Due diligence a must for travelers with special needs


Elizabeth Kelly of Viera remembers fondly the three-day trip she conducted for Greatest Generation veterans to see the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. PBS filmed the adventure.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Kelly

While visiting Ireland years ago, Elizabeth Kelly experienced a revelation that was to shape her career.

Kelly, a travel agent, was touring the Emerald Isle when she realized how impossible the adventure she was enjoying would be for her very good friend, who had mobility issues.

Kelly originally thought that clients for a special travel agency dedicated to assisting travelers with special needs would come primarily from retiree-rich Florida. She was wrong.

“A high majority come from out of state,” said Kelly, who said the internet has proven to be her business’ best friend.

Many clients seek to check off bucket list destinations, such as the 90-year-old grandmother returning to Ireland with her granddaughter.

“It meant a lot to her and that means a lot to me,” Kelly said.

As an accredited disability and autism-friendly agent, as well as an accessible travel specialist, Kelly knows the ins and outs of getting around in unfamiliar territory when you might have to use a wheelchair or have issues such as blindness or deafness.

“Communication is the big key, particularly with the airlines,” she said.

Doing due diligence when researching travel pays off, too. The Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality recommends folks with special needs connect with customer service or the special needs desk of airlines or cruise lines to explain the situation and ask for needed accommodations, such as bulkhead seating or special dietary requirements.

“They have to express what they need, because there are products and services they may not be aware of, such as asking a cruise wait staff to pre-cut food or provide soft food for someone who has been paralyzed from a stroke,” Kelly said.

She recommends the spring as the best time to travel, whether you are disabled or not.

“It’s pleasant weather for those who are sensitive to heat, and there are less people out and about because schools haven’t yet let out,” she said.