Whether it be your annual two weeks in the sun, a city break with your partner or an overnight business trip, going away from home for many people with disabilities can be challenging. You're leaving the safety of what is familiar which can be extremely stressful to be away from an environment that you're accustomed to, with all of your supports in place. The anxiety this causes for some presents a significant obstacle.
The Sunflower is here to help alleviate some of these anxieties. Recognised by over 140 airports around the world, with a presence in 20 countries and now supported by British Airways, we aim to get your trip off to a good start. Many museums, attractions, hotels and other transport links, both in the UK and around the world, also support the Sunflower. You can find these on our Sunflower locator map
But what if your needs extend beyond the support afforded by the Sunflower? We spoke to Fred Maahs, Jr., founder & CEO of Maahs Travels, a global accessible travel and tourism consulting firm. Fred is an International disability rights advocate and partner at Travel-for-All.com, a global accessible travel firm.
Fred Maahs, Jr.
When Fred was about to start college, he was involved in a diving accident which left him paralysed from the chest down. After seven months in hospital, Fred was contacted by the college he was planning to attend and told that their facilities could not accommodate him as they were not accessible for wheelchair users. Thankfully, Fred knew the Dean of a local college which had no experience of supporting a person with a disability. They invited Fred to join them for some summer courses and with Fred's help, would look to make the adjustments necessary and begin to make their campus accessible for all.
Fred went on to get his degrees in Business and Marketing and then spent over 30 years working for Fortune 100 and Fortune 30 companies. Fred's executive roles involved a lot of travel. Over the years, Fred was frequently told by hotels “yes we're accessible”. Fred would arrive and the room he had booked would be nothing like what he was told, or the pictures he was sent and the rooms would not be as wide as the measurements they had provided. The rooms were completely unsuitable. These first-hand experiences of struggling to find truly accessible accommodation inspired Fred to move forward and solely focus on improving accessible travel for all.
Travel For All
Travel For All is a full-service travel agency, specialising in accessible trip planning that meets your specific requirements.
With over 25 years in the travel industry, Travel For All offers unbiased recommendations and can anticipate the hurdles you might face while away – so that they can prevent or plan around them.
It's not just booking your plane ticket and hotel. Travel for All works with over 1,000 accessible suppliers that include transport companies, hotels, tour guides, restaurants – your entire holiday.
Whether you have a specific destination in mind or want to hear some recommendations, Travel For All will help craft your entire trip with your desires, disability and needs in mind. People share a huge amount of personal information: likes, dislikes, what you're comfortable with, care requirements and medical needs. By obtaining this plethora of information, Travel for All knows that you're going to have all your personal needs met while also having an experience that exceeds your expectations at your destination. They will help provide anything from accessible transportation to a carer or even access to a dialysis machine.
Just because something is labelled as “accessible”, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is
In order for a business to be included in Travel For All's portfolio, there is a thorough application process. Travel For All conducts a lot of research into each and every business included in their network. Background and credibility checks are carried out and many conversations occur. Everybody that is employed by Travel For All has both a passion for travel and a disability. Their employees either visit the places that they recommend to clients to ensure that these businesses are truly accessible, and/or, they are provided with direct feedback from every client about their trip. This is how they determine if the relationship with this vendor continues, or if they need to work with that business to help them improve their accessible offering.
“We are not at Utopia yet. Things are not as accessible as they should be. The industry is trying to do better but there is still a lot of educating that needs to be done. And this can be done by people with disabilities sharing their experiences with businesses and indicating what their needs are and where they were not met, in order to help them improve the experience for the future. The only way that we can do better is by learning from our past mistakes.”
Don't make accessibility an afterthought
Through Fred's work with tourism boards, hotels and other businesses, more places in the future will hopefully be starting from the right place in terms of accessibility.
“People with disabilities have to be part of the planning. They have to be a part of the strategic thinking and design. Because what's going to happen is, you're going to hear from people afterwards that say – this isn't right, you're going to need to fix this! And it's going to cost a lot more money and take a lot more time to retro-fit than it will to just have incorporated it into the thought process in the beginning.”
The travel industry is becoming more accessible, with the help of people like Fred working alongside city planners, government officials, corporate leaders and ministries of tourism, but there is still some way to go.