Accessible travel for the disabled isn't nearly as limited as most people think. Editor Candy Harrington of Emerging Horizons magazine joins host David Lytle to discuss a new way to look at accessible travel. Harrington explains how opportunities can vary greatly depending an individual's wants and needs while she also offers advice for all travelers who have special lodging and transportation concerns. She also offers tips on resources, specific questions to ask vendors, and provides unexpected alternatives to theme parks and other traditionally accessible destinations.
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Top Tips from This Podcast
See transcript below for links to more information.
- Always Ask: Don't expect an accessible room to be the same everywhere you go. Ask for specifics to your needs.
- Emerging Horizons: Visit the Emerging Horizons website for additional information on accessible travel.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.Narrator: Welcome to the Frommers.com travel podcast. For more information on planning your trip to any one of thousands of destinations, please visit www.frommers.com.
David Lytle: Hi! Welcome to the Frommers.com podcast. I'm David Lytle, editorial director of Frommers.com. Today, we're talking with Candy Harrington. She's the editor of Emerging Horizons, an accessible travel magazine. She's also the author of "Barrier-Free Travel: A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers," and "There Is Room at the Inn: Inns and B&Bs for Wheelers and Slow Walkers;" and she's just released her third title, "101 Accessible Vacations."
Hi, Candy, how are you today?
Candy Regan: Oh, just fine, David.
David: A topic that I've been wanting to cover for some time is the idea that whatever term people might use - disabled, handicapable, accessible - anybody can take a vacation. Oftentimes, the limitations are basically where they mentally set themselves. Would you say that's largely true?
Candy: Oh, yeah, I totally agree with that. The vacation in itself would depend on what you want to do and what you're willing to accept. For example, third-world countries are not really considered by most standards to be accessible, at least to the standards we have in the US. I know a lot of people who go there, they have to have a mindset that they're willing to accept physical help from people there and certainly, people are willing to give it. But, if you're the type of person that says, "No, I want to do everything on my own and I don't want you to touch me," then that's probably not the best choice for you. And yeah, there are a lot of possibilities depending on what you want to do.
David: If you're aware as a traveler of your comfort zone, you can basically decide where you can go and where you can't go. Some people are obviously going to be trying to do a safari across Africa. You can take those at all different comfort levels as well.
Candy: There are accessible safaris; and I've covered around five or six providers who have accessible vehicles and tents and bathroom facilities and even lodges over there.
Getting there, if you live in the US, you're going to have a pretty long plane trip. So, you're going to have to plan for that too and decide if that's something you physically can deal with or not, or even if you want to. But certainly, you can do just about anything.
David: How often does your magazine Emerging Horizons come out?
Candy: We're now published quarterly, so four issues a year. We cover travel just like any other travel magazine does, meaning you look for the flavor of the destination, things to do; but we also include access information. By access information, our whole market is slow walkers, wheelchair users, so any type of physical access are things we're going to cover in there.
David: How did you get into this specific kind of writing?
Candy: [chuckles] I just sort of happened into it, I guess. About 15-16 years ago, I was doing travel writing, just mainstream regular travel writing for probably about 10 - 15 years. I was getting kind of tired of it, because I thought that I was just cranking out what I consider as fluff. I just didn't want to do it anymore, but I did like travel. So then, a friend of mine suggested that I go into accessible travel. At that time, she was a travel agent, and she thought it would be a great thing to do. That and no one was really covering it and I would tell people about it and they would treat me like I was a few fries short of a Happy Meal or something. Like, "You're doing what?"
But now, with aging the baby boomers, it's like very popular; people want this information. So, I just sort of evolved in the last 14 years covering it, and it's become more popular because of our aging population, I think.
David: Regardless of how anyone wants initial reaction to the term "boomer generation," they are largely responsible for rapid changes in our society, whatever it might be. It's interesting how aging the world is now. Definitely the United States is becoming very conscious of the needs of an aging generation.
Candy: Exactly, because to a large part, they're aging. Sometimes, there are disabilities. They can be minor, they can be major, associated with age. Some people are very active, some get around a little slower, but each one has a large chunk of disposable income and they're going to have time on their hands too. So, of course the hospitality industry is very much looking at them and catering to them.
