Where does one go to for accessible travel information that is reliable, informative, accurate, etc normally one would say to my local high street travel agent or home based agent with whom I have built a good working relationship, so far so good until one realises that the agent doesn't know much, if anything, about working with a disabled person irrespective of the disability. So now what? Well for both oneself and the agent this is where its often necessary to start searching the internet for information and to start being S.M.A.R.T..
Now for anyone who is used to creating objectives you know to make them SMART but few people try to apply the principle of SMART objectives to their research activities in seeking accessible travel services.
Specific - both client and agent need to be very specific about what is being looked for, just looking for 'a hotel thats accessible is insufficient', for instance what does the disabled client regard as accessible in a form that meets their needs? All too often as a specialist provider of accessible travel services we find clients who have needs not disclosed to us despite having previously explored with clients those needs in detail (a recent example being someone who needed to recharge a ventilator daily but overlooked the issue of voltage differences requiring an adaptor until they arrived at their hotel), the reason frequently is that the client didn't think something was worth mentioning, WRONG, nothing is too trivial if it means a hassle and event free vacation and travel experience. Being specific leads to successful outcomes!
Measurable - A difficult but not insurmountable part of the equation if we view measurable as information available from sources such as cruisecritic.com Tripadvisor.com etc regarding outcomes experienced by previous disabled people who have been to or have had experience of the destination you intend to travel to. Find an informative Facebook Page about the country you'd like to visit or one offered by a specialist provider such as http://www.facebook.com/disabledaccessibletravel but make sure that the page is open and public with free and open comments not those restriced as with so many pages to just information and sales pitches by the company owning the page. Learn from the gradings people have provided for accessible services, 2/10 obviously is not as good as a rating someone has given of 8/10.
Attainable - we all have desires but are they achievable? If a destination offers an accessible hotel that appears to meet your needs can you actually get to it from the airport? This last issue is a common and overlooked area of ones travel arrangements. Frequently we receive panic calls and emails from agencies and people who have booked vacations only to find they need accessible transportation thats not been provided for them by a hotel, cruise provider etc. DO NOT make a reservation anywhere without making sure that all your objectives are attainable across the board which will takes us to the next part of SMART in a moment. When booking a cruise did you check that you can actually get of the ship for shore excursions? are shore excursions actually available and does the cruise company actually understand what you need? Ask the cruise company to prove that an accessible tour exists, ask for photos of the transport being used. Ask a hotel for photos of that all important roll-in shower, the list is endless depending on your access requirements.
Realistic - are you being realistic in what you're looking for? Can you make or are you able to make, concessions in what you are seeking so that even if you cannot be offered what you have at home you can still get enough services to make your vacation successful. If you don't think its possible don't book, its as simple as that. Be realistic, few countries have the same standards of access as each other, what exists in the USA for instance is unlikely to be available to the same level in a third world country or even some first world countries yet people get very upset when they find the level of service available is not what they are used to, inevitably this is due to unrealistic expectations. Is your budget realistic for hotels, transfers, rental of equipment, tours? Private services cost more than group based services, are you prepared for this in your budget calculations?
Time bound - get your timescale worked out. There's no point in requesting a hotel price and then waiting weeks before making a decision to make a reservation as that hotel room will more often than not no longer be available and then you are back to square one trying to locate a hotel that meets your needs. Time is important and also the Realistic element of SMART relates to it. Trying to reserve last minute tours etc can be very problematic as many locations worldwide have very limited accessible transportation, or providers of sign language etc, being SMART helps avoid disappointment. Equally early reservation of a hotel doesn't necessarily mean you are going to get the best deal although doing your research about events at a destination that might push prices up such as a convention in the town is well worth it and can save you a lot of money. Often last minute deals are available although as few hotel websites feature the possibilty of reserving accessible rooms online these will be best located via a specialist agency. Now I'm not suggesting that working to a professional GANT chart or similar is required but following the principles of S:M:A:R:T: will go a long way to avoiding disappointment or having a vacation that turns into a disaster.
Finally for successful planning its recommended that you contact specialist travel agents or specialist travel companies for your reservations as they without exception have excellent knowledge garnered over years in business working with disabled clients.
Disabled Accessible Travel is a specialist provider of travel services to both the leisure and business traveller with disabilities. http://www.disabledaccessibletravel.com