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08/23/2022

Accessing New Customers and Revenues: Traveling with Disabilities in Mind

The rise of the internet led to the age of information, especially for travel and tourists. However, information on accessibility for disabled Americans has been woefully forgotten by hotel and travel websites.
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a woman in sunglasses sitting in a wheelchair taking a selfie with a friend

Fifty years ago, before the internet, planning a vacation was a nightmare.

There was no website that listed every restaurant you could possibly go to. There weren’t 10 million blogs detailing every possible activity that you could sign up for while visiting a new city. And finding a hotel wasn’t as easy as picking the cheapest or best option on Hotels.com.

Planning a vacation back then required knowing somebody with an innate knowledge of the given destination. It involved scouring through guide books and brochures to find places to eat and things to do while you were there. Finally, finding a place to stay involved calling hotels yourself, and you had to trust that they were being honest when it came to amenities.

It was awful, and also why travel agents were a necessity back then.

Thankfully, the rise of the internet brought about the age of information, and for most people, that nightmare became a thing of the past.

As it turns out, the internet doesn’t actually include everything about any given destination. In fact, when it comes to accessibility, there tends to be quite a few gaps.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires hotels to describe the accessible features of a guest room in enough detail so that people can determine if a room will meet their individual accessibility needs. However, one study by Mobility Mojo found that hotels are missing key information required by those with accessibility needs.

In fact, the study found that of the hotels they sampled that had accessible bedrooms, a whopping 18% of them didn’t have any accessibility information available on their website whatsoever. An additional 53% of them didn’t allow accessible bedrooms to be booked through their online platform.

For someone with a disability, this is a nonstarter. Someone in a wheelchair cannot fly across the country and just assume that the hotel has doors wide enough for them to get through. We don’t have the luxury of rolling the dice on anything. If we can’t get assurance that something is accessible for our needs, we either have to find a different option, or we don’t go.

And this is just related to finding a hotel. There are also issues when it comes to finding accessible entertainment options and transportation while you are there— assuming that there are accessible taxis or Ubers is how you end up stranded in a city with no ability to get anywhere you want to go.

Don’t get me started on the process of getting the proper accommodations for flying—and the crippling fear that the next time you see your power wheelchair, it will be in multiple pieces because they broke it in transit.

The truth is, the age of information didn’t completely come to those with disabilities. Not only do we constantly fall through the cracks when it comes to what information is and isn’t available, but even when it is, we sometimes cannot access it. 

I use a voice dictation software to type, an onscreen keyboard and mouth joystick cursor to navigate a webpage, and screen reader software to assist with reading. This technology is amazing, but only when the websites I’m on have been designed with accessibility in mind by adequately meeting the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Planning for web accessibility on an existing travel website or any website should start with an accessibility scan which will inform the owner where they are doing great and where they are missing the mark. Knowing where you stand with accessibility gives choice on whether to fix the different issues through coding or to integrate an AI solution that can automatically bring more accessibility and usability to the website. Native accessibility is an approach where you work with web experts and developers to build out your new website from the beginning with accessibility in mind.

Having options provides choice and a more doable path forward. The most important thing is to do something.

I struggle with inaccessible hospitality and travel websites often when I prepare for travel. Sometimes, I am stuck on a home page because the menu is not coded properly, preventing me from accessing the drop-down menus. I have been on a travel website where I cannot use my voice dictation software to fill in my personal information and credit card information upon check out.

When you add these limitations to the gaps in information, it almost makes planning the perfect vacation impossible. And that is the case for a large percentage of Americans.

How large exactly? Sixty-one million Americans have a disability that impacts major life activities. That is a fourth of the country. Yet, this is a demographic that wants to travel. In 2018-19, Americans with disabilities spent $58.7 billion on traveling and tourism.

Those numbers are huge. And they don’t even include people without disabilities that, if they wanted to go on vacation, would want to travel with somebody that has a disability.

The tourism industry is healing after spending the last few years trying to tread water with people terrified to travel because of the coronavirus. But if it wants to do better than just returning to pre-pandemic levels, it needs to tap into unsaturated markets and make travel websites accessible.

Right now, people with disabilities represent a demographic that is larger than China. And it is ripe for the picking, if the industry is willing to accommodate us.