By Andrew Mitchell
Last fall Huey Tollett launched a new website called Whistler for the Disabled ( www.whistlerforthedisabled.com ), providing information to visitors with a wide range of disabilities on the various services and programs that are available, as well as where to stay, eat and shop.
Recently Tollett expanded the site to include a new Tour Adventures Recreation Guide for the Disabled, which lists activities and adventures available for individuals with various types of disabilities.
“We have had such a great response from the business community that we have had to separate our guide into a winter and summer tour adventures. The summer guide will be out in the spring with more adventures customized to a person’s disability.”
Tours are broken down on the website by disability type, with separate lists for the mobility restricted, hearing impaired, deaf, visually impaired, blind, and family and friends of people with developmental disabilities.
For example, the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program offers ski and snowboard lessons and guides for people with a wide range of disabilities, and recently expanded the program to include activities like cross-country skiing, hand biking, and even whitewater kayaking. Wheelchairs have been off the Whistler Bungee bridge, and disabled people have done everything from Ziptrek to ATV and snowmobile tours.
With a little notice most tour operators can accommodate various types of abilities, says Tollet.
Overall he says the website is doing well and helping visitors plan trips to Whistler. One example is a family in Mississauga that recently used the website to book a vacation to Whistler with their disabled son.
“They were very happy for the online web assistance provided as they are now set up for recreation options provided by Whistler Adaptive Sports Program,” said Tollett. “It is really good to help people who have disabilities by providing them with an enhanced experience in Whistler and all it has to offer.”
To date, Tollet says there 86 local businesses listed on the site, and he expects that number to increase to over 100 over the next few months. As the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games get closer, Tollett believes that the number of disabled visitors to the resort will increase significantly. He also credits initiatives like the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program, the Whistler Accessibility Project, the municipality, Whistler-Blackcomb and other stakeholders for making the resort more appealing to people who are disabled or have a disability in the family.
To help businesses better prepare tours, Tollet says it’s important for the booking family to clearly specify the disability in question as well as any special needs or considerations.
As well, he says it’s important for concierges and other booking agents to familiarize themselves with the site.
“I am sure tourism staff were at a loss on activities for their clients who were disabled and had to make calls to find out access information. Each person’s disability is unique and finding that information fast in a busy environment was very difficult until now,” said Tollet, who is hearing impaired. “A lot of occasions I would see people with disabilities just wandering around the village not knowing what to do in Whistler.”
Whistler also has a lot of skill when it comes to serving the disabled that is relatively untapped. For example, Tollett points to the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program which has adaptive ski instructors that can speak up to 12 different types of sign language.
“Very impressive as I have not even mastered one yet,” said Tollett.