Accessible travel for people with disabilities

For people with disabilities, planning a trip can be a nightmare. seeks to change that.

Accesiblego  (photo credit: MIRIAM ELJAS)
(photo credit: MIRIAM ELJAS)
Launched July 19, the Israel-based website gives information about accessible hotels and attractions in cities across the United States.
Only in its beginning stages, the site includes a booking engine that specifically reserves hotels that are accessible and easy for people with disabilities. Soon, it will launch similar booking engines for flights, cars, travel insurance, and cruises. It also provides itineraries for accessible travel, listing attractions that are best for those with disabilities.
Jerusalem resident Miriam Eljas Goldman, the company’s cofounder and CEO, was inspired to create the site after experiences she had with her mother, Emma Eljas, whose multiple sclerosis confined her to a wheelchair for more than 20 years. They often had frustrating experiences traveling and doing activities because of lack of information about accessibility.
The “about” section of the site recounts one particular instance when Eljas Goldman and her mother called a San Jose movie theater and were told that it was wheelchair-accessible. They arrived at the theater to find its only entrance at the top of a flight of stairs. When they asked the manager why they were provided with misinformation, he presented “a flimsy, cracked ramp made of fractured plywood” that could not possibly hold the weight of Eljas and her wheelchair. The mother and daughter were forced to leave the theater “disappointed and frustrated.”
Though her mother died four years ago, Eljas Goldman hopes to provide others with the requisite information to plan an accessible trip and ensure that they encounter minimal problems along the way.
“It is not acceptable for someone who has a disability to have a bad experience and just accept it. That mentality has changed,” she said. “So if somebody has a disability, and they show up at an attraction or a venue, and they have a lousy experience or they can’t get in, or whatever it might be, I think in the past they just chalked it up to ‘Oh well, that’s life.’ But now its like ‘That’s wrong and we are going to fix it.’” With 53 million Americans having disabilities, the Israel- based corporation currently serves only those traveling within the US, but its founders hope to expand the site internationally in the near future.
Eljas Goldman made aliya several years ago and now lives in Jerusalem. In 2001, she founded a newspaper called the Jewish Blueprint, which she eventually sold to the New York Jewish Week. It was through that company that she met Jeff Schlanger, a Florida-based software engineer.
After working for some time at a venture capital firm, Eljas Goldman quit to co-found Accessiblego with Schlanger, who is now the company’s CTO.
The two founders employed freelance researchers, journalists and accessibility consultants, based both in the US and in Israel, to work on the site. Researchers gather data and list information about hotels that wouldn’t be shared on TripAdvisor or Expedia – such as “steps-free entrance” or “accessible pool.”
Journalists contribute listicles, such as “Top 10 Accessible Attractions in Boston” or “48 Hours in Atlanta,” which provide suggested itineraries for those with disabilities.
Accessibility consultants assess the accuracy and helpfulness of the articles.
The founders envision their site as being similar to TripAdvisor, where user-generated reviews help potential travelers plan a trip. This feature will be launched in the coming weeks.
While there are already sites that allow people to book accessible hotels or flights, or find accessible attractions, Accesiblego is the first to put all the components on one site, allowing people to book, be part of a community, and find fun, accessible attractions. The site also helps vacationers find essential resources in their destinations, such as caregivers and accessible taxis.
The company conducted user testing during the months leading up to the site’s launch. One discovery it provided was that people with disabilities wanted to use a travel website that looked like any other travel site, and wasn’t flooded with pictures of wheelchairs and the like.
“They didn’t want to constantly be reminded of their disabilities, that they were different,” said Eljas Goldman.
“They wanted to feel like they were using a travel website obviously that had great travel resources for them, but they didn’t want it in their face.”
Accessiblego has already received positive feedback.
One Twitter user, Tonya Bauer, whose daughter Emily is a stroke survivor, shared Accessiblego’s article “48 Hours in Houston." Referring to a park in downtown Houston that in the winter months hosts “Wheelchairs on Ice at the Discovery Green” in its skating rink, she commented: “Did not know that DG allowed wheelchairs on ice or that Galveston has beach wheelchairs. Pretty cool!” Eljas Goldman recognizes that Jerusalem has a long way to go in terms of accessibility. But she is optimistic that things are improving.
“I believe that the municipality, NGOs and residents are committed to changing this reputation of inaccessibility and that over time, Jerusalem is becoming more accessible as this issue gravitates to the forefront of people’s agendas.”