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The Americans With Disability Act, 20 Years of Progress As World Continues to Welcome Slow Walkers and Travelers with Special Needs

This year, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrates its 20th Anniversary. Since the ADA’s inception, we have seen significant changes within the travel industry including accessibility across the fleet for cruise ships, including foreign-flagged vessels carrying U.S. passengers and more ramps, railings and grab bars in public venues. We have also seen a deepening respect and higher level of acceptance for all forms of ability differences.

Looking ahead, there are new provisions being implemented that will bring even more positive changes for the slow walker and special needs traveler. For example, new rulings will bring over 100 state and local governments into ADA compliance, making it easier for you to access almost any facility or venue in even the most remote, rural location. Additionally, the guidelines for what constitutes a “disability” have been expanded to include temporary conditions as well as conditions that can be controlled with medications.

Even though the ADA has made significant strides, there are still more improvements that can be implemented. For example, we’d like to see booking features relating to accessible accommodations on online booking sites and more universal accessibility standards around the globe. Foreshadowing future advances, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, Anne Duncan, commented in a recent address that students with disabilities who graduated in 2010 are members of the “ADA Generation,” —a new generation of Americans with disabilities growing up with the expectation of “no barriers”; of differences no longer being an issue, or even noticed. This is an important advance for inclusive and accessible travel throughout the U.S. and around the world.

Today, travel for slow walkers, individuals with disabilities, the elderly or those with chronic illness is no longer as unusual, intimidating or difficult as it was 20 years ago. In the words of one traveler, the new world of travel is “curb-less and obstacle free.”

Underscoring the fact that ability diversity is well-integrated into the fabric of travel, the Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (SATH) was chosen to be inducted into the Cruise Industry Hall of Fame as a 2010 honoree beside industry luminaries such as Mickey Arison, CEO of Carnival Corporation. We should note, SATH participated in the writing of the regulations for the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as the Air Carriers Access Act. The work of SATH, the impact of the ADA and the rise in the numbers of persons with physical challenges who enthusiastically travel has dramatically changed.

America’s sensitivity to persons with disabilities and this sensitivity, and pro-active concern, has traveled to other cultures. In China, for example, the China Wheelchair foundation in Shanghai, sponsored a ‘Wheelchair Experience and Accessibility Facility Survey’ in which able-bodied citizens volunteered to try navigating the city of Shanghai in wheelchairs. The goal was to gain a better understanding of what persons with limitations experience “seeing the world one meter high.” After learning how to use the chairs, the volunteers had to navigate sidewalks, take public transportation, find usable bathrooms and go shopping. Their experiences resulted in a new guidebook (in Chinese) titled “Operation Mobility”. The guidebook, the first of its kind for China, provides information on access to city bathrooms, public transit, wheelchair friendly shopping malls, education, dining, entertainment and libraries. It will be distributed free. Plans are underway to make this type of access effort a nationwide project, making China an “obstacle-free” destination.

More is happening worldwide— and more needs to happen. But for now, for the progress that has been made so far at home, on the seas and abroad, happy 20th Anniversary ADA, and thanks.


July 14, 2010

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