of whom are trained to work with travelers with disabilities.