David: What are some special issues that wheelers and slow walkers have to deal with when they're considering a destination?
Candy: Definitely, I would say, if we're talking about lodging, the big thing that people do, if they're new to travel, is that they call up and ask for an accessible room or even worse, an ADA-compliant room, thinking that they're going to get the exact same room or bathroom setup that they have at home because that's accessible, everything's going to look exactly the same. The truth of the matter is that accessible rooms, especially in hotels - large hotels, small hotels - they vary.
So, if you need something really specific, if you need a roll-in shower, you have to specify that when you make a reservation. I know people that have had strokes and they have to have a grab bar on a specific side because they're hemiplegic they have got paralysis on one side. So, they have to specify that. So, you really need to ask a lot of questions and not just book an accessible room.
The same goes with accessible transportation. If you're in a wheelchair, sometimes people will say, "Well, I need accessible transportation." They'll show up with a van and they'll assume that you can walk a few steps. Well, some people can and some people can't. So, you have to say, "I need a ramp vehicle." Even nowadays, they're using a lot of minivans. So, if you have a large wheelchair, you have to make sure that large wheelchair is going to fit in there. Sometimes you even have to inquire about size.
David: I was just at St. Lucia earlier this year and at every hotel that I toured, the marketing manager, the hotel manager, whoever it was that was responsible for taking me around, made a point, without me ever asking to show us their accessible rooms. Apparently, St. Lucia is very much on their radar, something that they need to be offering. Maybe it's with the increase of the boomers traveling there, but they all had roll-in showers. I think, it's easier for a lot of these properties because their bathrooms often tended to be tiled open areas exposed to the elements, where it's easier for them to do that.
Candy: In Europe too, they call them continental showers. It's basically your shower and your toilet. It's everything, it's tile, there's no separation, there's no enclosure. There maybe a curtain or something. But, it's very popular and it's easier to clean. You don't have to worry about tripping over things. I think, it's very simple and in Europe, if you just get a continental shower, it's pretty much going to be accessible.
David: Actually, I kind of prefer them even for those who are completely capable. It's just easier than having to step up over something. And you find out a lot of times, especially in these smaller European hotels rooms where you have those really bizarre little closet showers with the tiny little folding door that's impossible for anyone to get into.
David: And they don't keep the water in, and they don't serve the purpose to begin with.
Candy: I was just in Palm Springs a couple weeks ago. We stayed at a casino and they had a very... this was just a standard room, it wasn't accessible. They have a low step shower. It was about just a three inch threshold, but it was huge and it had a place to sit in; I could have put a dining room table in the shower there, it was so huge. Again, they are just catering to an aging population. And looking around the casino, the demographics, definitely a lot of people over 50 there. So, it's just a need.
David: What sort of resources do you typically recommend to people - travel agencies, online resources - where they can find lists of information, people they can contact for transporting oxygen, somebody who sells travel specifically to disabled travelers.
Candy: Wherever we go now, we do have resources on our emerging horizons website. We don't take any advertising at all in our magazine or on our websites, but we do have a sociable database of resources, and these are everything - from the just the tiniest person is doing their own little website and writing about access in Timbuktu, or wherever they live, to larger people who provide wheel chair rentals, oxygen suppliers, things like that.
We don't include travel agents unless they happen to offer some bit of pertinent access information on their website - a database of accessible cruise ships or something like that... or destination information and include the access information. So, we don't have a list of travel agents because again everyone seems to be an expert in access these days because it's a big market; but not everybody is, so we don't want to try and screen people who's good and who's not good.
That's all that we do.
David: Right, right. Well, I think that's great. It's good to know who you are and what it is that you do, recognize your limitations. I received something the other day wanting us to review a new clothing line because they thought it was clothing for travelers and my initial reaction was, we don't review clothing, I'm sorry. What do I know?
Candy: Everyone else goes around naked, but travelers are supposed to be dressed in specific clothing or something. We did come across things, and we have a very small, and I mean very small section on our website about products that we found that make travel easier. I think that truly things like maybe the portable grab bars or levers you take with you and put on like a door to make it a lever handle over a door handle and there's no... no, we don't get a commission, it's just things that we have found useful.
David: Those are pretty cool, the lever...
