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SATH 12th World Congress Wraps up at Walt Disney WorldÆ Resort

The SATH 12th World Congress for Travelers with Disabilities & the Mature was held at Disney's Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World® Resort, Florida, Sunday January 6 - Wednesday January 9, 2008.

Here is the complete Congress wrap-up!

The SATH 12th World Congress for Travelers with Disabilities and the Mature held January 6-10, 2008 at Disney’s Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World®, Florida, was a resounding success. This is the Disability Travel market’s premier educational event, attracting over 300 progressive travel professionals who are finding out new ways to be profitable in these challenging times.


This year’s theme was “We are in the People Business,” recognizing the importance of the one on one interaction among guests and the providers of the various services used by all travelers, most importantly those with disabilities. The recipient of the prestigious SATH Access to Freedom Award for 2007 was Roy E. Flora, COO of US Franchise Systems, Inc. (USFS), parent company of the franchisor for Microtel Inns & Suites, and Hawthorn Suites brands. Flora was recognized for his ongoing efforts to reach out to travelers with disabilities to create a more universal experience. Also receiving awards were Nancy Black of the Tempe (Arizona) Convention & Visitors Bureau, accepting the Media Award for the CVB’s publication of a guide to the accessibility features of Tempe. This year there were two recipients of the “Murray” Award, named after SATH founder Murray Vidockler, CTC, for outstanding achievement in promoting the mission of SATH. Richard Kitson, a long time SATH member was recognized for his dedication to reinvigorating the SATH chapter in Bermuda. Nita Shuart Alexander, CTC of Allen Travel Service in Dallas, Texas also received the “Murray” for her ongoing efforts to speak on behalf of SATH to a multitude of industry groups.


Addressing the Congress in a Keynote Speech was Joseph Leonard, Chairman of AirTran Airways, spoke about the airline’s commitment to serving the disability market through extensive training as well as hiring people with visual impairments as customer service representatives. Peter Pantuso, President and CEO of the American Bus Association addressed the Congress on the progress made in the motorcoach industry.  Delegates also attended a general session “dialogue” which asked the question “What Do Travelers with Disabilities Really Need?” Moderator Jim Smith, CTIE of Market Share, Inc. created a conversation among the participants, representing industry segments (airlines, cruise lines, hotels, motorcoach, destinations, and attractions) and travelers with various disabilities (mobility, vision, hearing and hidden). This was a well received session with both groups and the audience sharing the positive steps that have evolved over the years, as well as suggestions for improvements.


Royal Caribbean International hosted a luncheon featuring an overview of the recent deaf charter of Freedom of the Seas, where over 3,600 guests experienced a truly remarkable cruise, which included over 120 sign language interpreters as well as top names in deaf entertainment. Lisa Bauer, CTC, Senior VP of Hotel Operations and Guest Satisfaction presented a recap of the cruise and reinforced Royal Caribbean’s overall commitment to guest with disabilities. Tabitha and Mac Partlow of Passages Deaf Travel shared a slide show of the cruise itself.

CLIA provided an educational session on “Building a Smart Business Plan.” Additionally, there were twelve Breakout Sessions offered including a new panel on Adventure Travel, showing how people with varying types of disabilities can participate in things like kayaking, skiing, ballooning and more. Inclusive Design, Service Animals (“Doggie Dilemma”), Website Accessibility, as well the traditional Destination Panel, moderated by Sue Shapiro, CTC of Shapiro Travel Resources, and the Making $$ Panel, led by Dave Stockert, CTC of Holland America Line, were among other exciting education events.


Thanks also go to our hosts for providing a wonderful opportunity for all delegates to get to know one another. A lovely cocktail reception and dinner was hosted by the Orlando/Orange County CVB along with the Kissimmee CVB, and Seminole County CVB. Microtel Inns & Suites and Hawthorn Suites hosted an informative breakfast, as did the Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB. Spectacular evening events were held at SeaWorld, where delegates saw the Shamu show “Believe,” experienced the “Wild Arctic” and had a fine time dining and dancing. Universal Orlando Resort hosted an evening beginning with an informative presentation on park and ride accessibility, and then guests had an opportunity to try out two rides, “Men in Black” and “Jaws” as well as sample a wonderful meal and dessert with music. Finally our hosts at Walt Disney World® Resort sponsored lovely coffee breaks and the farewell gathering for a spectacular dessert reception at Epcot® while viewing Illuminations.


The World Congress was attended by many veteran travel agents, tour operators and suppliers as well as many newcomers from the US and Canada, as well as many foreign countries. Each year brings more awareness of this “niche” market of over 50 million Americans, and over 800 million worldwide. Destinations, cruise lines, attractions, hotels, airlines and others are responding to meet the special needs of travelers with hearing, vision, mobility, cognitive, and hidden impairments.


Plans are already in the works for the SATH 13th World Congress in 2009, retuning to the magical host property at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, January 4-8. Registration has already begun and details can be found on the SATH website,, World Congress 2009.


The Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (SATH) is a non-profit educational organization that has actively represented travelers with disabilities since 1976. SATH's mission is to promote awareness, respect and accessibility for travelers with disabilities and the mature and educate the travel, tourism and hospitality industry on becoming more accessible for persons with disabilities.
SATH works vigorously for the creation of a barrier-free environment (architectural and attitudinal) throughout all segments of the travel and tourism industry, in the United States and abroad. The Society's efforts bore fruit in the access section of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and in the Air Carriers Access Act.


To raise awareness and provide detailed training on how to serve and market to travelers with disabilities, SATH organizes conferences and has sponsored the World Congress for Travelers with Disabilities and the Mature since 1997. Travel professionals on completion of the Congress gain not only knowledge about disability travel and how to serve the market efficiently, but also how to remain current on the latest developments in this segment. For additional information about SATH, please call 212-447-7284 or visit SATH’s web site at