Tech, Travel, and Twang!

Championing Travel Accessibility

January 08, 2024 Destination Innovate Season 2 Episode 2
Tech, Travel, and Twang!
Championing Travel Accessibility
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Have you ever encountered a hurdle that seemed insurmountable, only to turn it into a beacon of hope for others? That's exactly what Lorraine Woodward, our esteemed guest from rentABLE, did with her personal battle with muscular dystrophy. Her creation of an accessible vacation haven is not just a triumph over adversity but a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Together, we explore Lorraine's journey, from the initial challenges faced by her family while traveling to the broader mission of making short-term rentals a welcoming space for everyone. This heartwarming exchange reveals the transformative power that personal experiences can have on entire industries and the communities they serve.

Traveling with a disability shouldn't be a game of chance, and our latest episode underscores the strides being made to ensure it's nothing short of a guarantee. Venturing into the depths of the short-term rental landscape, we uncover the innovative research leading to certifications and filters that empower travelers with diverse needs. The episode delves into the collective efforts to enlighten both rental providers and the disability community, breaking down barriers that range from misconceived attitudes to inflexible architecture. Join us as we celebrate the vital role of education in propelling the industry forward.

Joy and personal fulfillment often take the backseat in our pursuit of success, but not in this conversation. We wrap up with a reflection on the essence of finding happiness in every endeavor, whether it's reshaping an industry or simply cherishing life's small victories. This episode isn't just about the progress in accessible travel; it's an invitation to embrace joy as a guiding principle in all aspects of life. Tune in for a profound discussion that will leave you inspired and eager to attend the upcoming DestiCon event, where these themes of inclusion and happiness will unfold even further.

Speaker 1:

Well hell, welcome back to Tech Traveling Twang. Well hi, happy new year. Welcome back to Tech Traveling Twang. I'm Jennifer Barbie, your host and chief disruptor at Destination Innovate, and I am really excited about season two, episode two, session. Today we're talking with Lorraine Woodward, from Rentable our rent able really to be a little more specific, and she's going to be a guest at Desticon talking about all the ways that short term properties and DMOs could be more cognizant of people with physical and cognitive disabilities. And Lorraine, welcome so much. Thank you. I'm so happy to be here. We are happy to have you. I'd really love, since everyone's going to get your great knowledge on what to do for their short term rental and destinations at Desticon. What I'd love to do is just get a little history from you about what brought you into this industry. Oh my goodness.

Speaker 2:

