Planning a trip can be an intimidating but exhilarating decision — especially for someone in a wheelchair. After the destination is chosen, spending the time doing all the proper research is critical – particularly when traveling alone. Things like, making sure the airline knows you’re coming and can store your wheelchair during flight, checking out the transportation options upon arrival, selecting restaurants that have proper ramps and elevators – and the all-important hotel room. Will it really have all the accessible necessities for a comfortable stay?
Even when all the fieldwork is completed and many, many professional agents over the phone and email have confirmed the checklist of needs – you finally get to the hotel and there is no roll-in shower. For some people with disabilities, this means no bathing at all during the trip. Yuck!
That’s exactly what happened to Brett Heising, founder of brettapproved.com during an important business trip. The hotel moved him across town – just so he could have
something most others find very basic – a proper place to bathe. Because the new accommodations were not to his liking, it caused him to have to stop and research his surroundings all over again; something he had not budgeted any time for.
Heising was born with cerebral palsy. This makes it difficult for Heising to walk, so he usually uses a manual wheelchair.
After this fiasco along with several similar frustrating trips gone wrong, Heising decided to invent a service that would change the way people with disabilities travel.
“For able-bodied people, most of the fun of travel is the anticipation of the actual destination,” Heising says. “But for people in wheelchairs, the lead-up is a ball of anxiety related to the all the planning and the notion their final destination may be a complete let down – no matter who they’re traveling with.” That’s because each individuals’ disability is unique. No one wheelchair user has the same needs as the next when it comes to accessible travel accommodations.
Brettapproved.com uses a unique system that combines a travel rating system and specialized travel agents who work directly with properties and travel outlets that are accessible. “It’s a platform,” Heising says, “where visitors can search for accessible hotels, restaurants or entertainment venues. People can also rate venues that worked positively for them. And finally, users can plan a trip with the help of an experienced travel professional that specializes in working with disabled clients.”
Users can create a profile where they can talk about the trips they’ve taken and even local places they liked, and share experiences based on having been there. The results they post are called a Brettscore – and it’s based on a list of questions each user answers. The higher the Brettscore, the more accessible that location is.
Visitors to the website can also leave little tips or tricks along with their review. One user reminded manual wheelchair users that though the hotel was as promised to the level of his own ability and would recommend it – but that if you tire easily while pushing yourself in a chair, a thicker carpet in the lobby would be something to steer clear of. “Seems like something small,” Heising says, “but it’s really a useful tip.”
“Because disability is so personal, we encourage even a high-level quad to reach out to our team for help. One of the first things we do is ask for an honest assessment of your mobility. And we can help individuals eliminate trips that are not really right for them. Then based on any unique needs, we find trips that would work best. We would never give a blanket statement that everything can work for everyone. That’s just not true. We want to be very up-front and open about that.” Heising proudly goes on to say, “If we come across someone who is hell-bent on figuring out a way to take a mule down the grand canyon – we will do our best to figure that out. Nobody knows a disability better than the person who has it.”
To see a video explaining more about this interactive way of experiencing travel in a wheelchair, click the image below.
Heising says most of the current users are those in wheelchairs, but plans on opening that up to people with sight, hearing and other types of challenges or disabilities they’ve overcome in order to travel to their destination of choice.
“We are trying to redefine travel. You don’t have to be going to some exotic place halfway around the world to help. It could just be going to that new bar across town.” Heising says. “And that helps others that are traveling to your location because that bar could be a great place for them too.”
And to hear more about how to travel with a disability you can listen to Jennifer Piatt, Ph.D. Recreational Therapist, School of Public Health; Indiana University, Bloomington.
Do you know anyone that has used this service? Would you like to give it a try? Leave a comment below. (It really helps others)