Travel For All with Tarita Davenock | EXPLORING DIFFERENT BRAINS Episode 23


In this episode, Harold Reitman, M.D. speaks with Tarita Davenock, founder of Travel For All– a full service travel agency specializing in accessible travel, and host of The Lonely Planet’s Travel For All show. Tarita discusses her personal experiences traveling with multiple sclerosis, the considerations that travel companies must take in to account for the neurodiverse, and the importance of inclusivity.

For more information about Tarita and her work, visit:
www.travelforall.ca

or contact her at: 1-888-993-9295 or info@travelforall.ca

And check out her radio show, at: boldradiostation.com/tarita-davenock

 

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HACKIE REITMAN, M.D. (HR):

Hi, welcome to another episode of Exploring Different Brains. Im Dr. Hackie Reitman, and today, all the way from up in Canada, we have Tarita Davenock who’s got a very interesting travel agency, because its travel-for-all. And were going to get into that right now because she formed a travel company so everybody could travel because Tarita is all-inclusive. Welcome, Tarita, how are you?

TARITA DAVENOCK (TD):

Thank you, I’m doing well.. Thank you.

HR:

Well, introduce yourself to our audience.

TD:

I am Tarita Davenock, I am accessible travel specialist, and I basically help people with varied abilities to see the world. Invisible and visible disabilities.

HR:

And how did you get into all of this?

TD:

Well its kind of serendipitous actually. My background was a social worker, so thats what I was doing for many many years, and then at 29 I was diagnosed with MS. So Multiple Sclerosis threw this curveball my way and I had to rethink about, okay now what am I going to do with myself? I was in child protection, so I was on the road all of the time, and I worked with families that had children that had autism, tourette’s, down syndrome, all of the developmental disabilities. So Ive traveled the world, Ive always loved traveling–so I thought maybe travel might be something I move into, and my neurologist said, “Find something less stressful,” which is kind of funny, because life is stressful, especially when youre raising two teenagers. So if I can survive that I can survive anythig.

HR:

You started a travel agency. It was originally called Tarita’s Travel Connections?

TD:

Originally called Tarita’s Travel Connections, and I re-branded my name Travel for All, which coincides with a project that I am working on with the lonely planet.

HR:

Tell us about the Lonely Planet.

TD:

The Lonely Planet is, any time anyone’s thinking about traveling, they go and buy one of the Lonely Planet’s guide books, which tells them all about this destination. But their accessible travel manager, how that position actually formed was my partner in crime, he has been with the lonely planet for many, many years and he is an avid bike rider. So en route to work one day, he was hit by a car and became a quadriplegic. So when he went back to lonely planet and he asked them what do we have for people that have various barriers that effect how they travel, they had nothing. So he began the Travel For All project. And so he and I connected and he decided that there needs to be a format for people who are either seniors, or people with disabilities, whatever it may be, to be able to learn about the world. And once accessible about it, and so thats what were working on is the TB project.

HR:

So you have a big welcoming tent for everybody with any kind of disability, not just intellectual, not just–

TD:

It is, yes. Absolutely. My companies mantra is that travel should be INclusive, not EXclusive.

HR:

I like that. That’s great. How have you been received by the travel industry?

TD:

The travel industry is, in all honesty, a little bit slow to move on this demograph. I mean there is 1.6 billion people in this world that are disabled and the travel industry is very much–theyre centered around–the law for accessible–you know, theyll have rooms for people with wheelchairs, et cetera, et cetera, which is fantastic–but that’s all they do. And they dont quite yet see that this is a demographic that is brewing. Its not declining, its inclining. So thats what part of my job is, as well as Im out there being an advocate instead of yelling atop a soapbox, that this is something that they need to start paying attention to so that they can offer something for everyone.

HR:

Well thats great, you know, I was mentioning you–I was having breakfast with a friend of mine, Bill Balmgartner, and he used to be one of the–the admiral who was running the whole Eastern Seaboard or Southern Fleet, whatever they call it with the Coast Guard, and now he’s the vice president at Royal Caribbean cruiselines. And I was talking about that and he was talking about Royal Caribbean now has some specific different cruises for various different things. I think one of them is autism, I dont know a whole lot about it.

