As you all know, I’ve taken lots of vacations over the years! My childhood, especially, was filled with one road trip after another, with stops at hotels, historical sites, state parks, rest stops — every trip had the hallmarks of a classic family vacation. Still, traveling is never easy when you have a disability, as my family has learned over the years. From inaccessible buildings to rental cars that aren’t exactly wheelchair-friendly, there’s a lot to consider before you jet off for fun! That’s why I was so excited when accessibleGO contacted me a few months ago! The full-service travel platform helps people with disabilities take the stress out of vacations, and I recently got the opportunity to interview Miriam Eljas, the company’s incredible founder and CEO! Read on for tips for traveling with a disability and how accessibleGO plans to expand in the future…
So tell me about accessibleGO. How did it come about and when?
I started accessibleGO because of my mother, Emma Eljas. accessibleGO is a travel platform for people with disabilities, offering bookings, reviews and community.
My mom had multiple sclerosis and was a wheelchair user for as long as I could remember. As a kid growing up in Silicon Valley, I saw her go from using a cane to a walker to a wheelchair as the disease progressed. I have strong memories of trying to go with her to places that, as a wheelchair user, were not accessible, and frequently getting information over the phone that was completely inaccurate, though well-intentioned.
I always wanted to do something for accessibility that would make a difference and travel has this amazing ability to impact your life in more ways than just seen as a pleasant trip. Travel can lift you up, inspire you and leave lifelong impressions. Travel is also an area that needs significant change so that everyone can enjoy the same experiences no matter what personal situation they have.
My mom was also the kind of person that would never take “no” for an answer and she always found a way, no matter what. This attitude is an incredible gift she gave me and that mentality has helped shape accessibleGO.
These powerful childhood experiences inspired me to create accessibleGO along with my partner and co-founder, Jeff Schlanger.
Why is it so important to have a travel service specifically for people with disabilities?
So many hotels, attractions, landmarks and more are still not accessible and it’s amazing in this day and age, even with ADA laws, to arrive at a destination and to experience barriers.
One wheelchair user on Facebook recently told of her experience where she booked a hotel that claimed to be accessible — only to find the hotel lobby elevator banks could only be reached by stairs. So her husband had to carry her heavy power chair over the stairs every time they wanted to go in or out.
Another wheelchair user reported traveling to a resort for his honeymoon to find the accessible bathroom was not usable, so he had to “shower” with a sink for two weeks.
To pay hundreds of dollars for a hotel stay, or to fly across the country to visit a special attraction you’ve dreamed of and find this kind of surprise is unacceptable. We feel that the power of the crowd is critical and the more users we have, the more we can demonstrate strength in numbers by reviews, comments and other calls to action to affect change. These days, hotel live by their online reputations and a hotel with accessibility problems cannot ignore a powerful demographic writing negative reviews and sharing it online.
How has the company expanded since its creation?
We released the website this past July, when we launched our booking engine for hotels, along with our Trip Resources of local travel information as well as a Travel Ideas section for travel inspiration. We have chosen to focus on the top 20 most popular cities in the USA, offering content like Top 10 Accessible Things to do in Orlando or 48 Hours in Las Vegas. We also launched a community blog of popular bloggers!
Next month, we are launching the car and flights booking capabilities along with a few exciting new account offerings, as well as some new sections offering more tools for creating a community of like-minded travelers sharing information about accessibility.
We’ve also started a project of gathering accessibility data on hotels, so that when you use our booking engine, it will not just say if a hotel claims to be accessible but will also state all the data we have, like if the hotel has a step-free entrance or if they are very welcoming to service animals. Even though all of this is required by the law, it helps to know when a hotel actually promotes these accessibility features.
How do you hope to expand in the future?
Right now, we are focusing on domestic travel in the USA and will eventually expand globally.
While you can use the booking engine to book hotels around the world, all our content in the Travel Ideas section and Trip Resources is based around the top 20 USA cities. We are about to release another 10 cities on our platform, which we are very excited about, including cities in Hawaii by popular demand.
What is your #1 travel tip for people with disabilities?
Planning ahead, combined with being flexible, is the single most important travel tip we can offer. The secret to a successful trip is doing everything you can to ensure a smooth experience, as planning is critical for traveling with a disability, but accepting the fact that things may not go as you plan and to know this too is part of the journey.