Traveling and Out to Visit You!

How to Succeed in a Growing Disability Market

By Tammy Liddicoat, ADA Wisconsin Partnership
For the Wisconsin Department of Tourism publication "Tourism Today"

According to the US Census Bureau, Americans with disabilities currently number 49.7 million, or 19.3 per cent of the population, and represent more than $1 trillion in aggregate income. It is estimated that one in five people has a disability. On top of that, the baby boomer generation is aging and the number of consumers aged 55-64 will swell from roughly 23 million in 2000 to 42 million in 2020. By 2030, 24% of the U.S. population will consist of people with disabilities.

These are big numbers and they have big implications for the travel industry. It's no wonder that the demand for accessible tourist destinations is on the rise. Travelers with disabilities are just as eager to dine in great restaurants, enjoy exciting attractions, and stay in top notch lodging facilities as everyone else. And it's not just the person with the disability spending money and choosing a venue they can access – many travel with families, co-workers and friends. They spend their collective leisure and travel dollars in places they can visit together.

So it appears that the market of customers with disabilities is growing more and more important to the bottom line of business. Is your venue accessible to consumers with disabilities? Is your staff comfortable and welcoming when a guest or customer with disabilities arrives?

It might be the right time to assess your disability "visit-ability". Following is a sampling of ideas on how to welcome and attract more customers with disabilities (and the people they are traveling with) to your venue or business.

A Few Simple Tips for Interacting

You don't have to feel awkward in dealing with someone who has a disability. He or she may have issues that affect his or her sight, mobility, communication or hearing, but the important thing to remember is that a person is a person - not a disability. And if you are ever unsure about what to do or say – just ask! Here are some basics:

Helping – Adults with disabilities, like most everyone, want to be treated as independent. Offer assistance only if someone appears to need it. And if you offer help, ask how before you act.

Speaking – Always talk directly to a person with a disability, not to his or her companion, aide or sign language interpreter. When talking for a period of time with someone who uses a wheelchair, it helps to be on the same level. Sit in a chair if it's handy.

Contact – Avoid touching a person's wheelchair or cane because personal equipment is considered part of a person's physical space. Also, grabbing a person by the arm could knock them off balance even if your intention is to help. Again, ask before offering assistance. It's also very important not to touch or distract a guide dog or service animal. As tempting as it is to pet, the animal is working and must concentrate on the job at hand.

Assumptions – Never assume anything. A person who appears to be drunk or sick might in fact have cerebral palsy or another disability. Get the facts before acting on your first impression.

Requests – respond graciously. If someone asks for an accommodation, do your best to provide it if you can. Remember, people will tell their friends, co-workers and family when they have been treated with great customer service.

Physical Access: Getting there, getting in and getting around...

Ask yourself a few simple questions to determine if your facility or venue has the basic ingredients for accessibility.

star On approaching and entering your place of business:

  • Do you have sufficient accessible parking?
  • Is the path from parking to your entrance free of barriers?
  • Is there a zero step entry?
  • Is the door easy to open?
  • Is the entrance at least 36" wide and easy to pass through?
  • Are ramps free from obstructions and snow?

star On accessing your products and services:

  • Are all routes and pathways unobstructed and 36" wide?
  • Are surfaces smooth and secure?
  • Is there elevator access to additional floors of your building?
  • Are there sufficient signs to identify the location of accessible restrooms, telephones, water fountains, exits, etc?
  • Are counter top heights accessible to someone using a wheelchair? If not, do you provide a clipboard or other surface for customers to use for writing?

star On your restrooms:

  • Is there a stall that accommodates a person using a wheelchair?
  • Are there safe grab bars behind and on the sidewall nearest the toilet?
  • Is the toilet seat 17 to 19 inches from the floor?
  • Can you operate the hardware on stall doors, dispensers, sinks and faucets with a closed fist?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, then you have an opportunity to improve your potential to attract a new and growing customer base. Note that it doesn't have to cost big money to make a big improvement. There are many ways you can make your business more accessible with just a few simple changes AND there are many resources to call upon that are willing to help and answer questions.

If you have already made great strides to ensure that your hotel, restaurant, museum or business is accessible to people with disabilities – make sure people know about it! The Wisconsin Department of Tourism makes accessibility information available on their website, so be sure to advertise your venue as accessible and that you welcome people with disabilities (along with their friends and families) to spend their money with you!

Remember, by 2030, 24% of the U.S. population will consist of people with disabilities. There are many resources for helping you make your business more accessible and welcoming for customers with disabilities. If you build it they will come.

A D A Wisconsin Partnership Logo

About the ADA Wisconsin Partnership:

The ADA Wisconsin Partnership is a coalition of people with disabilities, business and government that promotes full implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Funding is provided by a federal grant through the Great Lakes Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center (GLDBTAC), located at the Department of Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Find out more at


Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers
To call your Regional Center: 800-949-4232 (voice and TTY)

U.S. Access Board
ADA Technical Assistance Line: 800-872-2253 or 800-993-2822 (TTY)

U.S. Department of Justice
ADA Information Line: 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TTY)

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