Using Tech to Help Travelers With Disabilities

TORONTO—Travelers with disabilities spend approximately $19 billion on travel each year, but must do more pre-planning than the average guest due to a lack of digital accessibility.

In business here for 10 years, Essential Accessibility started out as a division of Switzerland-based QualiLife, the organization that developed the leading desktop application at the time for people living with paralysis and other dexterity limitations. The QualiWorld platform was a suite of keyboard and mouse replacement tools that allowed a quadriplegic, for example, to access their computer with greater ease.

Over the years, Essential Accessibility evolved and pioneered a model where brands were empowered to make assistive technology (AT) available to their customers at no cost.

“The brands who chose to feature AT were going beyond minimum compliance requirements and ensuring that no one with a physical disability is left behind. The technology was available to all, and brands enjoyed the benefits of being a part of a program that offered sustainable social impact,” said Simon Dermer, co-founder and managing director, Essential Accessibility. “We reinvented the AT by applying this technology to browsing the web, expanded functionality to include solutions for a wide range of disabilities and evolved it for a digital world, introduced a mobile version to provide full-device control, and created a comprehensive digital accessibility solution for businesses to enhance the customer experience for people with disabilities across the board.”

According to Open Door Organization, 46% of travelers with disabilities say they’ve encountered major accessibility barriers associated with a hotel stay. People with disabilities are seeking disability-related information about the accommodations—do the rooms have wheel-in showers or grab bars for guests with restricted mobility? Are there auxiliary visual alarms (flashing-light emergency alert systems) for guests who can’t hear?

“If these details are incomplete, there’s a very real possibility that the room someone thought would meet their needs, based on what limited information they could find online, turns out to be inaccessible. For the guest with a disability, it means disappointment and dismay, and a scramble to find other, more suitable accommodations on very short notice. For the hotel, it means lost business. The room sits empty while the customer relocates to other lodgings,” he said.

“On the other hand, when this information is readily available on a hotel website, customers with disabilities can make their hotel reservations with confidence. For example, Omni Hotels & Resorts provides specific room accessibility details like ‘grab bars near toilet and shower’ and ‘visual notification for hotel alarm system and phone system,” he said. “Similarly, the information provided by Marriott International includes these notes: ‘accessible guestrooms have a 32-in.-wide opening’ and ‘roll in showers.’”

With more than two hundred clients and partners, Essential Accessibility has carved out a strong niche as a digital accessibility solution provider.

Dermer outlined the multiple needs Essential Accessibility aims to address in the marketplace:

  • Prior to hands-free technology, people who were quadriplegic had to rely on a cumbersome mouth stick to control their devices or expensive hardware. The company saw a need to create a more integrated and elegant solution for these customers.
  • By adding additional features, such as voice commands, XY and radar mouse, the company saw an opportunity to help people with Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy and other age-related factors.
  • By creating a mobile version of the desktop app, there was an opportunity to make smartphones usable by people who have dexterity limitations.
  • Given the regulatory environment in the U.S. with regard to accessibility, the company saw a need to provide businesses with the solutions they need to meet digital accessibility standards and regulations.

“Through an innovative deployment model, brands are able to offer this proprietary technology at no cost to people with disabilities. Organizations feature a recognizable and interactive icon on their homepage. When users click the icon, it opens up a dedicated landing page, or brand disability channel, where they can download the technology and learn about careers, programs and services available to people with disabilities by specific brands,” he said. “The assistive technology application and brand disability channel are essential components of the comprehensive digital accessibility solution available to businesses.”