Conference highlights accessible travel

By Lorraine Graves

Published 4:18 PST, Mon November 26, 2018

Saturday, Dec. 1 is the United Nations International Day for Persons with Disabilities. In recognition, the Ukrainian Community Centre of Ivan Franko on Francis Road hosts an evening conference, open for free registration to the public, on accessible travel for individuals and families with a variety of abilities and challenges when it comes to heading off and getting somewhere away from home.

According to Tarita Davenock, CEO of Travel for All Inc. travel agency, “This demographic is the largest and most underserved and fastest-growing group in travel.”

By 2025, it is estimated that more than 25% of all travellers will require some form of accessible travel accommodations and service. Accessible travel is the fastest growing market in tourism where spending has increased 27 per cent over the past 13 years.

Travel for All is the only full-service travel agency in Canada that arranges vacations for people with very specific requirements from using a cane to needing dialysis, from people using a wheelchair or with developmental disabilities, to other physical or cognitive impairments.

“We have successfully arranged over 5,000 vacations,” Davenock says.

How does she feel about those who have the resources to travel but because of their needs, stop travelling? “It’s just a shame. We want people to realize it is just a matter of making sure it is being arranged by someone who understands. We are actually in the process of arranging a trip for a gal with really terrible arthritis. She’s going to England, Ireland and Scotland. We have great suppliers there.”

Sometimes, travellers already on their journey contact Davenock: “We get all kinds of calls from around the world. For example, someone at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico who can’t get to the door, literally, to the room. What a headache it can be to arrive and the hotel isn’t accessible because they can’t get their wheelchair into a bathroom,” Davenock says.

“Any time I book for a person with a wheelchair for Mexico, I reach out to the manager, and I email and I email and I email to make sure the client can get into that room,” she says.

She also mentioned the varied needs of different travelers offering the example that she wouldn’t book someone with dementia onto a trip by themselves that requires three three plane changes. She would instead arrange a direct flight.

Davenock has clients who travel the globe, “We have over 300 suppliers around the world that do arrange successful vacations to Nepal, India, South Pacific, all over the world.” People who don’t let their different needs stop their journeying.

She speaks of many airlines’ and destinations’ view of accessibility: “They take this huge need and lump it into things like an upgrade to an ocean view.” She is clear this is not a mere preference. Accessibility is a necessity.

Davenock offers examples of challenges: “Some hoteliers don’t know the bed can’t be right down to the floor because you can’t fit a lift under it. You can’t have a lip on the bathroom or shower floor.” A raised threshold may look small to someone able-bodied but it can be a deal-breaker for a person in a wheelchair or someone who trips easily. She also cites, “Things like the light switches being far too high to reach. All those things, we are keenly aware of.”

Consultant Stan Leyenhorst of Universal Access Design Inc., a firm that designs in accessibility to places as varied as private homes and Vancouver International Airport (YVR), says that he’s been travelling quite a bit lately and that means many phone calls to make sure each destination can accommodate his wheel chair.

How did she get started? “I have been in business about nine and a half years. I’ve been in the industry about 24 years. I used to be a social worker. When I was diagnosed with MS, I knew I had to find something less stressful. So, I started my own company. When I saw this segment, I knew this was something I had to do.”

How about things closer to home? “Canada is not represented on the accessible tourism market. We are not there yet because there is no real standard for accessible tourism here.”

“I am a vice-chair of the Standards Council of Canada; throughout all the world, we vote and have standards but in Canada we don’t have any standards for accessibility.”

Even closer to home, how is Richmond as a destination? “It’s not bad…” her voice trails off. Though, Davenock brightens when she says, “YVR is actually very, very involved in creating and promoting accessibility. They do workshops all the time. Craig Richmond is very, very good. Kudos to YVR.”

“We are working very hard at a Canada for all,” Davenock says.

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