This month marks a milestone for people with disabilities (PWD) who are interested in enjoying the exciting travel and entertainment opportunities available throughout Minnesota. Access for All, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, will publish the very first large-print Minnesota Travel Guide for Persons with Disabilities. This guide will supply in-depth information regarding the accessibility of over 300 travel and hospitality establishments throughout the state.
It all started in October 1999 when I went to dinner in downtown Minneapolis with a friend. On the way, I commented that it would be helpful to have a source of information available regarding the accessibility features of public facilities. This lack of information has been a barrier to me personally and for others who have disabilities as well. After giving more thought to this casual idea, I started to investigate what information was actually available. What I found was a hodgepodge of information throughout the state of Minnesota. Some of the information was accurate and some was incorrect, but most often, the information was not available at all. It was then that I decided to create Access for All, to gather and disseminate information regarding the accessibility features of businesses that provide service to those who travel outside their homes.
This publication will not only be a great resource for PWD, it will also be very helpful to family and friends who plan outings and vacations. Furthermore, it will greatly benefit the entire hospitality and tourism industry in Minnesota as they provide opportunities for entertainment, service and travel. A primary goal of this travel guide was to enlighten the hospitality industry about the huge number of PWD who had the desire and means to leave their homes for recreation, but who were limited because of the lack of information regarding the accessibility of places they wished to go.
Everyone benefits from opening the doors to PWD who want to travel and enjoy life, just like everyone else. There are currently 30 million people with disabilities (over the age of 18) who live in the United States. More than 75 percent of PWD dine out at least once per week. In 2003, they will spend nearly $35 billion dining away from home, according to new statistics released by Harris Interactive—in conjunction with my friends at the Open Doors Organization in Chicago. (Harris Interactive interviewed 1,037 adults with disabilities to create the 2002 Open Doors Organization Market Study.) The study is already helping hotels, cruise lines and airlines evaluate how effectively they market to the disability community. Statistics show that learning to market and cater effectively to the needs of PWD can pay big dividends. Assuming that incidence rates by age remain the same (and compared to 1997), by the year 2030 the total disability population will increase by 30.9 million and the severely disabled population will increase by 21 million.
Initially, Access for All launched a Web site (www.accessminnesota.org) to disseminate information on accessibility. Surveys were used to collect data regarding such things as parking, entrances, elevators, bathrooms, tables, and so on. In addition to physical features, the surveys also gathered information that would be helpful to those with visual, hearing and cognitive disabilities. Surveys have been done throughout the state, with research being completed on, but not limited to, amusement parks, tourist attractions, bed and breakfasts, campgrounds, lodging, outdoor recreation, restaurants, shopping malls, specialty shops and transportation facilities. We currently have over 300 listings on the Web site. This was a goal Access for All set over 3 years ago.
Now, because of the generous support of many, we are set to publish the first edition of our guide in late July or early August of this year. Please contact Access for All if you or your organization would like one or more of the travel guides—hot off the press. There is no charge. We have relied on and continue to seek volunteers and sponsors to expand this project. The Minnesota Office of Tourism, Carlson Companies, Inc., Deluxe Corporation, eFunds, the Medtronic Foundation, Urban Planet and ADA Minnesota have dedicated support and resources to Access for All. For more information on how to take a facilities survey, become a volunteer or become an individual or corporate sponsor, visit the Web site above or contact Mike Chevrette at (651) 481-4062.