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Welcoming the Disabled Spa-goer

By: Naomi Serviss
Posted: September 28, 2012, from the October 2012 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
The Royal Caribbean cruise line follows the lead of the ADA accessibility guidelines for land-based facilities, resulting in leading-edge spas that are available for all clients, disabled or otherwise.

The Royal Caribbean cruise line follows the lead of the ADA accessibility guidelines for land-based facilities, resulting in leading-edge spas that are available for all clients, disabled or otherwise.

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Laurel Van Horn, the research director of Opendoorsnfp.org, a Chicago-based website specializing in accessible travel, is a world traveler, and encourages the travel and resort industry to pay attention to the needs of the disabled population. An economist who traded academia for a full-time focus on her passion for accessible travel, Van Horn was first motivated while she was in Zambia, Africa. “I began writing for the Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality, and just became more and more interested in this demographic,” she says. “I grew up around the disabled community; it was just normal for me. I grew up with kids who had polio and were deaf, and it was just the way things were.” Her mission is to educate the travel and spa industries about attracting the disabled. At the same time, she also encourages empowerment and success in the disability community itself.

“It’s not just the seniors or baby boomers,” Van Horn says. “There’s a growth market in war veterans, for example. One thing I noticed about American spas is that they are more geared toward the rich and fit, where in Europe, spas are considered places offering health services, not just pampering.”

One of the simplest ways spas can become more accessible is by having a hydraulic table. “A good sales point is this: It’s also better for therapists who can ensure their posture is comfortable,” Van Horn says. “And for wheelchair users, it’s that much easier to get on the table.” Also, an essential, inexpensive way to inform potential clients is by using the spa’s website to reach out to people with disabilities. This is a great tool to provide information about your accessibility, and to depict someone in a wheelchair on the website is just good business, says Van Horn. By including pictures of adults with disabilities in your promotional materials, you are acknowledging their presence in society and your message is clearly inclusive, she explains.

In some cases, wheelchair users can even stay in their chair for certain treatments, she adds, and video of this can be showcased on your website, as well. “Scalp care, for example, could be done with the client in her own wheelchair.” Many cruise ships are also conscientious about providing accessible treatments. “Cruise ships often have an older clientele, so this industry has been ahead of the curve in providing access to pools, spas and staterooms.”

Examples in accessibility

Ron Pettit, senior specialist, access at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., represents three different lines. Royal Caribbean ships all have spas offering a range of skin care and body treatments, massages, hair and nail care. All of the ships are accessible, Pettit says. Although some of the older vessels may lack conformity to the latest ADA regulations, the newest ships offer up-to-date improvements. Two of the ships—Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas—have some of the largest spas at sea, featuring fully accessible treatment rooms with a roll-in shower. Changing rooms and restrooms are also accessible. These two ships also offer dedicated teen spas, YSpa, which are also wheelchair accessible. The cruise line follows the lead of the ADA accessibility guidelines for land-based facilities.