Debra Kerper of Easy Access Travel shares her insight into traveling as a disabled person.
“I always have to put myself out there as an example to my clients,” said Debra Kerper, founder of Easy Access Travel, an agency that specializes in accessible travel.
Kerper has experienced many stages of mobility throughout her life. At 20, she was diagnosed with Lupus. At 29, she became a below-the-knee amputee, and years later, her other leg was amputated due to severe vascular problems. “It was a real game-changer,” says Kerper. With each disability came a new binder of rules and regulations. She did not have the same freedoms as before.
Kerper could have crumbled under the weight of her limitations. Instead, she embraces them, refusing to let her disability become chains. Her vigor and vigilance are unwavering, even in a world of obstacles and roadblocks. To date, she has traveled to over 30 countries.
“I’m not a person to sit around,” said Kerper. “I have to have a purpose.”
Easy Access Travel is Kerper’s love letter to her community, a resource for those who wish to see a world not built for them. Kerper’s issue isn’t getting clients to travel but helping them start. “I get this a lot,” said Kerper. “So, I’ll say, well, you start with me.” For disabled people, traveling is a series of roadblocks and obstacles and can quickly become overwhelming.
Kerper’s community does not have the luxury of effortlessly going wherever they please. They must carefully consider their paths, be mindful of what is accessible and not. She is a liaison between her clients and their destination, curating detailed vacations with their particular disabilities in mind.
Beyond the handicap-friendly hotels and tours, Kerper’s main job is what she refers to as “mental hand-holding.” She often has long conversations with her clients, speaking through their anxieties about traveling.
Traveling to new destinations, surrounded by foreign cultures, can displace anyone outside their comfort zone. For disabled people, that unfamiliarity is layered with additional concerns of accessibility. “There’s fear because we all have fear of the unknown,” said Kerper. “And that is very, very powerful.”
Narrow cobblestone alleyways in Italy or quaint street side cafés in France might not support someone who uses a wheelchair or walker. The disabled community is not afforded the same ability of spontaneity and must think of these things before venturing out into the world.
Often, Kerper puts clients in touch with others who have traveled to the same area before. It’s comforting to hear from those who have experienced a place and know what challenges or limitations await.
Even with all of Kerper’s knowledge and experience, she still faces challenges. The inconsistency of the hotel industry is a significant point of contention. “The definition of accessibility to the hotel industry is just all over the place,” said Kerper. A conglomerate might have multiple identical buildings, but the definition and application of accessibility between them is not. There isn’t a single governing voice that considers accessibility, creating uniform policies and rooms to accommodate disabled people.
Just a few weeks ago, she stayed in a hotel and couldn’t take a shower because her wheelchair was unable to fit between the toilet and wall. It’s minor details like this that are overlooked by able-bodied architects who are not considering the needs of disabled people.
Fortunately, where hotels fail, cruises thrive. “The cruise industry is just phenomenal when it comes to accessibility and accommodation,” said Kerper. “I wish the hotel industry would take a lesson.”
Cruises are trailblazers for accessible and uniform architecture. Their boars continue to effectively support the needs of disabled people and provide them with a comfortable experience. “I’ll always tell somebody with a mobility challenge that their best first choice for a successful vacation is a cruise,” says Kerper. “I know what they’re gonna encounter. I can pretty much guarantee a great time.” It’s no wonder Kerper has been aboard over 90 ships herself.
Easy Access Travel is a powerful resource and stress reliever for a community often overlooked by society. Disabled people deserve to see all the beauty this world offers, regardless of their different mobility. The travel industry continues to make positive changes, but it’s still a long way from true inclusivity. Hopefully, more of the industry will follow cruises’ lead and take accessibility more seriously.
Watch the Deep Dive episode above for more on Kerper’s most memorable clients, Easy Access Travel, and what it’s like to travel as a disabled person.