Zipping around on her blue scooter, Jeanne Allen doesn’t want to have to slow down unless it’s on her terms – and she shouldn’t have to.
But the reality is that even with strict accessibility codes as set by the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, many buildings throughout the United States just aren’t up to snuff.
Even when something is to code, Allen explained, it might still not be entirely “accessible” for someone who has limited mobility. Sitting in a roll-in shower, Allen showed an example of how the position of the bench in correlation to the detachable showerhead and the water controls can make what would be considered an accessible shower inaccessible for a person with physical constraints.
That’s why Allen started a project to highlight some of the best accessible features of popular tourist spots throughout the country – and hopefully, one day, the world. She’s calling her venture Incredible Accessible Travels. The point of creating these short videos and blogs of her travel experiences, Allen explained, is keeping a sense of independence.
Right now, the Sonoma resident is working with a videographer to highlight the Valley’s accessible features, collected through her own experience. Her goal is for worldwide contributions and feedback so that accessibility is within reach for all.
The idea for the project came after Allen went with her husband, Chip Allen, to Chicago five years ago. While her husband attended a conference, Allen, who suffers from the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis, was left to navigate the city alone. “I did a lot of research and put together this huge itinerary of all of the places I knew I could go,” Allen recalled. “After, I decided that I had done all of this work to make this great itinerary and guide to the city, that I had to do something with it. I wanted to share it.”
“People tend to think ‘accessible’ things make things ugly, and travel agencies don’t think it’s sexy,” Allen said, adding that finding accessible features to hotels, restaurants and even tourist hotspots is no easy task, even with the Internet. Information, she noted, is often hidden or cited as “handicap accessible” with no further details of just how accessible it is. Even major travel websites, like Trip Advisor, Orbitz and, surprisingly, AARP, don’t have an accessibility search option or filter for choosing a hotel, Allen said. She often has to call and check before making a reservation and even double-check before she arrives to ensure she will be able to do simple things like take a shower.
In Sonoma, Allen has already discovered several accessible treasures she has found – MacArthur Place with its rooms, Traintown with an accessible train car and Hopmonk Tavern with its deck lift. The Sebastiani Winery, she said, is a good example of a winery that has an eye toward accommodation with no steps. “Sebastiani Winery is both accessible and pretty, and it doesn’t even have stairs,” Allen said.
However, as baby boomers age and enjoy the fruits of retirements, Allen feels that now is the time to embrace accessibility and realign travel marketing with the high amount of industry that is becoming increasingly reliant on baby boomer tourists. “With baby boomers being where they are, the benefit (of being accessible) goes up every year.”