All right, we'll try to limit it to our 30 minutes. And so I have muscular dystrophy. I have two boys with MD. You know I wanted our family life to be different, you know, than what I grew up with. And grew up with a single mom didn't travel, did my traveling via medical treatments. So I did New Orleans because of the hospital there, or Nashville because of the Children's Hospital there, but we didn't really vacation. So, having the two boys, it's like, you know, I want to have a different experience for them. So we did, and both of the boys have muscular dystrophy as well. And when the boys were young, mobility wasn't so much an issue for them as it was for me. But as they got older, they started using, you know, scooters to get around. And we, we tried the short term rental. And back in the day, my boys are 26 and 28. Oh, my goodness, they've grown up, I know. So, yeah, 20 something years ago, short term rental wasn't what it is today, which is a good thing, but we tried a number of different options. We even did the Disney trip going. All right, this is going to be our magical place. This is going to be the accessible place. And while it was accessible. There were things like you know my husband, you know I would ask him hey, robert, can you hoist me on the toilet? And the boys are like that Can you pick up something, can you get me on bed? And then for me the greatest challenge was transportation and that you go and get on a bus. But there's only two tear tie downs for wheelchair access. So we had to take two different buses Robert would take one and I would take the other and divide and conquer. And then we meet, quote unquote, at Disney, which isn't very comforting when you have two little guys and you know you're meeting up in this big place. And so now they have graduated high school and it's like, all right, what are we going to do? So we ended up building a vacation property about three hours from where we are here in Raleigh, north Carolina, near the Wilmington North Carolina Carolina area called Carolina Beach, small Island, like five miles by seven miles. And I went to a wedding there and I don't wear shoes and my family like they give me grief all the time, mom, you need to wear shoes. And I'm like, oh, I don't want to wear shoes. So I went to this wedding shoes and you know what? Nobody cared. Nobody cared, I love it, love it Exactly. And then I went to a small church and I knew I was in the right place because the gentleman who was playing a ukulele had no shoes on. And I'm going all right, I found my place, found your people. Yeah, found a lot about a block and a half from the beach. I didn't want to be on the beach, so built this property. And you know what? We come up with some crazy ideas. I knew I wanted the property to be fully accessible for our family. That was number one. Number two I wanted it to be a destination for end of life. I don't know why, but I did. And then, thirdly, I'm designing the bathroom and in my head I'm going oh, I need a bathroom that's big enough for a gurney and three attendants. Well, in the last 20 years I haven't met anybody who has three attendants and needs a gurney for the size of the bathroom that we have. It's huge. And so we built this beautiful, accessible property. First floor is actually an art studio so that they know when Lorraine's garage doors open, you can come over and play. And that was really important to be a community, getting to meet people and just have great experiences. And then the second floor is our rental property and third floor is where we say, with an attitude of private residents, because it's anything but snooty, it's very comfortable, but it's all accessible. That's the great thing. So here we are, built this property, great for our family. And then I started meeting our renters and it's like, wow, I love my renters and I do. I have like the world's best renters. And here I am now. We built in 2014, started renting in 2015. And here we are in 2021 and I'm turning 60 years old and I'm going. All right, I'm not quite ready to retire officially. I want to do one last hurrah. So I'm sitting outside my legs out, kind of sunning myself, looking at the sky, going all right, what brings you happiness? What brings you joy? What do you really love? And I just kept going back to my renters. I love my renters. I love my renters for being a part of their experience in enjoying vacation rental. I thought our family story was unique and you know what we're not. What do you mean? We're not? Because our 400 plus renters all said the same thing, and that was finding an accessible property was hard to find. And that's created becoming rentable.

Speaker 1:

I love that You've expanded right now.

Speaker 2:

We have. We started out I had a communications firm for almost 30 years. So, as I'm thinking about, okay, what is this problem? You know, what is the solution to the problem? How are we going to create a change? And so I spent about a year and three quarters just focusing on who we wanted becoming rentable to be. You know what were the problems, the solutions, how are we going to solve those problems? And we started looking at being a TV show, because you know, I own a communications firm. That made sense to me. How are we going to reach the masses? Because we've got to provide education. So we started down this route. We came up with a 22 minute show. We did eight episodes, created eight episodes, created a sizzle reel and we're ready to go pitch it to somebody for a streaming show. And then I said wait, a minute time out. My team wasn't happy when I said time out and I said you know these are what we believe and what we believe from our professional experience. But really, what are the needs more broadly? So we did a survey. We had an adjunct professor from Harvard who put together our survey and then I thought, all right, how are we going to get it out to everybody, and so we worked with our partners that we had had built relationship with, like National Easter Seals, muscular Dystrophy United, several Palsy, and we worked with these large groups so we could hit the ground, reaching a lot of people to really understand what the needs were. Well, hello, we got an education and realized very quickly that, you know, accessibility is more than wheelchair access and historically, in the short-term rental industry that's what we look at is wheelchair accessible, and hey, I'm in a wheelchair. So I'm all about wheelchair access, yeah, and so I'm like, ok, but you know what? What about? You know? My friends that have autism? What about my friends who are hearing impaired or use a walker? You know why aren't we including that? So we ended up looking at accessibility in broad terms. So now we look at it in mobility, which for us is wheelchairs, walkers, canes and crutches, and then we look at cognitive, which is our autism, our dementia, our anxiety, anything that deals with cognitive area, and then vision, hearing and aging. We rolled out in 2023 our mobility certification efforts. So, looking at what are features you need in an accessible property, what are those choices that people can identify what they need in a property, and now we're getting ready to roll out our cognitive certification. So we're really, really excited about reaching our autism community, our dementia community. We're reaching into the area of invisible disabilities, which is really difficult for a lot of us. You know, we see a wheelchair, we see a walker and we can visualize, maybe, what is needed for an accessible short-term rental. But now, talking about what's in our head, what's going on and what are our needs, so that in itself is challenging and then to say, well, here is what we believe to be true for cognitive and we're getting ready to roll that out.

