This is a transcript of the “Open Mic The Accessible Podcast – Jan 21, 2019 edition”
Open Mic – The Accessible Podcast jingle.
Music (“Voyage, Voyage” – instrumental version) + Voice Over
(female voice) Hello and welcome to Open Mic, the accessible podcast. I am Andreea Demirgian, your host. Some say the secret for a happy life is to have plans for your next vacation. Travel is a passion for many, especially in today’s day and age, when sky is no longer the limit, if you can afford to buy a ticket.
But what if you or someone in your family needs special accommodations? Is it even possible to travel? Is it more expensive? Does every resort in the world have accessible rooms? Is there a law like the AODA that mandates that people of all abilities should be able to enjoy all amenities, all over the world? Who can tell you where it’s safe to go? We have answers to all these questions!
My guest today is Sarah Tengler, of Impact Vacations, a travel agency that specializes in accessible destinations for all abilities. She is just one of many agents ready to offer you the right package for all your wants and needs. If you are a member of the disability community, you might have seen Sarah at the past editions of Toronto’s Abilities Expo. If not, this is the best time to meet her. Ladies and gentlemen, Sarah Tengler.
(Andreea Demirgian) Thank you very much for accepting the invitation to be featured on this podcast, tell me a few words about how you started this accessible travel agency.
(Sarah Tengler) Originally, I went to school to become a child and youth worker, which is a social worker for kids and I worked mainly with the Autism community, but some with multiple issues as well. I have always loved travelling myself and I wanted to be able to bring my love of travel to a group that didn’t know it was even possible, given their special needs.
(AD) When did you start this company?
(ST) We’re about 2 years old now.
(AD) How many people request such offers?
(ST) We’re building our clientele right now. We’ve got a couple of people that actually just went on cruises last week, and some upcoming trips to places like Hawaii and the Caribbeans.
(AD) What accommodations did they request?
(ST) Well, we get generally accessible rooms with roll-in showers. Now given not every destination has that, but we can rent like transfer chairs if a roll-in shower isn’t available at the resort somebody wants. With cruising, it’s really easy ‘cause there are companies that will bring in the medical equipment at already be in your room for you when you arrive.
(AD) Do you have somebody welcoming your guests there; is there a local agent to help them around?
(ST) If we book you through with a tour operator generally they have a rep on site that can help with any issues that may arise, or if you want to do like tours, they can help arrange those as well. When we do escorted groups, there is someone with the group all the time, but generally, not necessarily someone standing there for that particular person arriving at the airport, no.
(AD) In where our discussion before the interview you said that many people with exceptionalities believe that travel is beyond them complicated, or it’s too complicated. How did you get to that conclusion?
(ST) Well, we exhibit at The Abilities Expo in Toronto, we were there last year and we’ll be there again in April this year. A lot of the feedback that we got from people who came to talk to us was: “We didn’t know we could do that. We have this need this need and this need and we didn’t know it could be accommodated in international countries”.
(AD) How do you convince them that they can travel, what do you tell them?
(ST) Well, depending on what their need is, we can work with medical equipment, accessible rooms, we can get care attendance in some countries, people that can come to your Resort for the day and help you out with General personal care. Unfortunately, not every need necessarily can be accommodated in every country, cause once you leave Canada and the US there are no Disability Acts, so depending on the need it can or cannot be accommodated in certain countries.
(AD) What was the feedback that you got when the tourists came back from their holidays?
(ST) So far, it’s been very good feedback, many people have very much enjoyed their trips. The cruises have been a big hit because the boats are fully accessible, cabins are accessible, with lots of space and roll-in showers, tours are accessible. So there’s been amazing feedback for the cruise lines. Some challenges sometimes with the resorts, depending on the country, cause not every resort will be entirely like what we would get here in Ontario with the AODA. Sometimes there are some challenges, but travel is all about Adventure, as well.
(AD) If I would shop around for a cruise, what would you offer me?