Candy: Yes, and they are very cheap too. They are like $7.99 for a pair of two or three, two pairs I think. Throw them in your suitcase, just in case you take the family. Families... they try to do everything they can to make things accessible, and sometimes they miss little things like that. It's good to throw them in your suitcase.
David: Now you also maintain a blog called "Barrierfreetravels.com" Are you blogging daily?
Candy: No. I try to blog about maybe two or three times a week. I have a friend that she says she blogs nine times a day and I wonder, what else do you do? I try to blog a couple or three times a week. I am not always finding information or news tidbits or something to throw up there.
David: Arthur Bremer started a blog on Frommers.com back in April and he publishes four or five times a day.
Candy: Yes, these people amaze me. [laughs]
David: Absolutely. If I was just writing, I could see that; but if I'm doing something else, editing or researching, it's really hard to get the time into bed.
Candy: I did put stuff on a couple of blogs and I did keep it current. I've been blogging for about three years now and I actually love it. I love to get up and write a blog in the morning. It's a great way for me to just clear my mind. So, it's the kind of writing I like to do.
David: What sort of letters do you get into Emerging Horizons?
Candy: Oh, boy. We get just about everything. We get a lot of questions. We get a lot of questions about cruises. Sometimes, we get complaints of things that didn't go right. We have a column in a magazine called "Gems and Germs." Gems meaning people who are really great and have gone all the way to do something and germs are about pretty much the opposite. [laughs]
David: Yes. I think, that's a great headline.
Candy: We get a lot of gem and germ nominations; although I have to say we get more gems than germs, which is good. The germ letters tend to go on sometimes for pages. [laughs].
David: Right. We published articles in the past about how to complain effectively and it's really hard to find somebody that has complained when they can make it into eight pages.
Candy: Yes. But we do read them.
David: Oh, yes. We absolutely read them, but I don't know what part to respond to first.
David: Yes. Let's talk about your new book, "101 Accessible Vacations." What prompted you to write this one?
Candy: It is one of the questions that I do get a lot wherever I go. And it's kind of a basic question as, where can I go on vacation? And when you really think about it, when you don't know the person and you don't know anything about them, you can't really answer it. If they like museums, I would tell them to go one place, but if they like the outdoors I would tell them to go another.
I decided to write a book and "101" just sounded like a really good number. It's organized not geographically like most travel books are, but a lifestyle type of travel you like to do. For example, there is cultural attractions. There are road trips. There are cruises. Historic destinations. Taking the kids. Outdoor activities. Within those, it's just basically an idea book. It answers that question, 'where can I go on vacation?' And pretty much you can go wherever you want to, but it depends on what you want to do.
David: One of your suggestions under your chapter your picks, 'Candy's Picks,' is go caving?
Candy: A lot of people, you know, cave. They just don't found to be very accessible, so I did a caving round. For example, even if you cannot get out and walk at all, there are drive through caves in Missouri. It's called Fantastic Caverns, and they have an accessible vehicle that you can just roll up onto, and they take you deep into the cave and they give you a cave tour. If you want to give for example Carlsbad Caverns, believe it or not, the big room is accessible by elevator. There's a wide variety of things you can do if you want to see a cave.
David: The prompt for writing this book was that standard question "where should I go on vacation?' followed by the blank stare.
Candy: Exactly, and the other part is that most - and I won't say most - but a good chunk of travel professionals, they just don't know anything that's accessible beyond theme parks. So, if somebody in a wheelchair calls them up and says they want to go on vacation, and the only thing they can do is send them to a theme park. I don't have anything against theme parks. I think, they're great and most of them have gone beyond any letter of the law for access but the fact is if you don't like theme parks you just don't like theme parks and just because you're in a wheelchair doesn't mean you're going to like them. You need choices and I didn't actually include any theme parks in this book because everybody knows about them.
David: Your categories are great. I'm just opening the book and looking through them. "Bright Lights, Big City" - I think that speaks for itself. "Active Holidays," which includes beaches, slopes, sailing, scuba diving. "The Great Outdoors." You have one on this ferry here. "A Place to Rest Your Head," these are basically inns and B&Bs that are accessible?
