Righting a wrong: handicapping disabled customers

Two wars over the past decade have had the unfortunate consequence of a surge in disabled veterans who by some estimates approximate 3.5 million ; nearly all of them are customers for goods and services thanks to mobility that is enabled by technology.  The same ability to step out is true for the general population of disabled citizens where an estimated 1 in 5 are in need of an assist of some form or the other. 

Yet, despite stringent regulations like the ADA, many establishments including restaurants and similar places of assembly seldom fully take into account the need to accommodate them. Few are as incapable and/or even insensitive to the issue than some airlines as this recent report in USA Today explains.

An unnamed airline left the challengingly named Yomi Wrong of the Center for Independent Living in
Berkeley, Calif
., stranded after a flight.  Upon landing, she was left on the plane for an hour while the airline tried
to locate her motorized wheelchair. When it finally was brought to her,
the headrest and backrest were broken off and lying on the seat. No one
from the airport or the airline would help her try to fix her chair,
citing liability concerns.

Compounding the foregoing are recent moves like fitting aircraft with smaller seats as this only aggravates the problem since most disabled customers need more space. Hotels have through a combination of regulation and, in the case of more than a few, a genuine desire to be more forthcoming in catering to this special market been ahead of the curve.

Few in the hospitality business though have proven as adept as Disney in not only recognizing the need but also benefitting from their being attuned to it. The "benefits " from Disney's recognition of the market has spawned a rush by "normal" folks to pass themselves off as those in need of specialized service and treatment. The Orlando Sentinel comments on the high rate of "abuse" of the theme park and hospitality operator's disabilties policy. With even the wealthy balking at $1,800 for a "VIP tour" that gets one to the head of lines a few have taken to "selling" disabled passes. A similar scenario unfolds with some regularity at boarding gates in airports with some passengers showing up in wheelchairs in order to board early only to walk normally down the jetway.  Nevertheless, such instances of abuse ought not to take away from the many benefits including goodwill that are derived from being receptive to the needs of this growing market.


Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.