TD:

Yep, Autism at Sea. Royal Caribbean actually is one of the cruiselines that I would say really stepped up front to accomodate people with disabilities. And in children with autism, tourette’s, down syndrome–and its kind of funny how Autism at Sea began was by a fellow whos in Florida, I believe, who is a Miami Dolphins fan, and Dan Marino was his favorite. So Dan Marino’s son has autism–So Dan Marino began a foundation so this fellows name is Mike and Mike began Autism at Sea, so he then reached out to the Royal Caribbean, who said, hey, this is a great idea. So they now–I think theyre at silver level as far as being certified for being autism friendly. So theyve got great, great products for families that want to travel, to cruise with their child, and have their child included and not be where they have to sit in a movie theater and not move.

It doesnt work for a kid who has autism. They need to be able to walk around the room, doing whatever it is they like and glance at the TV screen, the video screen for a minute, go back to doing what they’re doing. So theyre very very aware of this. So its fantastic and I use them all the time. And they do have some great programs for people as well for people that are disabled as far as theyre in a wheelchair. They do have–theyre one of the only cruiselines that has a lift in their swimming pool, so its fantastic, because if youre wanting to swim, you can be lifted from your wheelchair into the pool, and vice versa. So thats great, because not all cruise lines have that. So I do like Royal Caribbean quite a bit. I use them a lot.

HR:

How do people who want to book travel, how do they book it through you? Where do they go?

TD:

I have a toll-free number, and they call me and we talk about–they call and one of my team will answer and we will look after exactly what they need, because every person that has a disability has a different need. Especially when you look at children who have autism. Some have real sensory issues where theyve never touched sand before. So you need to get them prepared if theyre going to a sandy destination, to what the feeling of sand is. Before they actually travel. Its no good, them arriving in Jamaica, so this beautiful destination, and they have a sensory overload because theyve never ever felt sand before.

HR:

Wow. Now can you give us the phone number that they call?

TD:

My toll-free number is 1-888-993-9295.

HR:

You know, if we want to catch more of you also, now tell us about your radio show.

TD:

My radio show is called Travel For All, and it airs the first and third Wednesday of the month. And its a global radio show, so on that show, I have travel providers. Last week I actually had a gal and she stepped in from Cancun, from Mexico, and her company’s called Cancun Accessible. So what she does is shell take people that are in wheelchairs to visit different places in Cancun, visit Tulum, Chichen Itza, all these places that are you know, where you can go and visit in your wheelchair. So she has accessible van, everything all set up to help people. So I have her on iPad. Ive had some amazing people come on. Im also going to be having John Sage, who owns Sage Traveling, and John is very, very well-known. He’s Europe’s specialist, and he an exceptional travel provider as well. So great, great guests. I am also going to be moving into a TV platform. And thats really exciting as well. The company in Canada is called the Disability Channel and the Disability Channel supports people with disabilities to show what it is that theyre all about. So its fantastic, we have a child on there who is autistic and he has his own show. We have brain injury, we have alzheimer’s, we have all kinds of different shows on that. So they have asked me to actually also do a travel show which is about accessible destinations, so thats going to be launching probably in May is what we’re aiming for.

HR:

Now, Tarita, you have a background in social work.

TD:

I do, I do. My background is I went to university and spent all that money to learn, became a cognitive psychologist. I have a degree in behavioral and cognitive psychology, and in English, so that was what I was going to do and I loved working with families that had children that had special needs. It was varied. Every child was so different and so unique and I would be the one to be helping them with behavioral issues. We would put together plans of how we could actually accommodate a child and how they could, you know, put together things that work for the family. So I love doing it, and then when MS sort of threw me that curveball, I was told find something less stressful. So after three or four years, I needed to think what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I found something that I already loved, which was travel.

HR:

Well, you know, you bring up a very interesting thing that Im always lecturing the kids who got to hear–the kids at the Boys and Girls Club, and the interns here in our office, here in Ft. Lauderdale, is that–try to pick out something that you have a passion for and figure out how to make a living at it, and you never have to work a day in your life, and, I’ve been real lucky as a physician, as a surgeon, and doing what were doing now at Different Brains, and it certainly sounds like you have, and also your pathway included your own special neurological wiring with MS. Tell us what that was like and how that evolved?

TD:

You know, MS is such an individual disease. For all of us that have Multiple Sclerosis have some things in common, but were also very, very different. Now I have, what they like to call, the “nice” type of MS, a “nice” kind you know, where it’s called relapsing remitting. And I had MS now for about 20 years and Im thankful I can still walk. Not well, however, but I–when I travel I keep a realtor with me, and for sensory–I have a lot of sensory issues where I cant do tactile things, like put in earrings, or do up buttons, and I have lots of sensation, pretty much in my whole body. So I can go and have my legs waxed and not feel anything, so I guess that could be considered a perk. But that, that’s really what affects me. It effects my stamina, it effects my fatigue level, it really is–its a strange, strange disease that they are still working on trying to figure out exactly what causes MS. Is it something thats our surroundings, is it something were eating, is it something we are ingesting–they dont know. So hopefully one day we’ll get a little bit closer to finding out exactly what causes MS.

