When we take the word Include and Inclusion and understand the meaning in its literal state; ‘Parts of a whole’ is one definition. Perhaps, we were never meant to separate, and we are now realizing that it is important for children to understand special needs, as this will correct the future and inclusion will not be an afterthought. Years ago in Canada, the school system did not include children with special needs; hence the capacity for understanding was low. A child with Autism was simply a ‘bad child’ who will straighten out with discipline. The term wheelchair accessible was not a common phrase, and we did not feel the need to ‘include’ this group of people.
Children with various physical or cognitive disabilities, such as autism, Down’s syndrome, hearing impairment, developmental issues, and cerebral palsy, all thrive on experiential learning that can be amplified by travel. Yet it’s often difficult for their families to find places to stay, activities, and airlines that are accommodating of their issues. For instance, if your child will need a specific type of rental car seating, van service, or car seat, what is the best local option? Why are children's clubs sorted by age & not ability?
38.8 million adults in the US alone, whose families are touched by the 11 million diagnosed special needs children in the country. That audience is 16% of all US adults, who collectively spent $600 billion on leisure and travel has solidified the need for ‘inclusion’ in travel.
When MS created a new journey for me in the travel industry, it became very apparent that ‘special needs’ was not a conversation that the travel industry was interested in having. During travel presentations given by large travel suppliers, my hand was consistently raised; asking “What facilities are there for people with various disabilities”. The response was a puzzled look, and a short quick answer, “We will assist in any way possible”. The word ‘possible’ was not a clear concise understanding of what is necessary for adults, and children to travel.
It is very evident there is a critical niche that would like to see the world and the travel industry by not providing options; is missing a large piece of the puzzle. The world is filling a void by creating accessible destinations for the physically disabled and creative destinations for families with a special needs child. Families; specifically those with a special need child have been faced with separate vacations, and never having a solution that created ‘parts of a hole’ in travel planning. Parents did not think that facilities existed where during vacationing siblings could enjoy separate activities as well as family together time. Parents did not imagine that during a holiday they could plan a romantic dinner while their children enjoyed safe activities. It is wonderful to see companies include special needs children in their toy catalogs; however, I hope that the day comes when ‘special needs’ is not an afterthought…