Speaker 1:

In your mobility certification. What would you say? What have you heard mostly feedback from property owners or destinations Like is that? Is that something they're embracing? Is that something they still need education on?

Speaker 2:

You know education is key. It really is. I mean, you throw out a term like this is my favorite one zero threshold entry. What the heck does that mean? That's the formal name of I can, will into a property with no steps, what I mean, but you throw these words out. What does it mean to have a rolling shower? Well, again, some people go. Well, the, the step is only, you know, two, three inches. Can't they do like the bump that he bump and get in the shower? Well, no, that's not a rolling shower. So I you know there is an area of continuing education. Even for mobility is simple as wheelchair accessibility because we've added the walker, the crutches and the canes are toughest. Critics are really people with disabilities we will promote and and show an accessible, certified property and we'll put it out on social media and then we'll get you know 30, 40, 50 comments. That's not accessible and we explain that what's accessible to you may not be accessible to somebody else, and that's why we created 43 filters so you can choose what is accessible to you like. For me, I need the no step component for my boys who are still mobile. They can do a step in shower so they can lift their leg and step into a shower and maybe preferring that, because now water is not getting all over the floor, or at least the impression that the water is not getting all over outside the shower. So we, we identified our filters so that again we can identify what our needs are. And so there is a lot of education among our people with disabilities and families who can benefit from these accessible properties. And then we take it over to our industry and looking at property managers and hosts you know what does this mean, what kind of work does it, you know, impact us and what we have to do. So there's still a lot of education in that regard and I've been in. My first effort was the National Barrier Awareness Foundation, created in 1985, and our focus back in 1985 was Attitudinal Architectural and Communicative Barriers. So here we are in 2024. And what am I dealing with? Attitudinal Architectural and Communicative Barriers in an industry of the short-term rental, but again the same issue. So 40 plus years of providing education and we still need that education. So I envision that we will be continuing to educate as long as our business is here.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. I can definitely see that from the property management and even the DMO standpoint, like destinations may not really be aware about how they can better do a job of welcoming people with disabilities to their destinations and on the other side, the people with challenges or disability, be the physical or cognitive, may not even be traveling because of that fear of how either they're going to be treated or is it going to be accessible. I think there's a huge are you coming from a communications background kind of makes you the perfect crusader for this.

Speaker 2:

I don't know if it's perfect, because I've been doing it for 40 years and where's our change? But the change is happening. You know, we are being embraced and it is new and we do want to change the industry. I mean, hey, we set out a goal to change the way the short-term rental industry looks at and defines accessible short-term rentals. So if we're going to have a goal, we might as well really make it massive. And we have and we're making progress and that is very exciting. You know, we have the largest inventory of accessible short-term rentals on our listing platform. But yet there are millions of properties available in the United States but only 0.1% is accessible. So if we have a thousand properties out of two, three million properties, that's really unacceptable. It doesn't provide people who want to travel the options that we have if we don't need those accessible features. So we have a lot of work ahead of us.

Speaker 1:

I can see that, and I really. I think, though, it also opens up an economic opportunity that a lot of people aren't thinking about, because the hotel years in the space that have the accessible rooms, but the short-term rental industry is one that's in the most demand from a consumer standpoint. So there's a disconnect there, and I think a lot of I know some of the ongoing conversations I've been having with DMOs and short-term rentals are DMOs are still concerned that short-term rentals are a piece of the market or they're gonna take over the market, so they're also having those communication issues to bridge, but I think this is a huge opportunity that for our DMO listeners to really think about this. You may not own a property, you may have a small amount of your properties, you may have a large amount of your properties, but I feel like this is gonna be a turning point for we hope it will be.