(ST) Well, we work with a bunch of different cruise lines. Royal Caribbean, in my opinion, is one of the better Cruise Lines in terms of accessibility. Norwegian is also very good but we also work with Princess and Carnival, Holland America, just about every line, but in terms of accessibility, Royal Caribbean is the best. They are price point higher, but you’re also getting what you pay for, in terms of accessibility and amenities.
(AD)What’s the most wanted destination, from what you’ve seen?
(ST) Right now the Caribbean is a big hit and Alaska is a big hit, it’s a huge destination Alaska right now. A lot of people are doing it for the first time and repeat visitors. The Caribbean is your general cruise that goes to a couple of different Caribbean islands and it’s a year-round destination. So those two are very popular destinations.
(AD) What do you want your potential clients to know about your agency?
(ST) We try to very hard to accommodate everybody. That being said, not every special need can be accommodated in every country, but our clients come to us and say “This is our need, where can we go?” If you come to us and say “You know, I want to go to this specific resort”, we can’t necessarily accommodate that. But if you say, you know, “I want to go to Barbados”, “Okay, sure we got four resorts there that we work with, that are fully accessible, when do you want to go and we’ll figure out which resort is available those days”. So, when you’re booking accessible travel, you can’t necessarily say I want to go to this particular resort at this particular day, it’s got to be a more generalization. And then we can tell you what resorts we work with what we think will be best for your particular needs, and then we can go from there.
(AD) Is it more expensive to travel when you have special needs?
(ST) It depends what the special need is. If you need something as simple as an accessible room, no, it’s the same cost as everybody else. That being said, if you need like medical equipment, like hospital beds, or commodes, those kinds of things there are costs to rent those, which your regular Able Body doesn’t necessarily need. So if you need specialized equipment or PSWs at the destination, those are going to be a fee, but your standard… you know, your cruise accessible cabin, your wheelchair accessible room at the resort, will be at the same price as for everybody else.
(AD) What’s the most challenging offer that you had to come up with for one of your clients?
(ST) Cuba is a struggle right now. Cuba has good accessible… not great, but good accessibility at the resorts. But they don’t have any accessible airport transfers. Once you get to the resort, if you’re in a wheelchair, your great, but the problem is getting from the airport to the resort. So Cuba being a cheap destination to visit it’s often where people want to go, but unless they can transfer into a regular sedan or taxi, it’s just not a viable destination.
(AD) When is the best time to book an accessible vacation?
(ST) Six months out. If you book much closer to the date than six months, you’re looking at a lot less availability, because hotels and resorts don’t have to have any accessible rooms, and if they have accessible rooms, they maybe have two or three. Some of them even only have one. So the earlier you can book the better your chances of getting your accessibility needs met.
(AD) What other tips do you offer your clients for accessible travel?
(ST) We do personalized books for places like Disney and Universal. Those are big destinations in Orlando, as well. And with Disney being such a popular destination, for both able-bodied and those with special needs, we put this book together that’s completely customized and personalized for your trip that will help you navigate the parks because they’re ungodly busy. They help you navigate the parts based on what you want to do and what your needs will allow you to do. The other thing we do is more geared for autism, and we do social stories. These can be customized for cruises, Disney, resorts, flights, just about anything. Social stories are basically a book… Like a picture book where it outlines you know it this time I’m going to do this, and this is how I’m going to do it, at this time I’m going to do this, and this is how I’m going to do it, these are the things I can expect, things that are going to happen. It’s basically a step-by-step for their trip. People with Autism have trouble with a change in routine, so these social stories help them anticipate what’s happening next.
(AD) What else would a parent of a child with autism, for example, need to prepare for such a holiday?
(ST) Well, there are programs especially with the cruise lines that have groups designed for autism. There’s a company called “Autism on the Seas” that we work with that has an autism program: you pay a fee in addition to your cruise and, basically, it’s like a kids club on a cruise, but it’s only for those X number of people that are on the cruise with the company. So it’s a much smaller group, they provide babysitting type of things, special activities, quiet rooms, designated seating for shows so that they don’t have to deal with big crowds. It just helps make the environment a little bit easier for those with autism to navigate.
