The Problem with Travel Misinformation

The biggest problem for travelers with disabilities is the alarming increase of misinformation about accessible travel, claims Candy Harrington. Internet publication URL:

by Candy Harrington, 1999

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The mainstream media is certainly paying a lot of attention to accessible travel these days. In the past few months I've been interviewed by reporters and writers from a variety of different publications; and although they all have their own unique questions, there is one question they all seem to eventually ask. "What's the biggest problem facing travelers with disabilities?" Most are surprised by my answer. They expect something controversial or political like "airlines cause too much damage to wheelchairs" or "hotels won't guarantee accessible rooms" or "tourist attractions aren't accessible". True, These are problems, but not the "biggest" problem. The biggest problem actually starts before most travelers even leave home. The biggest problem is the alarming increase of misinformation about accessible travel. It seems to be spreading like wildfire; on the internet, from person to person and even in print media.

So what's wrong with a little misinformation? Well if you rely on it and accept it as the truth, you may be in for a surprise when you take off on your holiday and find it's incorrect. Furthermore, misinformation may even discourage you from exploring a locale that is indeed very accessible. In most cases, no information is better than incorrect information. As with all rumors and gossip, the best way to fight misinformation is with the truth. That's what I intend to do here. Listed below are some of the more common bits of misinformation I've come across; along with my comments and some resources to help you ferret out the truth.

Accessible travel is only possible in the United States.
Wrong! Access doesn't end at the US borders. In fact, some places even have stricter accessibility standards. Take Australia for example. Their maximum ramp slope for assisted or power wheelchair access is 1:14, and for manual wheelchair access is 1:20. The US standard is the steeper 1:12 for all access ramps. Australia provides detailed (and free) access information, including mobility maps. They also have two national databases that contain accessibility information on accommodations, tourist attractions and recreational facilities. So, don't automatically rule out a foreign destination just because you think it may not be accessible. Keep an open mind and do your research. You may be surprised with the results.

Only the expensive properties have accessible rooms.
Not true any more! All new properties (constructed after January 26th, 1992 in the US) must be built accessible. So check out budget hotels built after 1992 for the most accessible rooms.

The ADA covers air travel.
False! Air travel is covered under the Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA) in the US. Learn your rights under this legislation. Call 888-860-7244 for your free "New Horizons" booklet, which contains valuable information about the ACAA.

Airlines cannot deny boarding to a passenger with a disability.
Also false. The ACAA only covers US airlines. Foreign airlines can deny boarding to wheelchair-users for "safety reasons". It has been known to happen, so use caution when booking with foreign airlines.

Airlines are liable for all damage done to assistive devices (wheelchairs).
Not true. Under the ACAA (covering US airlines) the liability limit for assistive devices is limited to the original purchase price (not the replacement cost) of the assitive device. Airline liability is limited to $9.07/lb. for international flights (under the Warsaw Convention). Make sure you have additional coverage if the value of your assistive device exceeds these limits.

The bottom line is, if something doesn't sound right, investigate it further. Recently a travel agent told me this horrifying story. A man called her after he had booked a group tour to Europe with another travel agent. The man used a power wheelchair and required assistance to transfer. He was feeling a little anxious about his upcoming tour because no arrangements for accessible transportation or lodging had been mentioned. He confronted his travel agent with his fears and she told him, "Don't worry, all of Europe is completely accessible." This should have sent up a big red warning flag! Fortunately the second travel agent told the man the truth. He canceled his tour, and hopefully found another travel agent. So ask around, do your research and if something just doesn't sound right, ask for a second opinion. And if somebody tells you, "All of Europe is completely accessible," run (or roll) as fast as you can in the opposite direction!

Note: This editorial first appeared in the summer 1999 issue of "Emerging Horizons" the accessible travel newsletter and was copied with permission.

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