Reflections on Rambling the Globe: International Day of Disabled Persons 2006


It is a well-published secret that I travel a lot. After 35 years doing so in a wheelchair has become so second nature that sometimes it takes running headlong into an obstacle to remember how "special" simply living one's life can seem to those designing travel products.

This Fall marks one of those metalic milestone wedding anniversaries for my spouse and I. Not surprisingly, we want to celebrate it with "The Grand Tour." Transitioning from the dreaming to the planning stage I recently discovered that we won't be spending the happy occassion on a Smithsonian tour. Specifically, we won't be there for the Vanishing Cultures Around the World: An Epic Journey by Private Jet because Smithsonian Journeys tours are quite explicit:

Physical and Medical Considerations

Please note that these tours require that participants be in good physical condition: you must be capable, without assistance, of walking a minimum of one mile over uneven terrain and of climbing stairs that may not have handrails. Participants should have sufficient stamina to keep pace with an active group of travelers on long days of touring. If you have any questions about your ability to participate in a tour, please call us at 1-877-338-8687.

Some tours require medical certification from your doctor. This requirement is noted on the individual itineraries. On these tours, a medical form will be sent to you.


Certainly not all itineraries are suitable for slow walkers or wheelchair users. I have no quibble with the realities of topography. I can accept the historic construction patterns of other communities. Medical technologies have become more successful in prolonging the lives all. With a larger disabled population there is simply more demand for inclusion in society and the built environment. Older buildings and infrastructure reflect earlier demographics. Older attitudes served as blinders to imaginative solutions.

What seems unimaginable to me is that a contemporary American institution as prominent as the Smthsonian would make no attempt at inclusion substituting instead a Jim Crow blanket policy.

We chuckle at the absurd phrase, "You can't get there from here" because, of course you can! You may have to backtrack, you may have to use alternate means, you may have to do what differently-abled people 24/7/365 -- adapt.

There is no reason why Smithsonian Journeys should not have a product line that is inclusive of slow walkers and people with disabilities. Not all itineraries may be accessible but the destinations themselves may be. Sometimes (not always) what is lacking is imagination. The itinerary can be changed to accommodate an alternate way to enjoy the same destination.

To quote Michael Graves in the current issue of Metropolis magazine:

"People who become disabled have to radically redesign their outlook about the physical world," Graves says, remembering the first days after he was out of danger and learning to live with paralysis. "They redesign their sense of privacy and their sense of independence. Yet in the products they have to use, design has abandoned them."

To clarify, if this tour, which sounds spectacular, is truly and irreconcilably inaccessible then so be it.

My point is that an attitude, instutionalized by a policy, that excludes travelers with disabilities from the outset is an insurmountable handicap that deadens the imaginations of those who plan travel package itineraries -- and, yes the recurring Rolling Rains argument -- a shortsighted business decision when the market of travelers with disabilities consistently reports that it would travel more if options were available and surveys show it has the three-part prerequisite to travel: time, desire, and disposable income.

In the case of Smithsonian Journey's policy-behind-the-itinerary we have an excellent business school or disability studies department case study validating the insights of the Social Theory of Disability. The Smithsonian has manufactured handicaps that burden people with disabilities.

To emphasize the irony of it all, it is the Smithsonian National Museum of American History that hosts the Disability Rights Movement Exhibition.

Further Reading on the Demand for Inclusive Travel:

Toward a Global History of Inclusive Travel

The Open Doors Organization Disabled Traveler Market Report 2006

The Seven Principles of Universal Design

Rick Steves on Accessible European Travel

Theories of Disability

2005 International Conference on Accessible Tourism in Taipei, Taiwan

lnclusive Tourism: Some Definitions

Travel With a Disability

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