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Many people traveling with disabilities often find it difficult to navigate their surroundings when they are in a different city, and being in an entirely unfamiliar country makes it doubly difficult. There are certain places they may not be able to access safely and precious vacation-time is wasted searching for what is accessible, resulting in frustration. Oftentimes, a place may be advertised as being accessible, but on arrival, the reality may be entirely different.
When it is safe to travel again, one place you can confidently visit as a person with a disability is Israel, and Eli Meiri comes highly recommended as the one who will create that dream vacation for you!
Eli was born and raised in Israel, but spent a short time living in the United States attending college, graduating with a degree in social work. After college, Eli worked in Israel for fifteen years as a social worker until his family’s travel business opened his eyes to the possibility of helping people with disabilities truly enjoy a vacation without having to worry about being able to access the things they wanted to do or see. As a social worker, Eli interacted with people who were blind, had mobility impairments and cognitive disabilities, gaining as a result, a wide range of knowledge of the different disabilities that exist. He therefore knew the challenges they often face
Eli remembers years ago, the Rotary Club in his city ran a camp for children and adults with disabilities. He assisted with that camp and wanted to take the group to a place recommended by a friend. Unfortunately, when they arrived, many could not get to the chosen location because of mobility limitations. It was then that Eli truly understood that each person with a disability may have challenges unique to them. It may be something as easy to overlook such as someone having a manual versus a power wheelchair, being a slow-walker, having to navigate bumpy versus smooth surfaces, flat surface versus an incline, etc. That an exciting outing so highly anticipated had to be denied to some was heartbreaking. Thus began his interest in being a tour guide.
To better understand the travel and tourism market for people with disabilities, Eli travelled to the United States in 1998 then again, a year later, attending conferences where he learned a great deal, including how to encourage businesses and other establishments to help create accessibility for everyone. Even after attending these conferences however, and leaving more informed, Eli still felt there was something missing in the travel industry. He recognized that there was no one tour company that catered specifically to people with disabilities. He thought about how difficult it must be for someone to travel with a disability into a whole new world without accurate guidance. These travellers were entitled to enjoy themselves on vacation like everyone else! With this inspiration, and the guidance of Yuval Wagner the CEO of Access Israel, a travel group specifically designed to book travel for people with disabilities, Eli’s tour company, Israel4All was born.
Creating tours planned with expert precision and careful thought for each traveller’s needs can be a monumental task, but Eli enjoys each minute. That a traveller would entrust their precious vacation time to him, relying on his genuine commitment to make their vacation memorable is humbling, and as a result, he ensures that his services do not disappoint.
But, how does he do it? As he explained, it all starts with an email from a potential traveller indicating their desire to use his services. Eli would then provide them with a comprehensive questionnaire, advising that answers should be as accurate as possible. They will tell him where they would like to be picked up whether it be at the cruise ship port, at a hotel, the airport, etc.; he’ll ask about the places they would like to visit or activities they would like to participate in. He will then work on a detailed, customized travel plan for them, including possible rental wheelchairs, equipment and adapted transportation. Eli works with local medical equipment providers which provides an extra layer of comfort to the travellers, knowing that their every need can be reasonably met while in Israel. His tour groups consist of no more than 10, allowing him to dedicate individual attention to each person. Tours to nearby Jordan and Egypt can also be arranged, but the most popular among his travellers is Jerusalem, which is also the most accessible city in Israel.
Eli explained that before 2005, there were not many accessibility laws in place to help those with disabilities in Israel. But, since then, Israel’s Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law, similar to the Americans with Disability Act in the United States was established. Over time, it led to 60-70% of locations in Israel becoming accessible to all. Although these numbers are promising, he thinks there is still much work to be done to get the last 30-40% up to the proper accessibility requirements. Along with infrastructural changes, there are also societal changes needed to help people with disabilities become fully integrated into the society. He believes there are still prejudices and misunderstanding surrounding that demographic, but it is a stark improvement from what it was like ten to fifteen years ago.
Many people dream of travelling to Israel, a place of historical and religious significance, but are hesitant due to disability limitations. When international travel resumes, that trip can be confidently booked, and with Eli and his team’s guarantee of ‘Travelling Without Limits’, you can dare to dream, because – they will make it happen!