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By Fiona Scott
Travel experiences for anybody can be an exciting endeavor; being inspired by new sights and sounds are great ways to refresh the soul. Traveling with disabilities, however, can add fears and uncertainties that many find too difficult to overcome, especially when seeking destinations off the beaten track and outside of the city. Friends and family are great supports, but how do we ensure that all travel experiences are barrier free?
Research and confirmations are time consuming but are the best assurances that travel expectations are fully understood by both travelers and hosts. Does the boutique hotel have an operational elevator and will the tour guide go at a slightly slower pace? Doing this every year can be tiresome, so we often return to the same travel locations year over year, missing out on the opportunity to explore a little further. That is, until we find a resource that has done much of the research for us. One such company is SoulFly Experiences.
Founded on the belief that universal access is a human right, co-owners Nicole Petersen and Tanelle Bolt set out to create Canadian travel experiences that enrich the lives of all travelers in addition to benefiting host communities. By putting company values of inclusion, authenticity and equality at the forefront, travelers are returning home with more than expected. On a recent Yukon tour, three-time Paralympic gold medalist Sonja Gaudet said, “The vistas I’ve seen here and the flavors I’ve tasted—it’s incredible. This time is so valuable.”
By working with tourism operators that have considered full inclusion, the travel journeys with SoulFly Experiences have become transformational. Being deep within the wilderness is not difficult in the Yukon, but accessing different terrains can be challenging. “We wanted our travelers to breathe in the glacial air and be surrounded by trees; it’s a connection that can often be missed when living in the city,” says Petersen. “And by also meeting with locals that understand what barriers are, our experiences are authentic and remind people of the value in travel,” adds Bolt.
Considering that many travel packages around the world include prefabricated cultural displays, the SoulFly crafting workshop and/or bespoke experience with Indigenous artisans definitely have more of an authentic appeal. Travelers can choose to add a custom knit Cowichan sweater or hat as a Canadian travel memento, a little more meaningful than a moose fridge magnet bought at the corner gift shop!
As my own parents have reached an age where travel is daunting based on their mobility challenges, I am excited that travel companies are putting more thought towards full accessibility. I recently met a blind professional that boasted of her European travels over the summer, but added that she was so exhausted by the time it took to coordinate everything, she needed another holiday. In bringing up the Canadian travel packages that are now being promoted as fully accessible, there was a loud cheer at the dinner table.
With so many different disabilities for tourism operators to consider, having a trustworthy organization following a high accessibility standard is a positive step forward. Most travel destinations have inclusive mandates, but need the persistence of a few accessibility champions to really make a difference. As all SoulFly Experiences packages can be customized to suit the needs of an individual traveler or group, it seems that Western and Northern Canada may be the ultimate destinations for barrier free travel. And with 24/7 travel support included in the SoulFly packages, those original travel fears and uncertainties may be a thing of the past.