Being an Effective Self-Advocate


I get a lot of questions from readers about the logistics of accessible travel. Some people ask questions about upcoming trips, some want particular recommendations and some write to tell me about problems they encountered in their travels. And although the folks that had problems usually aren’t happy campers, most still ask the the same question, “What should I have done?” Granted, a few cases were truly no-win situations, and nothing could have saved the day; however most folks could have salvaged their trips by being a more effective self-advocate.

The process really is pretty simple, and it can be broken down into five easy steps.

1. Learn the Law

You can’t tell when something is going wrong unless you know what right is, so learn the laws that govern accessible travel. And the best way to do that is to go directly to the source, and read the regulations as they were written. The two documents you need to familiarize yourself with are the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

The US Access Board has a great site, with everything you could possibly want to know about the ADAAG, from how high toilets should be to how many accessible parking spaces are required.

If you want to read the text of the ACAA, the Department of Transportation has that document on-line, including the most recent revisions. And if you have questions, they also operate a hotline at (866) 266-1368.

2. Speak Up

When you first notice something going awry, speak up. Don’t just sit back and hope things will clear up on their own.

3. Explain the Problem

Clearly and calmly explain the problem and ask for a specific solution. Granted, it isn’t easy to keep your cool when things are unraveling around you, however it’s essential. If you get upset and yell, chances are the person you are dealing with will stop listening; and you really need them to listen so they can understand the problem and work out a solution. So try and keep your cool.

4. Go Up the Ladder

If your problem remains unresolved, ask to speak to a supervisor, or if you’re dealing with an airline, the Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). All airlines are required to have a CRO available during operating hours. These folks know the law, and will set things right. Try to mitigate damages whenever possible, so you can save your vacation. Work with someone in charge to do this.

5. Follow Up

If the problem isn’t resolved to your liking, or you feel you are owed some compensation, follow up with a letter to the corporate office when you get home. And if you still don’t get satisfaction, address the appropriate regulatory agency. It should be noted that complaints of this nature will not result in direct compensation, but the business may be fined and required to make access improvements.

So remember to keep your head, next time you hit a travel snag. In the end, it will help you get your vacation back on track in a timely manner. And that’s what really matters.