HR:

Well, in your case, part of the cause must have been that god wanted to do Travel For All so everyone could travel.

TD:

You know, I agree. I think that were all given something in life that we have to figure out, what exactly do we do with this? So I think, and I believe in the same thing–Im a person of faith and I believe that youre given what you can handle, what you can take and youve got to take that and decide what to do with it to create a change in this world so that when you leave this planet, you will have left behind something positive. So I completely agree with you Hackie, that this–I think is my calling. Its not sure but it is so sure.

HR:

It definitely is so sure because, you know, one of my mentors, Bernie Karcinell, is always saying, “What’re you trying to accomplish?” And, you see, what do you try to accomplish with social work, what do you try to accomplish as a physician? Look at all youre accomplishing with Travel For All. I mean you open up doors all over–literally all over the world for people to whom these doors would be closed, and thats a great, great thng. You know, my mother, when she used to be pumping gas at our gas station in Jersey City, she used to say, “You’ve got a moral obligation to work up to your full potential with the gifts that God gave you, to help yourself, to help your family, to help others less fortunate, and to have a good time doing it.” And its that last part that gets lost a lot of time.

TD:

I agree.

HR:

You obviously love what youre doing, youre overcoming whatever obstacles got thrown in your way, and youre making it possible for people to overcome what obstacles they have to go travel. “Hey, I want to go travelling, I’m going to go call Tarita. I’m going to go call Travel For All.” What was that phone number again?

TD:

It’s 1-888-993-9295.

HR:

That’s great stuff. Now tell us about, a little bit more if you could, because Im a bit ignorant and I apologize for that, about the lonely planet, which is an online community of over 6 million travelers. You know?

TD:

The Lonely Planet is an iconic name with travel. And they are–essentially, when they first started, used to be owned by BBC and they put together guide books, so that whenever people wanted to visit other areas in the world, they would go an purchase a guide book and tell them all the ins and outs of that destination. So they are the go-to place when youre planning holidays. But they werent really the go-to place when youre planning a holiday and youre in a wheelchair, or youre blind, or youre deaf, or you have a child that has autism, or you have a child that has down syndrome, or cerebral palsy, or whatever the case may be. So this Travel For All is really opening up, I think, something that is so necessary. So if the Lonely Planet sees that this is worth while investigating and investing time in, that tells you really that this demographic isnt going anywhere. So the lonely planet, we are working on–we have destinations around the world that are wanting us to come there and record a show. And its being completely funded by the tourism by itself. So, for instance we have South Africa, we have the Carribean, we have Germany, we have all of these places in the world that have said yes we completely support what youre doing and wed love you to come and actually do a show here. So in order for us to actually create a change like we want to create–a global change. It cannot be on the backs of families that have a little–you know, an accessible travel agency. It’s got to be coming right from the horses mouth, if you say, which is the tourism money. So thats what the lonely planet initiative is all about.

HR:

Now, repeat that last part again, I wanna say it clearly because I–this really resonated with me. Say that last part again.

TD:

The lonely planet, the initiative is, the Travel For All is fully supported. In-country expenses where we can go and actually record a show about that destination. So for instance, Machu Picchu is–however it be to Peru–but its a beautiful spot, but its not one that I ever thought I would ever get to visit again, because it is completely on a mountain. But there is a company that is very much interested and actually organizes accessible trips. So the government themselves, the Peruvian government is who we reach out to to say, look, this is what were doing. The Lonely Planet being is the largest there are. Are supporting this and you will be on their youtube channel, which has millions of subscribers. The accessible travel manager will write an article. Hell also be on a TV format so youll be able to showcase what youre doing and so thats really what is all about is to show the world, to everyone who wants to be able to learn about it. So it is really quite fascinating. Its fantastic, its a game changer. So I really feel its a game changer.

HR:

Well, thats great. You know, I like your nickname there, on LinkedIn, Pit Bull.

