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handicapped person's federal assistance. This government initiative would result in a rise in the number of handicapped travelers, increasing the obvious economic benefits to the nation's economy and employment situation. The following three programs serve as an example of the possibilities that exist. We ask that these and others be examined by the appropriate Congressional
Many handicapped people receiving Medicare and Medicaid benefits must travel in order to receive the medical therapy or medical treatment they need. Currently, these travel expenses are not reimbursable. NTA suggests that the Congress examine the possibility of making this legitimate travel expense reimbursable
The Office of Special Education provides grant monies to school districts and special project grantees for education programs for the handicapped. By including travel as one of the criteria for special education funding, the federal government would acknowledge the invaluable educational experience that travel can offer a handicapped child. For example, visually handicapped children could learn first-hand about our country's space program by traveling to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
3. The Small Business Administration's Handicapped Assistance
This federal program assists the handicapped in securing loans used to set themselves up in a small business. There are many handicapped people who would like to become involved in a travel-related business; up until now, however, the guidelines of this program have not favored travel as a business venture area. NTA suggests that Congress may consider the feasibility of expanding the guidelines to include loans for those wanting to launch a travel-related business. As the handicapped become more involved in travel, they will increase the number of handicapped travelers by bringing new awareness of the needs of both the handicapped traveler and the travel service provider.
In the same way that J. S. Dusenbury, Chairman of the National Council on the Handicapped, identified the thrust of the Council's policy as one which "is to make disabled people independent livers", NTA believes that the travel and tourism industry, in cooperation with the federal government, could contribute to the disabled's becoming "independent travelers" with little change to the present programs at few, if any additional costs to either the private sector or to the government. The market potential is there. Equally important, in addition to the considerable economic benefits of promoting travel for the handicapped, our nation as a whole reaps indisputable social benefits in integrating our disabled citizens into the mainstream of travel and tourism.
Mr. FLORIO. Thank you very much.
STATEMENT OF JOAN DIAMOND Ms. DIAMOND. Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, ladies and gentlemen, I am Joan Diamond, a travel consultant for Valley Oaks Travel, located in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and also the western regional president of SATH, the Society for the Advancement of Travel for the Handicapped. I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to testify regarding the handicapped American.
The travel agent who chooses to specialize in handling the needs of the handicapped traveler must have skills and awareness beyond those of the regular travel agents. Along with the usual knowledge and expertise required to be a successful travel agent, such as, but not limited to, how to write tickets, read tariffs and understand fare quotations, book tours, make hotel, plane, train, ship, and car rental reservations, the travel agent specializing in travel for the handicapped, must know what questions to ask the disabled passenger to uncover special needs he or she might have, and how to relay this information to the supplier of the service, whether it be an airline or hotel or cruise ship.
The travel agent must also be able to encourage and advise the client on the best and easiest way of doing certain things.
A qualified agent is a very valuable asset to the disabled traveler, because the agent has access to a wealth of reference material, and he or she can save the passenger time and money and help to make a trip as carefree as possible. The agent will also prepare special material for the passenger, depending on the disability, which can make the trip run much smoother.
For instance, the travel agent specializing in handicapped travel, must be aware of the special needs of the wheelchair traveler and be able to ask questions to determine his special requirements.
If you use a wheelchair, can you stand without assistance? Can you take any steps at all? Are you able to transfer from your wheelchair to another seat without assistance? What type of batteries does your electric wheelchair use?
The answers to these questions gives the agent information to pass along to the airline and others, and to report back to the client on the method which will be used to plane and deplane him. Each airline has its own policy for the carriage of wheelchairs. Certain hotels have special facilities for the wheelchair traveler, and the travel agent knows which hotels are more helpful than others. Some cruise ships are also more accessible than others and some are far more willing to welcome the wheelchair traveler.
Most car rental companies provide hand controls with proper advance notice. Some require a week's notice, while others only need several hours notice to supply these special vehicles.
