special needs travel

This New Online Social Community is Making Travel Accessible for Parents With Special Needs Children

special needs travel

By Colleen Hagerty

For many, family vacations are the first taste of travel—the first time trying out a foreign tongue, sampling exotic cuisines, and really understanding that there is a world outside of your neighborhood. This chance to glimpse the globe is what Meg Harris has always wanted to give her two children. But planning a trip proved nearly impossible for the single mother of a special needs child.

“My daughter, Eliza, was born with atypical Rett syndrome and requires extra care for her safety,” Harris explains. “The resources out there for mothers like myself were non existent. It would take me days and even weeks to research destinations.”

Despite the seemingly endless array of travel sites and forums online, Harris says her searches for special needs travel turned up surprisingly empty. She soon realized she was not the only parent frustrated by this lack of resources.

“Other parents told me they would leave their special needs child at home with one parent while the other parent would take the siblings on vacation,” Harris says. “There was always a sadness in their voices because of the disconnect amongst the family experiences, but they would say it’s too scary or just too hard.”

Harris says it was out of this necessity that she decided to take matters into her own hands and create Special Globe. Part forum, part curated guide, she wanted to create a platform that mixed expert and crowd-sourced advice catered solely to special needs families.

“No one is an ‘expert’ about anyone else’s child but them, typical or special,” Harris admits. “But parents of special needs children share a connection and kinship of understanding. The content we are developing and sharing is genuine and organic with the power of our social community.”

Harris turned to her childhood friend, Jonathan Yardley, for help launching the project. As a former User Experience Researcher and consultant on the travel industry,Yardley believes the site fills an important void.

“Given the rise in diagnosis worldwide of special needs, the portrait of the global family is changing,” Yardley says. “We want all families to feel welcome out in the world and will push for the travel industry to recognize this growing and significant market. Not just to follow the ADA rules and regulations but to employ empathy and understanding in being open for business for these beautiful families.”

Though the site is still in beta, Harris and Yardley have already curated a number of articles, including tips on navigating airports and the Holy Grail of family vacation spots—Disney World. With a team of experienced travel writers and affiliations with high-profile special needs organizations already lined up, Harris believes the site offers comprehensive advice for a wide variety of families.

With Special Globes’s official launch on November 1st, families will even be able to book trips directly from the site through Tarita’s Travel Connections, a boutique agency in Canada. The company’s owner, Tartia Davenock, has Multiple Sclerosis, giving her a unique understanding of what special needs vacations entail. Harris and Yardley hope families will see this final feature as a true invitation to stop worrying and start traveling.

“Traveling breaks down barriers and brings us understanding of other cultures and other geographic areas that no other activity really can, “urges Yardley. “We have a social mission to empower families globally, educate the travel industry on how to better serve them, and for all of us to explore more.”

About the author:

As a multimedia journalist based in New York City, Colleen Hagerty has her finger on the pulse of the city’s breaking news. From Hurricane Sandy to Fashion Week, she has experience covering high-profile stories, with a specialty in “good news” features on locals contributing to their communities. Currently, Colleen is embarking on a journey through the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Australia. You can check out her latest work abroad at A Glance of the Globe.

Photo family traveling graphic via Shutterstock

seven mile miracle oahu
The Culture-ist