Grand staircases, cobblestone streets, and lofty views from hotel room windows are often considered desirable travel perks. Unfortunately, things that are a luxury to some may present accessibility issues for people with neurological, visual, or mobility impairments. According to the United States Bureau of Transportation, an estimated 25.5 million people in the United States alone have disabilities that make traveling outside the home difficult. Over half of that population requires one or more medical devices to assist their mobility. With 8.5% of the US population managing travel-limiting disabilities, acknowledgment and accommodation of those with impairments are essential. Rebekah is an Itinerary Specialist for EF Educational Tours in Toronto, part of the EF Education First family of companies, and co-president of the EFinity group Accessibility @ EF. Accessible travel and workplace accessibility are at the forefront of her mind. Rebekah lives with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, also known as hereditary motor and sensory neuropathy. This condition causes muscle weakness, leading to difficulty with balance and stamina.
Since Rebekah presents as able-bodied, fostering open communication with her peers has transformed her experience regarding workplace accessibility. “It’s been so liberating not to feel like I needed to hide this part of myself,” said Rebekah.
“When I started in the office, I would always feel so nervous if I was talking to someone while making tea and then having to walk upstairs with them and continue the conversation.” She knew that using the elevators was an option, but she didn’t want to miss out on bonding with her coworkers or unintentionally be excluded from vital conversations because she had to take a different path.
Over time, with the support of her team and manager, Rebekah felt encouraged to share her ideas on accessibility in the workplace. She discovered they were enthusiastic about having conversations in ways she hadn’t anticipated. They were not only empowering her to do the work on her own but joining her efforts to bring issues of travel and workplace accessibility into the larger conversation.
Now, when her colleagues travel on staff tours through EF, she provides them with a list of questions and things to look out for on their trip. Then, upon return, they meet to discuss accessibility issues and work together to make them easier on customers traveling with disabilities.
“It has been a cool way to broaden everyone’s understanding but also deepen my own,” said Rebekah. The Accessibility @ EF EFinity group was created only a few months after Rebekah joined EF. Rebekah realized that by joining the EFinity group, she would be able to foster an accessibility community internationally, and she quickly became a co-captain.
“Accessibility @ EF was the perfect blend of two important aspects of my life. I like to travel, and I live with this disability. So, getting to connect with other people who share that experience, in their own way, has been eye-opening.”
Rebekah continues to strive to be an available resource for those who want to learn about why accessibility is essential and to continually broaden her understanding of the spectrum of accessibility.
“I hope it is a community that people feel comfortable to share in, without barriers and without the need to earn a spot in the group,” said Rebekah. “I want people from all walks of life and all experiences with disabilities to feel comfortable learning and asking questions. Whether they have a disability or not.”