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Bellingham start-up helping make travel easier for people with disabilities

Bellingham-based start-up Abilitrek helps people with disabilities make travel arrangements that fit their specific needs. (Photo: KOMO News)

BELLINGHAM, Wash. - Daman Wandke was taking a business trip to San Francisco. He booked a hotel room that was said to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but when he got there, it wasn’t what he expected.

“It did not have a roll-in shower,” said Wandke, who has Cerebral Palsy and needs a wheelchair.

He went downstairs to the hotel office and told them he needed an ADA compliant room with a roll-in shower. They checked and told him there wasn't a room with a roll-in shower in the entire hotel.

“They always are surprised,” Wandke said sarcastically.

A similar situation happened with Kyann Flint, who has needed a wheelchair since she was 10 years old.

“I showed up to the hotel and I was put in a room for somebody who is hard of hearing,” said Flint. “It was ADA compliant, but did not fit what I needed."

ADA compliant rooms are bookable online and labeled as such, but it tends to be a "one-size fits all." But disabilities aren’t like that.

“Right now, in most hotel databases, an ADA compliant room is just an ADA compliant room,” said Flint. “It’s not broken into a room for someone who needs a roll-in shower or visual doorbell for those who are hard of hearing.”

It became the genesis of an idea for Wandke. He’s now the CEO of AbiliTrek, a Bellingham-based start-up and hotel booking website designed for travelers with disabilities.

“Even if you book an ADA room, what does that mean? What’s good for one person is not good for another,” said Wandke.

Users build a profile for free and answer a questionnaire that lists 37 disability needs. They range from walk-in showers to flashing fire alarms, bed and counter height, the ability to unlock a door via phone, accessible light switches and resources to help those with vision and hearing disabilities. There's also options for bellhop room tours and airport transit vehicles for travelers with disabilities.

When a user searches for an accommodation, the website incorporates the travelers needs and finds rooms that go beyond the typical ADA profile.

Since hotels generally don’t break down how their ADA rooms are outfitted, the website is building a database of that type of information to augment a user’s search. The information comes from crowdsource and user reviews much like Yelp or TripAdvisor.

Flint serves as AbiliTrek's Chief Accessibility Officer and also makes calls to hotels to verify a client’s booking.

“Need to make sure that they have what the travelers need and that information will also go into our database,” said Flint.

Wandke said there are 36,000 people with disabilities who travel every day, and there is nothing that breaks down the detail of an ADA room as much as AlibiTrek wants to do.

“I’m always looking for new, creative ways to solve the problems in the disability community,” said Wandke.

Flint wants users to feel relaxed just like a typical traveler showing up to normal hotel room.

“Having to worry about accessibility accommodations on top of any other travel needs can be overwhelming,” said Flint. “We want to remove that and make travel way more pleasurable."

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