Candy: It goes beyond that. I included dude ranches, unique hotels, things that maybe you wouldn't think would be accessible. Hostels, for example. There's a great hostel in Pigeon Point, which is south of San Francisco and it used to be a lighthouse. The lighthouse keeper's quarters are now a hostel and it's accessible; and it's very cheap and it's free. So, you don't have to spend a lot of money. It's just unique lodging choices.
David: I've driven by there several times. I've always actually wanted to check it out. Somebody actually mentioned it to me the other day. You have "Road Trips," "Cruising," "Small Town Charm," "A Little Culture," "Historic Haunts" - which I love that one - "Family Friendly Fun," "Off the Beaten Path" and then "Your Picks." What's your pick of "Your Picks?"
Candy: Probably the accessible tide pools because it's something that you wouldn't even imagine would be accessible and that came to me one day when I was speaking and someone came up to me and said, 'do you know about those accessible tide pools in Oregon?' And I said, 'no, tell me about them.' He said 'they're in Oregon somewhere.' So, I spent about four or five months trying to find them and doing research and I finally did and Yakima had - which is very close to Newport on the central Oregon coast. And it's a Bureau of Reclamation Project. It was an old rock quarry and they've made accessible pathways, so you can roll right down to the tide pools. The tide comes in, covers everything up, the tide goes out and the water is left in the little pools and some of them are raised and you can look at all the marine life down there. They did a great job of making this accessible.
David: The picture in the book is really amazing.
Candy: Yeah, I found out - interestingly enough - my east coast friends are not familiar with the concept of tide pooling. So, I always find I have to explain it to anybody from the east coast because they just don't do it back there. If you're from the west coast you sort of know what tide pooling is, but on the east coast they just look at you with a blank stare.
David: Are there no tide pools on the east coast? I can't imagine that that's true.
Candy: I don't know. Every time I talk to somebody on the east coast they just look at me and say, 'Oh, no, you're supposed to go to the shore'. Not the beach. You go to the shore back there. Not the beach. We go to the beach, they go to the shore. It's another country.
David: Right, exactly. 'Down the shore' if you're in New Jersey. When I was living in New York the first time I heard that I really had no idea what they were talking about. What else have you discovered recently that might be of interest to anybody looking to take an accessible vacation?
Candy: You mean destinations o...?
David: Destinations, any sort of new trends. Anything that has popped up where you thought, 'wow, that's interesting. I never thought of that.'
Candy: Well one of the great things - this is in California in San Diego - they have power beach wheelchairs that are available for loan. And they're free. They're on Imperial Beach, but they've just gotten a grant and they're going to be putting them on several other beaches down there. These are great because the traditional beach wheelchairs, they have the big balloon tires and they require somebody to push you through the sand. You can get through the sand. You can get through the sand but it requires - and actually it requires kind of a strong person to push you, too. But, the power ones are great because you can - if you're in a wheelchair you can drive yourself. You don't have to have someone push you. So, it allows independent access. They just got a $300,000 grant to put some more down there. So, that would be great.
David: Do these wheelchairs have big off road wheels on them?
Candy: Yeah, they do. They have... off road wheels is a good way to describe them. Mountain bike tires but bigger as far as the treads go. Yeah.
David: It's incredible. It's such a simple concept and now they have them as a power vehicle as well.
Candy: Yeah, that's been a long time in coming in the invention process. This man in southern California tried several prototypes and finally came up with something that worked. And it had to power so... and it's great. I've seen them and it just allows for independent access and it's something people like.
David: It's innovative and it allows people to continue to travel and it gives them their independence and it lets them go out to a point that they probably couldn't have reached before. Why should somebody be prevented from putting their toes in the water just because they're not able to walk there?
Candy: Exactly. And more and more things are becoming available Access guides - free access guides, in the next couple of weeks. Chicago is going to be releasing their first access guide. I've seen a preview of it and it's great. It has information about hotels, things to do and of course, they have ramps down to their beach on Lake Michigan; so, you can also get down there, too.
David: That's great. This has been a fantastic conversation. Candy, I really want to thank you for talking to us today. You can read Candy's blog at www.barrierfreetravels.com. You can also read the magazine online at EmergingHorizons.com and your new book is "101 Accessible Vacations." Candy, thanks so much for talking to us today.
Candy: Well thanks so much for having me.
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