(AD) How much would that cost?
(ST) In terms of doing the autism packages, I believe it’s a hundred and fifty US (dollars) a day for the cruise. But in that you are getting special activities, special seating, meal help, so you’re getting a more personalized experience to help either the child or adult, they will take either on their cruise. The options are out there, it’s just a matter of finding which option works best for your particular needs.
(AD) Let’s end this interview that you want to get across to people of all abilities.
(music fades in)
(ST) Travel is possible and we want to help get you there, so if you have a dream, let us know and we’d be happy to try and at least sort of make it work and hopefully it’s the dream trip you want.
(AD) Thank you very much, thank you very much for your time, Sarah.
(ST) You’re very welcome, Andreea.
(AD, speaking over music) That was Sarah Tengler, of Impact Vacations, talking about accessible travel on Open Mic. I am Andreea Demirgian, your host, thank you for listening to one of the few accessible podcasts in Ontario. Don’t go packing just yet, we’ll be right back with more tips for accessible travel.
(AD) Long flights, limited medical facilities at the destination or possible unavailability of prescription drugs, these are just a few things to consider before travelling, especially when you go abroad. Here is a list of tips for accessible travel:
(a small ding sound)
1. Talk to your doctor about your travel plans. Be prepared to hear: “that’s not a good idea”.
2. Ask for a Traveller Clinical Record or a letter from your doctor covering important information like your condition, medications, potential complications, special needs. Make sure you can reach your doctor even from overseas. Do not forget this letter at home.
3. Call ahead. 6 months before you plan to travel, is what Sarah Tengler advises. Service providers need time and information to make necessary arrangements to accommodate travellers with special needs.
4. When you make your reservations, mention your needs. Be specific and clear when describing a disability. Explain what you can or cannot do. Don’t downplay the severity of your disability. Ask for a written confirmation of all arrangements and services you will receive.
5. Ask about quarantine or permit requirements for your service animal in the countries you’ll be visiting.
6. Travel with two complete packages of essential medication in case of emergency. Store all the medical supplies in your carry-on bag. Make sure that all prescribed medications have a pharmacist’s label with a name that matches the name on your ticket and boarding pass.
7. Consider joining The International Medical Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT). This Canadian non-profit foundation can help you find an English-speaking doctor in your country of destination. Membership is free and it provides access to a directory of physicians and medical centres in more than 80 countries and 300 cities. Telephone numbers are included in the doctor finder.
8. Carry medical alert information, preferably in a place that a medical professional or anyone who assists you will find easily (wallet card, necklace, close to your identification).
9. If possible, only book direct flights. While airports provide lots of support for wheelchair users, connecting flights can be a problem. Flying directly can save you unnecessary time and hassle. There is though, one exception: long flights might be problematic for those who have trouble maneuvering into lavatories on board planes. For these travelers, shorter flights might be a better option. Remember you need at least 90 minutes between flights, even more, if you need to go through customs or security. Getting from one get to the next may take a lot of time, especially in big international airports.
10. If you are traveling at peak time, allow plenty of time for your check-in: arrive at least three hours before an international flight and once you are on the plane, talk to the flight attendant about your exit plan.
11. Make arrangements in advance to have an accessible vehicle pick you up in your destination city.
12. Call the provider at least 48 hours before your arrival to confirm that proper accommodations have been made.
13. Know your rights. Consult the guides provided by the Canadian Government and be aware of the regulations already in place for travelers with disabilities and medical conditions.
14. Travel is an Adventure, says today’s guest, Sarah Tengler, so embrace your adventure and be creative in unexpected situations.
I am Andreea Demirgian, your host, thank you for listening to Open Mic, one of the few accessible podcasts in Ontario. If you have a question related to accessibility, we can help you find an answer. Leave a comment on our website or send us a message at email@example.com
Tell us your story, share your accessible travel tips! We welcome your feedback on the issues already covered by previous shows. Help us tell the world that accessibility matters!
(music fades out after 10 seconds)