Exploryst is a free database of information for travelers to understand what “accessible” or “not accessible” means, specific to disabilities of all kinds. It began with one family’s journey.
Angela Wilson, a Denver mother of Samuel, calls it her family’s “diagnostic odyssey.” When her son Samuel was three years old, he started having trouble forming words and developed extra movements when he walked. After evaluation at Children’s Hospital Colorado, the Wilsons enrolled Samuel in speech, occupational, and physical therapy. Eight years later, there’s still no diagnosis. At 12 years old, Samuel’s independent mobility has declined; symptoms attributed to ataxia, dystonia, chorea, and an undiagnosed neurological condition led to leg surgeries and the use of a wheelchair. He can still walk, but only with great assistance.
“I never wanted Samuel’s disabilities to stop us from anything, especially the transformational power of traveling to new destinations and experiencing new things,” says Wilson.
The Wilsons’ wanderlust prevailed, but it wasn’t easy. Whenever they wanted to visit somewhere unfamiliar, they asked four questions to get beyond the “not accessible” answer they often received:
- What are the specifics of your tour, activity, or adventure that may not allow
us to fully participate?
- How have others with similar disability factors been able to participate in this
activity, tour, or adventure?
- What adjustments to the structure of the activity, tour, or adventure could be
made to make sure that we are able to fully participate?
- What adjustments can we make ourselves to fully participate in this activity,
tour, or adventure?
Inquiries like these were necessary because they found standard travel websites typically didn’t provide enough detailed information for neuro-atypical or physically disabled people to make confident evaluations for themselves. In asking these questions, the Wilsons were able to educate business owners and come up with novel ways to overcome most physical barriers they encountered.
Charting Paths for Everybody
Wilson’s frustration having found no detailed travel site for people with disabilities came to a head in 2019. “I did not want any regrets,” she says. “So with just an idea and a business name, I began to pursue Exploryst full-time.”
One year later, and during a pandemic to boot, the current version of Exploryst launched. Beginning in Colorado with plans to expand to other metro areas and eventually worldwide, the website provides details that would help people with disabilities (who number more than 1 billion in the world) book their next trip, including notes on activity levels, terrain, vision and hearing, restrooms, and pricing.
To curate the site’s initial 200-plus activities around Denver, Wilson reflected on her past experiences, evaluated new locations with “boots on the ground,” and filled any blanks with in-depth research including calling on businesses with the four standard inquiries. Looking forward, Exploryst hopes to move to a model where business owners will supply information along with photographs and links to source materials, like a Yelp or Wikipedia page.
“Never assume you know a business’s accessibility because of their website details or offerings,” says Wilson. “I assumed that some tourist businesses, like a local Jeep tour, would not be accessible to the breadth of the disability community. Through Exploryst, we know that there is at least one that offers iPads with American Sign Language, written transcripts, robust verbal descriptions for people with low vision, five-point chest straps that allow people of all ages to feel secure in the vehicle, and more. There are probably many more. We just need to connect with them and share their inclusionary activities with the entire community.”
At the time of this article’s publication, the site’s listings include hotels, restaurants, indoor/outdoor activities, attractions, classes/workshops, sports, and tours. Most fans are in Colorado and throughout the U.S., but the site also serves folks in Germany, U.K., Mexico, India, and Brazil, notes Wilson.
“We encourage our users to leave their own reviews based on their specific needs to help curate a comprehensive view,” she says, referring to the wide range of experiences individuals with disabilities can have.
Approaching business owners as a parent, and now a player in the travel industry, Wilson opens discussions about what accessibility means, and how wide the spectrum of disability goes.
According to Wilson, travel websites and hospitality industry businesses have a long way to go in their understanding of what people with disabilities require; they often think only of wheelchair accessibility. This definition only satisfies a small percentage of people that have disabilities.
That’s why Wilson encourages families to ask questions and see about getting their needs addressed. Besides, serving people with disabilities would increase revenue for most destinations. According to Return on Disability, a data insights and design firm, the annual disposable income for people with disabilities in the U.S. is about $1.28 trillion and travel expenses within the population had been growing before the pandemic.
“If treated well, people with disabilities, their friends, relatives, and larger networks feel loyalty toward inclusive businesses,” says Wilson. “Businesses are leaving a lot of money on the table by not catering to our needs.”
Exploryst will work best, and achieve its goals, if more people use the site, share their experiences, and strengthen the community. The goal is that the information on Exploryst serves everyone; folks with long term disabilities, short term injuries or illness, the elderly, and their loved ones.
Exploryst invites user-generated submissions for businesses that should be included in the listings, or additional details about active listings. A social portal with chats and forums is upcoming, and will allow people to exchange ideas, ask questions, and post advice. Member benefits include free and discounted offers from selected businesses, entries to drawings and contests, and the ability to earn points and awards for participating.
Note: Colorado Parent readers can get a special points bonus for signing up and mentioning CP in the form.