Wheel the World launches program to accelerate, promote accessibility

Wheel the World, a travel company dedicated to making travel more accessible for travelers with any disability, recently launched a program aimed at boosting accessibility within destinations and promoting these destinations to those with disabilities.

The Destination Verified program is a step toward making travel more accessible to those in wheelchairs or who have other challenges across the globe. While its focus is on increasing awareness and providing detailed, helpful destination-specific accessibility information for travelers who need it, it’s a program that Wheel the World co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Camilo Navarro believes should be used by all destinations — including at airports and theme parks.

“The specific problem that Destination Verified is solving is that most destinations don’t have their accessibility information out there: It’s not available or it’s not accurate," said Navarro in an interview with TravelPulse.

“Secondly, even if they have that information, they don’t have the booking solutions, a simple way for people with disabilities to book travel services. Thirdly, (destinations) don’t have enough training and understanding about the different types of disabilities, what are the dos and don’ts, what’s the difference between a cognitive disability and a mobility-related one, a sensorial one.”

Navarro said that the combination of these three problems — the lack of information, the lack of booking solutions and the lack of training — makes destinations unable to attract people with disabilities to visit them. "Destination Verified was born to tackle that specific problem,” she said.

Destination Verified begins with a destination’s accessibility audit, in which Wheel the World’s trained mappers assess a location’s accommodations, tours, restaurants and attractions with over 200 data points marking how accessible they are according to those with physical, cognitive and sensorial disabilities.

For example, when mappers enter a hotel, they mark and measure entrances and measure the height of the beds in accessible rooms, among many other checks.

The destination marketing organization then receives a detailed report with recommendations on how to improve certain aspects of the destination’s accessibility and is encouraged, though not required, to improve them.

Destinations that have received the Destination Verified seal also receive a dedicated page on Wheel the World’s website, complete with all the accessible experiences they offer, available to view and book by people with disabilities and their travel companions.

Travelers who make a Wheel the World account can also enter their accessibility needs in their private profile, which is used to filter accommodations and experiences that are accessible just for them.

In October, Visit Mesa in Arizona became the first area to receive the Destination Verified Seal. Other areas have followed, including Visit Colorado Springs, Travel Oregon and Visit Lexington, Kentucky.

The status for California joining the program isn’t yet known. But last year, Visit Vacaville adopted an international program that aims to help people with disabilities that may not be apparent to others.

The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower program provides green lanyards to people who wish to signal to others they have a nonvisible disability and may need a helping hand, understanding or more time when shopping, traveling or engaging in other public activities.

Visit Vacaville offers lanyards and business card-sized sunflower cards to both residents and visitors at the Visit Vacaville offices and throughout the city’s participating hotel properties.

Wheel the World’s Navarro is convinced that the world is going to be 100% accessible in the future. “We think that people with disabilities are the largest minority on Earth. There’s no other minority larger than people with disabilities.

"Sooner or later, every one of us will be part of it as a consequence of aging. ... We created the seal of approval with the inspiration of how we can allow more people with disabilities to travel to more destinations in a more confident way,” she said.

Travelers with disabilities take over 40 million annual trips and generate $23 billion annually. This could become a much larger number if there’s accurate and specific accessibility information widely available, as eight in 10 Americans with a disability reported negative travel experiences due to a lack of information and specialized services.

Accessibility is also becoming top-of-mind for destinations around the world as they consider how to build back their tourism economies in a more sustainable way. The United Kingdom’s official post-pandemic tourism recovery plan aims to make itself the most accessible country in Europe by 2025.

“Because the world is going to become accessible no matter what, those who take action first are going to have an advantage over those who don’t take action first, because there’s a business proposition behind it …” Navarro said.