July is Disability Pride Month, an important opportunity to recognize and celebrate those around us with disabilities—both visible and unseen—and to identify how our industry can continue to make travel more accessible to everyone.
Roughly one in four Americans have a disability. Many individuals with disabilities and their families encounter unique challenges when they travel—and that’s if they choose to travel despite anticipated hurdles.
The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) conducted a survey in which they asked more than 1,000 parents with a child on the spectrum about their traveling habits. 87% said they do not take family vacations and 97% said they were not satisfied with the travel options available to families with individuals on the spectrum.
In November 2019, Mesa, Arizona became the world’s first Autism Certified City—a distinction designated by the IBCCES—with nearly 60 certified businesses and organizations in the Mesa area and more than 5,000 trained workers, including first responders. Visit Mesa became the country’s first destination marketing organization designated as a Certified Autism Center in April 2019, and has since developed resources for visitors with sensory and cognitive disorders and their families, including this comprehensive travel guide.
Earlier this week, Six Flags America became the first theme park in the DMV to be become a Certified Autism Center, providing Sensory Sensitive Days, noise-canceling headphones, custom safety harnesses for guests and other accommodations.
Our global competitiveness depends on our ability to make travel accessible to everyone. In fact, autism certification has been proven to have a direct impact on profits. Within two months of receiving their certification, Marriott hotels experienced a 32% increase in bookings.
Seattle, Washington also consistently ranks high among accessible cities, with multi-sensory crosswalk indicators, wheelchair-accessible taxis and services to assist with job accommodations. Many theaters in San Diego, California provide people with disabilities with ASL translation and audio-described performances. Many theme parks and attractions are also striving to create more accessible environments for visitors with disabilities.
Additionally, investing in modifications to empower people with physical disabilities is critical to strengthening our industry. Not only must our industry work toward a future that ensures a positive travel experience for people with disabilities but also to make sure disabled travelers have access to necessary services and assistance.
Next week marks 32 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed, protecting people with disabilities from discrimination. Since then, industry leaders and policymakers have been committed to making travel more accessible for people with disabilities.
Earlier this month, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg announced the first bill of rights for air travelers with disabilities. The document establishes no formal policy but outlines 10 points to help travelers understand and advocate for their rights under the Air Carrier Access Act.
As we rebuild and strengthen our industry following the pandemic, accessibility must always remain a top priority. Together, we will continue to make travel—and the world—more welcoming and manageable for people with disabilities.
Let us know how YOUR destination is fostering a more accessible and inclusive environment for travelers with disabilities. Tweet us at @USTravel!
If you or your organization is interested in becoming autism certified, check out IBCCES’s website to learn more about the certification process.