Hillel's Tech Corner: accessibleGO, travel platform for disabled people

When Elaine landed in Hawaii for a much-needed vacation, she was shocked to discover that the “accessible” hotel room she’d booked wasn’t built wide enough to let her wheelchair fit in the door.

Travelling with disabilities  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Travelling with disabilities
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Allow me to start this article with a confession, but please don’t judge me. As someone who travels a lot, and who always works to try and optimize my travel experience, I never really spent more than two seconds thinking what it must be like to travel for a person who has disabilities.
I mean, of course, I have on occasion tried to help someone elderly with their bags and let someone cut me in line, but I have not really dedicated enough thought to the whole airport/airplane experience for a person with disabilities.
Traveling causes me anxiety. Like many others, and I can’t even imagine what it must be like to have to go through that experience if you are dependent on the consideration and thoughtfulness of others.
When I was speaking to Miriam Eljas, the cofounder of accessibleGO, an Israeli company aimed to address the challenges of traveling as someone with disabilities, she told me a story about a woman named Elaine Christiansen of Texas. When Elaine landed in Hawaii for a much-needed vacation, she was shocked to discover that the “accessible” hotel room she’d booked wasn’t built wide enough to let her wheelchair fit through the bathroom door. The manager of the luxury hotel told her she could make do with using the bathroom in the lobby.
Read that again and try to put yourself in her shoes.
More than 60% of people with disabilities in the US report major obstacles when they travel, according to the Open Doors (ODO) non-profit organization in Chicago. This makes accessibility not just “nice to have” but a critical requirement that can make or break an entire trip.
ODO, the leading accessible travel research, advocacy and training organization, found in their 2015 study that people with disabilities spend over $17 billion annually in the USA. The US Census reports more than 53 million Americans with a disability, leaving this huge demographic frustrated and underserved, including millions of baby boomers retiring with disabilities.
accessibleGO is a Jerusalem-based start-up that offers a travel platform for people with disabilities, offering bookings, reviews and community. This start-up is solving these pain points for Americans with disabilities in each area of the travel industry.
“People with disabilities are traveling,” says cofounder and CEO Miriam Eljas. “They often try to research every aspect of their trip in advance, and upon return, want to share that information. The problem is that until now, there has not been a single repository for this information. On accessibleGO, these travelers can research and share all aspects of their trips – what worked and what didn’t.”
accessibleGO offers rich content and resources on how to travel with a disability. What sets accessibleGO apart is the unique booking experience, currently focused on hotel accessibility, but which also offers standard car rentals and flights. This offering will be expanded to offer bookings for cruises, attractions, ground transportation and insurance in the near future.
MIRIAM CAME up with the idea together with co-founder Galia Kut, VP of strategic planning, when chatting at the annual summit for OurCrowd. Cofounder and CTO Jeff Schlanger then quit his job at Magic Leap (one of the world’s most exciting tech companies) in Florida to come on board full time and build out the platform.
Within a couple months of creating the company, accessibleGO formed a relationship with the Priceline Partner Network for access to inventory for hotels, cars and flights, where the team could then add their special sauce: accessibility data for each property, accessibility focused reviews from the community, and unprecedented customer service where each accessibility request is personally confirmed by email.
To power the platform, accessibleGO is rapidly adding as much data as quickly as it can. After an initial pilot, the team launched a system for hotels to publish their accessibility information. To date, they have gathered data on more than 4,000 hotels, on target to cover a majority of the 50,000 US hotels by the end of 2021. In the coming months, the team will also launch a system for attractions and travel-service providers to publish their accessibility information.
In consumer testing, 50,000 users signed up to join the platform within a few months. Further analysis found nearly 35% of users who booked on the platform came back to book again. The analysis also showed that users booked more than one trip a year on average, even higher than the numbers reported by the ODO study, which said 70% of people with disabilities travel once every two years.
The accessibleGO community includes people of all disabilities as self-reported during registration, with 55% listing a mobility disability, and the rest reporting vision, hearing and cognitive disabilities, all of whom want to use the services.
The company has raised just over $1 million, primarily from angel investors in Israel and the US. After much market testing and demand analysis, the company is ready to scale, and is raising a round to finance the growth.
A key component of the accessibleGO’s success is leveraging the knowledge of veterans of the travel industry. Furkan Akbayrak, head of user experience, has years of expertise from consulting for Expedia, Booking.com and Agoda.com.
In general, the best form of validation a company can receive is from the users. When users are so happy with the product, they offer to invest, it doesn’t get much better than that. One wheelchair user who was so impressed with accessibleGO’s service, she reached out saying she would like to invest, and did indeed do so.
I guess on a personal level, I have to thank the accessibleGO team, not only for making the world a better place, but for making me a more sensitive person who thinks about accessible travel, a topic I am ashamed to say I had never thought enough about before hearing about this remarkable company.