As Covid-19 restrictions in the U.S. ease and travel resumes, stir-crazy Americans are booking reservations, plotting road trips, and dusting off travel wish lists. For travelers with disabilities, hurdles that preceded the pandemic remain. In Accessible Vacations: An Insider’s Guide to 10 National Parks (Rowman & Littlefield, Oct.), Simon J. Hayhoe, a researcher on disability who lives in the U.K., offers advice to travelers with access challenges; the book follows his similar guide to 12 U.S. cities. Hayhoe spoke with PW about his travel experiences in the U.S. and what publishers can do to serve travelers with disabilities.
When did you first become interested in the U.S. National Parks?
In 1991, I went on a Greyhound across the U.S. In that three and a half days, America just slapped me in the face, especially when you got into the countryside. I skimmed over Yellowstone National Park, and I fell in love with it. I’d never seen bison before. It struck me that a lot of people didn’t get the chance to go out into the wilds of America. When I later worked with people with disabilities, I wanted to make that experience accessible. A lot of people take it for granted that everyone can get to a national park. That’s not the case at all. Many people are stuck in cities, because of their disabilities or because they’re older.
When you began researching national park access for people with disabilities, what did you find?
The National Park Service is a real model of practice for these kinds of things. It was the first to come up with a national strategy for implementing access in national parks, in the early ’80s. The problem is that large parks have lots of resources. You go to Yellowstone, Yosemite, Acadia, and they have lots of money to spend on ramps, Brailling, signers, and so forth. Whereas, if you go to a smaller national park, it’s sometimes more restricted. The National Park Service, from what I can see, is trying to implement a strategy where there’s a level playing field.
There’s been a lot of talk about how the pandemic will change travel going forward—how might those changes affect travelers with disabilities?
I think everyone’s going to be a bit more local. I wrote this book before the pandemic, but I chose places you could get to by car, train, van, whatever you’re using, rather than flying.
How can travel publishers better serve people with disabilities?
We need to put out that people can go to these places and that there are facilities for them. People feel there isn’t that kind of access. We need to have a shift in consciousness to lead to that.