In 2015, two friends, Srin Madipalli and Martyn Sibley, founded Accomable, a travel booking website that makes it easier for everyone to travel — regardless of disability. Today, Accomable is the world’s leading platform for booking accessible hotels and holiday rentals.
Their blog, Accomable On Tour, features the travels and experiences of disabled explorers who make note of accessibility technology and traveling tips for wheelchair users while they traverse the globe. We asked Srin to share his insights on traveling with a wheelchair, accessible transportation vendors and his favorite destinations. Here’s what the travel junkie had to say.
What’s your favorite method of travel and why do you prefer it?
My favorite method of travel depends on where I am. For example, in a city like Barcelona, the metro system is super accessible, and I love to hop around the city’s hotspots using the train. In Paris, the bus is generally the best bet. And in the US, the car is (pretty much) always king. I have a WAV (wheelchair accessible vehicle) at home, which is great. When we started Accomable, we used it to travel around the UK and Europe, so we could seek out the best adapted stays for our customers and verify their access and equipment. I have fond memories of building the prototype for the Accomable website on my phone in the back of the WAV.
Are there any means of travel that you avoid at all costs?
I travel all the time — for work and fun, so I use all types of transport. When flying I try to avoid flights which aren’t direct. I have SMA (spinal muscular atrophy) and use a power chair, which provides proper support for my head. Indirect flights mean stopovers in another airport, which means a couple of hours in an airport wheelchair lacking the support I need.
Do you recommend any specific airlines or travel companies for travelers in wheelchairs?
I really like Virgin Atlantic for long haul flights. They have state-of-the-art hoists and equipment and have always taken really good care of me and my wheelchair. I’ve also heard good things about Southwest Airlines and JetBlue, but haven’t had a chance to try them yet.
Have any industries in particular been slow to accommodate for accessibility?
I think most industries have been slow to accommodate for accessibility to be honest — but we’re starting to see positive changes. Government regulation often helps but I think businesses, particularly in tech, are starting to see that they’re missing out on this huge community of people. There’s also some brilliant disabled entrepreneurs who are spearheading change like Maayan Ziv, who built AccessNow, a crowd-sourced accessibility mapping tool.
What items are in your emergency travel kit?
I often work on the go (boring, I know!) so I always have my laptop and extra chargers. I always take “before photos” of my wheelchair and any specialist equipment before I fly (so I can make a claim against the airport if there are any scrapes). Plus, phone numbers for accessible taxi services and local mobility equipment hire just in case.
Who do you usually travel with?
As I travel so often for work or to speak at conferences, it’s often just me and a PA to assist me. Working in travel, I have friends in lots of countries, so I pretty much always have someone to meet for a drink or bite to eat while I’m away.
What type of trip do you seek out? Are you after rest and relaxation or adventure?
I am a complete adrenaline junkie, and love an adventurous trip. Before Accomable, I worked as a lawyer and took six months every year to go travelling. I was extremely lucky to try SCUBA diving in Bali, overland safari in South Africa, wheelchair trekking in Yosemite and even learned to fly (a plane) in the UK countryside.
What destinations have been your favorite?
I love travelling around the US. I spend a lot of time in San Francisco and Austin and love the vibe there. I’m also a big fan of Barcelona.
What made these places so special to you?
It’s hard to describe. Obviously, San Francisco is a beautiful city and right on the sea — but I think it’s the atmosphere. It feels so lively and there’s a real energy. I feel the same way about Barcelona in Spain. It helps that it’s brilliantly accessible!
What goes into your planning that young families or new caregivers might not consider before their first trip?
Along with the major logistics of transport and accommodation, I look into accessible excursions and activities. Is the local area generally accessible for example? Will I be able to get into shops and restaurants? Don’t be discouraged, many places — particularly in the US, Europe and Australia — have some brilliant facilities. Check the local tourism board website as your first order of business. Some places will let you hire beach wheelchairs for free, or they’ll have accessible trails or some amazing accessible waterparks or museums.
We recently produced a video of a young family in the UK traveling with a disabled child, which might be helpful — and is lovely to watch!
When you arrive somewhere, how do you find accessible transportation?
I always research accessible transport before I arrive at a new destination. I often ask people via Accomable’s friendly Facebook group, the Accessible Travel Club, to find out if anyone has any tips for the destination I’m traveling to. Often someone will have been and will recommend a great accessible cab company – or will know of a good way to travel by public transport.
I tend not to rely on Google for this, as it’s sometimes difficult to tell if information on transport accessibility is up-to-date and correct. We’re actually working on a project with EuTravel to find ways to make researching and booking accessible transport easier. The aim of the project is to enable people to find and book complete door-to-door transport routes via multiple modes of transport, including air, rail, bus and ferry, to and from all countries within the EU, via a single platform — and our role is to advise on the kind of accessibility information that disabled travelers need, so hopefully we’ll see improvements in the near future across Europe, as well as the US and worldwide.
Have there been any specific revelations in the travel or lodging industries that opened major doors for you?
I started Accomable, because I was tired of arriving at so-called accessible accommodation only to find stairs up to the front door. Those were the not very fun revelations that I learned early on — but they showed me that a company was needed that only offered accessible vacation rentals and hotel rooms — and clearly showed every accessible feature and adaptation so disabled travelers could enjoy planning their trips. We quickly found out that there’s lots of brilliant accessible places out there but they’re just not easily found, so we set about putting all this information in one place. The rest is history!
Accomable is a booking platform for accessible hotel rooms and stays with more than 1,100 adapted properties in over 60 countries worldwide.
To plan your next trip, visit Accomable at www.accomable.com