Speaker 2:

When you think of mobility, accessibility, as a property owner, you're going oh my gosh, how much is it gonna cost? I'm gonna have to tear down this wall, I'm gonna have to redo my bathroom, I'm gonna have to add an elevator, and it can be expensive and it doesn't have to be expensive. But as we look at our cognitive efforts, we're looking at a secondary lock on your exterior doors $5 a piece. We're looking at pin locks or a nail in your windows to keep that secondary lock for window exits. We look at dimmer switches, blackout curtains. So the cost to make a property accessible could be as few as $500 or as much as $500. It can be. It's very affordable. There's not the physical aspect of tearing down walls and it is a market of over 35 million Americans that we will be reaching just with our cognition. And then we're not even adding our aging. And in our aging community in 2030, that's just six years away are we prepared for 32 million Americans such as me, the baby boomer here, who will be ready, and in the senior community, wanting to travel, having the money to travel, having the time to travel? But do we have the inventory for them to use? And we don't, and that's why this is our chance to really start looking at our reach and how do we increase our inventory so we are prepared for our seniors and that we are prepared for people to enjoy life as they're living in it.

Speaker 1:

That's a really good point, because everybody, especially in the marketing space, has been talking about how do we get in front of Gen Z and how do we get millennials? But they don't have the money, honestly they don't. But we have a boomer audience who, you're right, is aging. They have the money, they have the discretionary time and, but they're aging and they have, you know, other, not necessarily disabilities, but restrictions of how they want to travel. So I think that's a huge opportunity too for destinations and short terminals to really think about specifically that audience.

Speaker 2:

Well, and we people with disabilities? We actually have money too, like $558 billion of discretionary funds per year. Yeah, are we tapped into those revenues? We're not, and again, it's a huge market and a huge mistake, and the only way that we can take advantage of these monies that are available is through education and awareness, and that's why I believe education is just gonna be what it is Always looking at it and saying there's always that gonna be that reach, because we, you know we are living and our experiences change, you know, through age. What I can do today is not what I could do maybe 20, 30 years ago. I've ran into so many families. It's like I never thought it would be me that I fell and I broke my arm and I have a temporary disability or, you know, I never thought it would be that COVID and now I'm in a walker and that's gonna be long term. You never think it's going to be you and but living life, it can be you and you still want those hopes and dreams and and travel.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, you still want a full life and the full travel piece of that, and I really think destinations should be thinking about this from a city wide perspective, if they are already, because even if you have a wonderful property, completely accessible, completely good for your physical or cognitive disabilities, what's it like once they step outside and experience your city?

Speaker 2:

Exactly. You know that is. I love you for saying that. No, I don't, because we're building a destination component on our website that will unveil, probably second quarter of this year. But it's all about those things that you can do in your community, like where are your Moby mats Gosh? I want to go to the beach. I want to go on a walking trail. You know, is there yoga for my dad? What are those things? Parks and walking trails, what are those activities that are in your community? I mean, I think the other thing that what accessible short-term rental does is we help feel the gap of travel experience in that commonly it's been hotels, you know ground air transportation and hotels. A lot of people can't use a hotel for a number of reasons it doesn't meet their needs, but there's also limited space and how many rooms are available. A big challenge in the hotel industry is somebody is staying there in a room that you have booked. The guests say can we stay one more day? They say, sure, you can stay one more day, we'll just put that rental in another room and that another room doesn't meet their needs. They're in a wheelchair and they can't even get to the bathroom. We really do feel that gap and it's an important gap to feel so that in our industry we are benefiting everyone.

Speaker 1:

I still think air travel has a lot to work on too, though. Well, they do For a lot of reasons, not even from the ability reasons. That's an industry that really needs to revolutionize.

Speaker 2:

We're seeing some changes. Unfortunately, I had the biggest giggles and grins this year when the big announcement came with Delta Airlines and being able to wheel your wheelchair onto the plane. Everybody was like, yes, this is great. Well, what they didn't read was the information at the bottom of the press release to say this is a prototype that Delta hopes to include in the next 10 years and have available. There are changes. They're not necessarily timely changes. We are seeing some changes in the air travel and autism. We've got some really great advocates that are making some differences in autism and air travel.

Speaker 1:

That's amazing, that is awesome. I want you to talk about the Moby Madder second, because that was something that really impressed me. I'm not wheelchair bound, but honestly I can't walk in sand. Are you kidding me? It's so heavy.

