SNG’s warehouse abuts the Florida East Coast Railway, making rail deliveries possible, Garnett says. In addition to a call center in the front, the facility includes a storage area in the back that looks like the start of a wheelchair race. Row after row of wheelchairs await, freshly sanitized and ready for transport. Other equipment such as walkers and lift chairs, recliners and oxygen machines, and even doggy life vests for service dogs fill metal shelves along one wall. In the back of the room are several large, heavy-duty wheelchairs, including some that can accommodate individuals weighing up to 700 pounds.
Among SNG’s newest offerings are colorful “Joy on the Beach” two-wheel wheelchair and four-wheel rollators. Their big yellow tires are inflated, making them capable of rolling along the sand without getting stuck.
Such equipment can dramatically improve experiences for special needs travelers.
“It’s amazing the letters we receive,” Garnett says. “People think they cannot travel anymore. A lot of people think that as they get older they just need to stay home and see the world through the television.”
What started as a niche is becoming mainstream. Census figures from 2005, the latest available statistics, indicate 19 percent of the U.S. population lives with some form of disability. That amounts to 47 million people with disabilities in the United States, with more to come, given demographic trends. According to 2010 census data, more than half of Americans over 65 have a disability of some sort.
And with age comes discretionary income, as well as a desire to see the world. Unlike earlier generations, Baby Boomers want to travel, despite their disabilities.
“They are the first generation that views travel as a birthright,” Garnett says. “It’s not necessarily a luxury. The have-it-your-way generation is not ready to slow down. So, getting this type of equipment allows them to still enjoy an active lifestyle.”
The disabled are spending some serious coin on their travel. In 2005, Americans with disabilities spent $13.6 billion on travel, according to the Open Doors Organization, a Chicago-based nonprofit that seeks to make goods and services in travel and tourism accessible to people with disabilities. And that spending is increasing at about 3 percent annually, said Eric Lipp, the organization’s director.
Much of that money is going toward cruise vacations. According to a Harris poll conducted for Open Doors, the percentage of disabled cruisers is twice that of the general population.
Thanks to SNG’s services, cruise agent Vicky Garcia of Cruise Planners-American Express Travel has successfully arranged reunions that allow all family members to attend. “Andrew and his company have made us realize that anyone can travel.”