Some of us are lucky enough to fall into careers that we love, where just coming to work is a joyful part of the day. Fewer have been purposeful, have seized the brass ring and gotten into those careers through hard work, perseverance and, yes, even a little bit of luck. The path to my dream career was decided by an entirely different kind of luck. A social worker who specialized in helping children and adults with special needs, I had stability and my degrees in English and Psychology ensured the future of that stability. At 29, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and a few years later; at the suggestion of my Neurologist, I changed careers.
I reflected back on a constant love of mine- travel. I have traveled the world and knew that I could use my first-hand knowledge and love of our world to become a successful travel agent.
Serendipity was at play when a local position was posted in the newspaper; a "full-time travel agent-must be well traveled and a people person'. This fit me like a glove and I began the following week. I learned the travel industry on the job, and it was not until my MS began to create a barrier in my own travel, that I began to take notice of the travel industry's relationship with the disabled traveler. I recall people left on cruise ships, as there was not a system yet to lower them onto a tender to take them to shore. Ship staff would lift passengers up and place them in the tender. I recall a gentleman who was of larger build proclaim that there was no way that he would have 6 or 7 crew members lift him! This was the first incident in a long line of what I refer to as 'travel atrocities'... 'Wheelchair accessible' room at a resort in Mexico whose door was not wide enough for a wheelchair, showers deemed 'wheelchair accessible' with a lip at the entrance, cruise lines who meet ADA requirements on board, however, leave disabled passengers ashore without any accessible shore excursions...
These stories had me do some further snooping which led me to open my own agency four years ago. Inclusion in travel has been my mission and through the channels of social media (and my nosiness) I chimed into conversations on Twitter, and LinkedIn. Here is where I have met amazing people that also want to create a positive change in travel. There is what I refer to as 'An Access Revolution occurring'; globally more and more travelers are demanding inclusion, and not just those with 'visible' barriers, but the 'invisible' ones as well i.e. developmental disabilities. It is so wonderful to know that some of my favorite places in the world; which are geographically challenging i.e. Machu Picchu, Ecuador offers some beautiful accessible trips. Inclusion is on the minds of many countries and the travel industry will have to accommodate governed by the sheer numbers of disabled people globally...
The Inclusive Tourism market has been estimated as being worth US$134 billion annually. Already a major tourism sector, it is a market driven by the retirement of the baby boomers, who command almost 60% of net U.S. wealth and 40% of spending. In travel, boomers represent over 50% of consumption. The impact on the Inclusive Tourism sector is significant as over 40% of them will be retiring with some form of disability, raising the total value of this sector to over 25% of the tourism market by 2020. This is not a niche market!
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