Speaker 2:

That's my voice. When I said we were building this rental, they were like Mom, why You're in a wheelchair? We use scooters. We can't walk on the sand, we can't get on the beach. I don't understand this vacation at the beach, being in a small area, worked with City Council, we got curb cuts all over so anybody can get from one end of the island to the other and curb cuts. And then we worked with Moby Mads. We have different points of access to the beach. They tend to be in a T-form. You roll out on this mat that's on the sand, which everybody uses, particularly those with the rolling coolers. They love it, because I love it. Then it spans out across the T. For me I can hang out with my friends on the beach. On the beach I'm not like a block back sitting on a deck waving to them going. I see you, you're that little point right there. No, I can go and be there when my favorite seven-year-old wants to go and build a sandcastle. What we're doing is we're working with Moby Mads. Right now we have Florida and we will be having all the Moby Mads across the United States on our map when you go and you go, I think I want to go to Arkansas. You can either go Hot Springs, arkansas, and it will identify in a 10-mile radius what accessible properties are in that area and also what Moby Mads are in that area. It's not necessarily just for beach access, it's for lakes and rivers and walking trails. Anywhere there is an uneven surface you can place a Moby Mads. We're seeing more and more Moby Mads being placed. It made a big difference for our family at Carolina Beach and that's why we reached out. There are, I believe, another couple of companies out there, but I know and have experienced the Moby Mads. Now I'm like I want everybody to know where these Mads are, because it does change your vacation. Your vacation it's not just you staying in a place that you can enjoy family time and dinners together, but now you're able to embrace the community in which you're visiting and get to know a little more of Carolina Beach or North Carolina because of the access to these various destinations.

Speaker 1:

I love that. I love just the accessibility opening to people's hearts and minds. As we mentioned earlier, lorraine is going to be leading a session for Open Hearts, open Doors on Destacon, which is going to be really exciting to give some more pragmatic and practical tips to short-term rentals and to our DMO audience, which is going to be just amazing. But I have to say just thank you, lorraine, for participating in this industry on the level that you are. It is sorely needed. I know there's a lot of other great programs and I know Jake's doing great work out there too, but I just loved meeting you and I just love the story and the passion and the vigor you have for this. Thank you.

Speaker 2:

Thank you it is. It feels good to feel like it I'll be 62 this month and that I know what my purpose is and you know it's something.

Speaker 1:

Happy birthday.

Speaker 2:

Are you an Aquarius? I am January 31st and I feel really fortunate and blessed that I know what my purposeful, what my purpose is in life and and it's very exciting and and being embraced by our industry has equally been rewarding and optimistic folks that we're going to see this change and expand how we look at accessibility in North America and then globally.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely, I think. I think that's it's going to be a quicker route for you than the last 40 years, Because I think people are ready. The other thing is you have to wait till people are ready to learn and ready to listen, and I think we're in a society now where we're listening much closer, bionic listening. I call it to each other. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Yeah, absolutely. Well, as we are just at the very beginning today is the second of January In 2024, do you have some good advice? If people are looking at what their goals are with the resolutions that could be business, personal, professional, like what's your life advice for us?

Speaker 2:

Life advice. Oh, nice little in question here. Wow, you know, I'm all about looking at what brings you joy and happiness and to really look at how you can make that happen and based it on what brings you not what brings your mother, a family member, a husband, your children but to really look and investigate and see and implement those actions that will bring you joy and happiness in your life.

Speaker 1:

I love that, especially as a mother part, because you're so used to like right putting everybody. What you want is whatever your children want and, I think, bringing joy to yourself. I love that you say that that's going to ripple around, like, if you're not happy with yourself, you're not happy with your life, it's going to affect your colleagues, it's going to affect your industry, it's going to affect your children. So I love that. Joy is our word, then, for 2024. I'm claiming it, lorraine.

Speaker 2:

All right, me too.

Speaker 1:

Awesome. Well, again, thank you so much. We can't wait to see you at Destacon. All right, can't wait to be there.

Improving Accessible Short-Term Rental Options
Improving Accessibility in Short-Term Rentals
Promoting Accessibility in Communities
Finding Joy and Happiness in Life