Cruising has become the vacation of choice for disabled travelers for several years now and more and more people with special needs are enjoying everything that cruises have to offer at an amazing rate. A recent Princess Cruise had 85 passengers using scooters and that did not include people using wheelchairs and walkers!!! The word is out….cruising is definitely the way to go for people with all types of disabilities.
With this in mind, two Holland America ships docked in San Diego were the site of a new Sensitivity Training Video being produced by Holland America and her sister companies this past weekend. Kudos to these cruise lines for their commitment to the disabled community and to their ongoing quest to improve services and to make sure they are doing the best job possible.
I was honored to be a part of this process both as a person with a disability and as a travel agent who specializes in meeting the needs of disabled and mature travelers. Several of us gathered together early on a beautiful Saturday morning in San Diego Harbor and were anxious to do our part in furthering the knowledge of crew and staff in relation to their ability to communicate with passengers with various special needs. A man with ataxia who uses a wheelchair and a companion dog and has a full time attendant, a blind woman who has a guide dog, a woman with multiple sclerosis who uses a scooter and is also deaf and signs, a woman who is a paraplegic, a man who has a traumatic head injury and is visually impaired and uses a cane to navigate, a woman who is an amputee and has lupus and uses mobility aids on an as needed basis…..these were the Saturday participants. Several other people with disabilities participated on Sunday.
Scenes were videotaped showing the best way to assist people in different circumstances whether it was embarking or disembarking the ship, getting around the ship, ordering food in the dining room or becoming familiar with the staterooms and the extra equipment which is available depending on the person’s needs.
All the disabled participants were interviewed privately and were asked questions about how they felt different situations should be handled. They were asked to express their feelings when someone assumed they needed help without asking their permission first. If they used a wheelchair or scooter, they were asked how they felt if someone leaned on their chair or failed to make eye contact with them. Each person had the opportunity to express what was important to them and what staff and crew could do to make their experiences better.
It was truly a wonderful and very worthwhile experience to play a part in the making of this video. Cruise lines are not governed by the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) yet today’s cruise ships offer some of the best access in terms of stateroom and public area design that one can find in a vacation destination. The cruising industry has embraced the disabled community and has made it clear that we are not only welcome on their ships but that they will continually strive to make sure that we are treated properly and with dignity.