A qualified travel agent prepares a list of instructions and useful hints along with the itinerary and tickets. For instance, information about accessible restrooms in airports and availability of an accessible bus for transfer from the airport to the hotel and perhaps the name of the reservation manager of the hotel, who has been alerted to the arrival of the wheelchair traveler.
A qualified travel agent can also be of valuable assistance to the deaf or hearing impaired traveler, by notifying all the particular suppliers, that is, the airline and hotel and cruise ship of the traveler's particular disability and thusly everyone is alerted. This is very important, as a hearing impairment is not a visible disability, and the person with such a handicap, can be easily overlooked.
When the airline is thus advised, then the airline personnel can be sure to notify the passenger of delays in flight schedules of meal service, or even the captain's various announcements.
Stewardesses are alerted to take out and point to the emergency instruction card while giving the emergency information before takeoff, for the benefit of the hearing impaired traveler.
Hotels are also notified of the guest's hearing impairment, and their staff members are alerted. Special equipment can be provided. For example, when the guest's telephone is lifted, a signal on the switchboard would indicate that the guest requires something, and a member of the staff would be sent to the guest's room.
Further, some hotels have installed special lights in certain guest rooms set aside for the hearing impaired, which flash to alert the guest of someone at the door or of an emergency.
In addition, the travel agent can prepare a very detailed written itinerary along with pieces of information and reminders. For instance, if a hearing aid is used, a reminder to take extra batteries along or maybe even an extra hearing aid on a long trip to foreign countries.
The blind or sight impaired traveler will also benefit from the services of a travel agent who specializes in travel for the handicapped. Special seat arrangements for the blind passenger and his guide dog can be obtained.
Ordinarily, the airline will preboard a blind passenger traveling alone and instruct him or her as to the use of the buttons on the arm rest and the location of the bathroom. The attendants are also instructed to verbally inform the passenger when the no smoking or fasten seat belt sign comes on. A few airlines have the emergency instruction card in Braille, and a few airports have done the same with general airport information. When available, the travel agent can usually obtain copies for the passenger who reads Braille.
The hotel is advised of the sight impaired traveler's arrival, and then at checkin, the guest is taken to his or her room and told where things, such as telephone and temperature controls are located, and how to reach a member of the staff in an emergency.
The qualified travel agent prepares the detailed itinerary not only in writing, but also on cassette tape. Certain items of information might also be passed along to the blind traveler who is making his first airplane trip with his guide dog, such as the metal in the dog's collar may set off the security alarm, or that there is a possibility that the dog and his master may be separated for a short time as they go through the security gates.
There are also certain countries which do not allow entry to any dogs, even guide dogs. The United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and the State of Hawaii, are among a few. This information would, of course, be needed in the early planning stages of the trip.
I have briefly discussed the benefits of using a travel agent to the wheelchair traveler, and to the hearing and sight impaired traveler. However, whatever the particular disability or handicap, the services of a travel agent who specializes in the travel needs of the handicapped, can smooth the way by acting as a liaison between the passenger and the supplier of the service.
A qualified travel agent acts as a confidante to the handicapped person. A handicapped person is sometimes embarrassed and is therefore unable to reply to the supplier of his or her particular needs.
It takes more time to plan and book a trip for a disabled client than for an able-bodied one, because there are many more questions to be asked and answered, both by the agent and the traveler. More telephone calls must be made to check on particular facilities and to transmit special requests and information to the airline or the hotel or to the cruise company, as the case may be. There is no charge to the handicapped client for the specialized services of the travel agent.
There are over 35 million handicapped people in the United States, and more and more disabled people are enjoying the freedom of traveling. Many travel agents are becoming interested in this new and emerging market of the handicapped traveler.
For a recommendation of qualified travel agencies and travel agents, I would suggest contacting respected travel industry organizations for referrals, such as ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents), SATH (Society for the Advancement of Travel for the Handicapped), and ASSIST [the Association for Specialized Services Involving Special Travelers).
Thank you very much.