On Wednesday, the Travel and Meeting Society (TAMS) launched a series featuring interviews with travelers who have accessibility requirements.
A group of TAMS volunteers led by Raytheon Technologies senior travel manager Andrew Slaiby (because he’s “vocal,” he said) is hosting the conversations to enhance business travel professionals’ understanding of accessibility needs. The participants aim to deliver recommendations for improving accessibility-related support across travel management operations.
The initiative comes at a time of growing attention to the difficulties faced by people with accessibility requirements. Mobility is one of the better-known challenges. This week, a Delta Air Lines subsidiary debuted a prototype of a “first-of-its-kind” airplane seat, allowing customers to use their own powered wheelchairs on flights. United Airlines last fall provided support for research on accessibility in travel by Accessio, a consultancy.
TAMS has conducted more than 10 interviews during the past year. The goal is at least 20, with the recordings to be made available via Zoom meeting every few weeks for about a year. TAMS is learning from the experiences of folks with mental health conditions, sight impairment, allergies and dietary needs, rare diseases, mobility challenges and other risk factors.
“There’s been some focus on mobility and a lot of effort there but not a lot of initiative on other accessibility needs,” said Slaiby during a Wednesday briefing. “So we were like, ‘Let’s do some interviewing.’ We’re gathering knowledge for best practices and standards that we’ll bring to the industry. Trying to gain perspective on every disability is challenging. Our hope is that at the end of it, we’ll have what we need to advocate. And we hope that [providers] put it on their roadmap.”
The Wednesday broadcast focused on a person with phenylketonuria (PKU) and diabetes. Because of PKU, a rare metabolic disorder, documentary filmmaker Kurt Sensenbrenner must strictly limit his protein intake. He travels with a powder to mix with water as a dietary supplement, which gives him about 80 percent of his nutrition. Sensenbrenner, who travels two to three weeks monthly, drinks as many as six shakes on a busy day. Being active is difficult without them since falling short of his nutritional needs means lethargy and lower functioning.
Especially for trips of more than a few days, he needs to look for things like lodging with a sink deep enough for his blender, proximity to a grocery store and a relatively spacious refrigerator. The typical “ADA room,” though, is geared toward those with mobility challenges, according to Sensenbrenner.
Flying is not without its concerns, particularly on longer journeys where Sensenbrenner may find he needs to prepare to mix a shake at his seat. It’s possible to get hung up at security, Sensenbrenner said, but TSA agents usually recognize the medical necessity. “Once in a while, they swab it to make sure the powder is not illicit or flammable, which I understand, but then I’m out a packet,” he said. Meanwhile, airports and hotels tend not to have disposal bins for sharps like insulin needles.
Generally, Sensenbrenner said during the TAMS interview, “It takes a lot of planning.”
Slaiby said the TAMS initiative started as a team project within GBTA’s Ladders career group.
“We focused on the need for more accessibility content in booking tools,” he said. “That was our whole project. We found out that when folks with an accessibility issue need to travel, they need to make a lot of phone calls. They can’t go into online booking tools and filter based on their needs. Not all ADA rooms at hotels are equal. As [the Ladders project] ended, we wanted to keep it moving. We brought in other team members and brought it over to TAMS — a grassroots organization where we believe we can make a difference. It gave us some more freedom to drive this campaign.”
The Global Business Travel Association also is active on the issue. Its GBTA Foundation Accessibility Task Force is “defining the criteria for accessible business travel and developing a useful guide for the industry, as well as advocating and establishing partnerships to expand accessible business travel programs,” according to a Foundation progress report published last month.
Among other findings last year, the consulting firm Accessio determined that in organizations, lack of awareness, coordination and standards combined with privacy sensitivities often lead to gaps in support for people with accessibility needs. Beyond DE&I or ESG initiatives, according to Accessio, supporting these populations also helps the bottom line — impacting reputation, investment, hiring/retention and client/supplier relationships.
Ginny Roelant, global travel manager at TechnipFMC, told Accessio last year her company did not have a “systematic way” to serve travelers who need accommodations, much less identify them.
“The dream is a hybrid between the technology, services and humans, but right now, we will be in a human, communication-intensive mitigation process,” said Roelant. “It cuts at the heart of what I think travel management is all about, which is really enabling and empowering employees to understand the best ways they can do business and grow in their roles in the world.”