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Wheel the World is Making Travel Accessible to People with Physical Disabilities

TravelPulse logo TravelPulse 9/18/2019 Alex Temblador

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Video by NBC News

When you’re scrolling through travel posts on Instagram, you’ll notice the same types of travelers posing in front of Machu Picchu or paragliding in Santiago.

The people in these photos aren’t often people with physical disabilities, but that might soon change thanks to Wheel the World.

a man sitting on top of a mountain: Machu Picchu, wheel the world, wheelchair, peru © Wheel the World Machu Picchu, wheel the world, wheelchair, peru

Wheel the World is a travel start-up backed by Booking.com. Their main goal is to provide tours and experiences around the world for people with physical disabilities and this includes accessible activities, hotels, and transportation.

In the words of the company: “We are on a mission to help millions of people to travel to thousands of destinations around the world and change their mindset of what’s possible when it comes to travel.”

Wheel the World was founded by two friends, Alvaro Silberstein, who has a physical disability, and Camilo Navarro.

The two were inspired to create the company when Navarro was determined to have Silberstein join him on an adventure in Patagonia and soon discovered that no tour companies had accessible options to Patagonia for people in wheelchairs.

From this experience, Wheel the World was born.

Silberstein and Navarro told TravelPulse that they created Wheel the World after “realizing that there were many people in the world who wanted to travel like me, and struggled to find the information to find and book accessible accommodations, appropriate transportation and things to do at the destination.”

According to the CDC, 61 million Americans or 1 in 4 people have a disability, and a mobility disability affects 1 in 7 American adults. Physical disabilities are not limited to those who were born with them or suffered an accident, but also include older generations that experience disabilities with age. Historically, these people have struggled with finding inclusive travel options or faced discriminatory policies and practices by airlines, hotels, and tour companies because of their disability.

Silberstein and Navarro point out that the industry is slowly changing to make accessibility a factor in their travel offerings, but a lot more needs to be done. For those that do factor this into their business, the benefits are worthwhile to their consumers and could result in financial gains.

“The accessibility travel market is huge: $72 billion in the US and Europe. Without inclusive travel services, not only is it discriminating against people with disabilities but travel providers are losing a big business opportunity,” said the founders.

While the rest of the travel industry catches up, Wheel the World is filling a niche and opening the world to people who have long been denied the opportunity to explore.

They currently offer more than 30 travel destinations on their platform which covers destinations such as Patagonia, Machu Picchu, Mexico, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Easter Island, New York, San Francisco, South Africa, and Tanzania. Each destination includes activities that are mobility-friendly such as scuba diving, kayaking, ziplining, biking, and hiking, as well as transportation services and accessible accommodations.

All hotels, tours, activities, and ground transportation are thoroughly vetted with a detailed checklist and is assessed with photos and information by the company in person or through a local travel partner.

In just a short time, Wheel the World has found some success and received a lot of positive feedback from customers.

“I believe we are building a strong community with people who don’t want disabilities to stop them from exploring the world. People really believe in and appreciate the experiences Wheel the World offers,” said Silberstein.

He added, “In fact, many of our customers asked us to expand our offerings to include not only adventure travel, but also include leisure, cultural, and urban accessible experience. We took this to heart and have started to add these additional travel opportunities.”

Wheel the World plans to offer 150 packages by the end of 2020, thereby providing those with physical disabilities and their families and friends who wish to accompany them, with more opportunities to explore the world. Wheel the World says they plan to expand to packages and experiences in the future that are inclusive of people who have other disabilities.

As Silberstein and Navarro mentioned, “Our ultimate goal is to make disabilities a non-issue when it comes to travel.”

With the success they’ve had so far, there is no doubt that Wheel the World will change the travel industry and make it more open and inclusive to a consumer base who has not been provided these opportunities for too long.

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