Special Needs Group Looks to Make the Caribbean More Accessible


Joy on the Beach wheelchair makes enjoying the ocean possible for disabled clients.

In May, Special Needs Group, Inc. (SNG) announced it had expanded its special needs equipment and services throughout all of Italy. And Jim Smith, the company’s official consultant, told Travel Agent on Tuesday that the Caribbean could be next.

The company, based in Dania, Florida, is a provider of wheelchair rentals, scooter rentals, oxygen rentals and other special needs equipment rentals. The expansion to Italy is one of many milestones as the company furthers its promise of "Delivering an Accessible World."

Smith says the Caribbean remains on the company’s radar, along with Asia and Mexico.

"The Caribbean, as a destination, would be well-served to re-visit accessibility as many of its most dedicated repeat clientele are now, or soon to be, confronted with special needs that may necessitate alternative vacation choices,” says Smith.

But finalizing a deal with Caribbean officials may still take a little while since Smith says, “Conversations still haven’t come to closure.”

“If you look at the Caribbean over the last 30 years compared to where it is today, you can see they made significant strides in infrastructure, but there is still a need in this area,” says Smith.

Now, it should be clear that the company is not looking to single out the Caribbean – or any other destination - for poor practices, but rather looking to help certain destinations correct an obstacle presented simply by the lay of the land.

“You go to Europe and you look at the cobblestone streets and early construction,” says Smith. “The topography doesn’t exactly lend itself to accessibility. Getting around in a wheelchair in Europe is really tough. You almost need shock absorbers. But then you go to a street in Portland, Maine, and you may have the same experience. How the destination was physically built serves as the biggest obstacle in many cases.”

And the best solution, Smith says, to overcoming these obstacles is having modern, state-of-the-art equipment as opposed to relying simply on wheelchairs and ramps.

For accessible clients heading to the Caribbean, Smith recommends the Joy on the Beach (JoB), an Italian-designed “all terrain vehicle” that has oversized wheels, is lightweight, portable, easy to assemble, attractive and affordable. Smith describes it as a wheelchair that can recline. It is smaller than the traditional wheelchair and has oversized rubber wheels that are air inflated and an aluminum body. It breaks and folds up into a duffle bag. Special Needs Group is the exclusive supplier of the Joy on the Beach wheelchair in the United States. The wheelchair is lightweight, can accommodate weights up to 220 pounds and is suitable for both children and adults.

Longtime agent, John F. Lawton, a Massachusetts-based Caribbean specialist for the last 30 years, has been fighting to make Caribbean resorts more accessible for the last few years and says that most disabled clients aren’t even aware of some of their rights, not to mention all of the products that are available to them. 

“Some people in wheelchairs think after they check in that they will be confined to the first floor,” he says, “but they don't know all of the equipment that could have been arranged for them that could help them get up stairs in seconds. There simply needs to be more education for the hotels, for the agents, for the clients.”

According to statistics provided by SNG, by 2015, the percentage of individuals aged 65 or over is expected to jump to become nearly 25 percent of the population in Europe and 20 percent in the U.S. More so than other traveler segments, these individuals tend to have special needs relating to limited mobility, breathing problems, hearing loss, diminished vision, etc. 

To book equipment and services through SNG to Italy and throughout the world, agents can visit www.specialneedsgroup.com.

And keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for more updated on this story.


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