TD:

Thats the nickname that ive been given, Pit Bull. The reason is is because I formed charitable partnerships with MS Canada, Hispanic Court Injury, Easter Seals, and what its all about is supporting those programs that are so necessary for people with disabilities. So what were doing is any time someone arranges a vacation with us or books a vacation, we will give part proceeds back to the foundation. So it really isnt–and the reason that they call me pit bull is because I reach out and I email and Ill bug you and Ill hound you until we get you to come onboard and become a partner with us, so that we can then make a change.

HR:

You dont fool me, I know you–youll get your way because youre fighting the good fight. And you know, its like I say in Aspertools, that the moms, especially, and I call them, you angels with a pit bull mentality. Thats what you are. Youre an angel with a pit bull mentality.

TD:

Oh, I like that. I like that, Hackie. I’m going to keep that one.

HR:

You know? Well I like everything youre doing. So youve seen every kind of person there is, havent you, Tarita?

TD:

I have, I have. Absolutely. And every–the one thing that all of us with a disability seem to have in common is we all do have pit bull mentality–where–and that includes children–where this is who I am, this is my story, this is my life, but nothing is different. I have MS, it does not have me. Thats the difference, where I live with the disease but it doesnt stop me from dreaming. From wanting to do all of the things in life that everyone wants to do, and its the same thing with the child. Were very very adaptable and thats the human spirit, I think, is what carries all of us.

HR:

How can people tune in on your radio show?

TD:

They can tune in, you can go to the Bold Radio Network, and you will find my name. I am one of the hosts and it will tell you exactly how to tune in and I’d love everyone to want to tune in and listen to whats happening in the world as far as accessible travel. And its not always just travel suppliers I want to have on board. Ive had people come on board that have traveled the world in a wheelchair, by wheelchair, not really knowing a lot about where they were going but they just said, “nope, this is what Im going to do, and they went and impacted their lives by just deciding to take the initiative to just go for it. So I have all kinds of interesting people who really are making–theyre change-makers.

HR:

Tarita, can you tell me and tell our audience about the Assist Me App?

TD:

The Assist Mi App is–its actually its really quite brilliant. The Assist Mi App is–comes out of the UK, and I was born in England, so I actually have some love for that part of the world. So one of my comrades in arms, he created this App. He, himself is disabled, and the one thing that–theres so many apps out there–and that will tell you all about the accessible restaurants and hotels and all of these kinds of things, which is fantastic, but there wasnt anything to actually help you. So if you were going shopping, if you were going through to the airport or you were traveling or whatever it is that you were doing, this app has the ability to basically be your voice, so you use the app and it will let the coffee shop know ahead of time that youre arriving. Youll let the hotel know so that there somebody who will help you when you arrive. And thats really really key because its great to know that you can actually go into that destination or that hotel or resort or restaurant, but the thing is that when you get there, youre going to need some help. This is a perfect way to be able to let them know youre coming ahead of time and theyll know about your requests, your needs and all of those kinds of great things. So thats what Assist Me is all about, and it is in the UK at the moment and Id like to see it come global; Id like to see it as something that is being used around the world.

HR:

How do you spell that?

TD:

ASSISTMI. So A-S-S-I-S-T-M-I.

HR:

Its one word or two words or is there a dash, or?

TD:

Yeah, one word.

HR:

Well, Tarita, if you had to tell people, just give a–if you had to tell someone with any kind of disability, whether it be intellectual, physical, and I know a lot of people object to the word disability. We can say challenge, we can say uniquely gifted, we can say however we want to put it. But to all of us different people whats the one thing you would tell them?

TD:

I think Id take the famous quote from the book, the world can be your oyster. And I think that that resonates with me because its so true, that the world can still be your oyster. Whatever it is you dreamed about doing or visiting or whether it be to–even just something like take your family to Disney Land, or it doesn’t have to be where you go across the world to some exotic destination; it can be something like planning a weekend trip with your family. Its doable, and the thing is that you need to have the knowledge maker, so I have–and Im quite happy if someone wants to know, just some information, I dont necessarily want to book something right away, but they want some information or some help or, what are my thoughts on doing this, or what are some great tips to be able to do different kinds of things?

I really really–my hope is that people will put aside the fear because thats really the biggest thing, regardless of if youre a child or an adult or whether youre blind or deaf or you have autism or youre in a wheelchair, or a spinal cord injury, or you have MS or whatever it is, theres always fear, theres apprehension when planning or thinking about traveling. And our job is to help you overcome some of that fear. Knowledge is really the key to getting rid of that feeling of, oh Im scared of leaving my community, leaving my home–where Im safe–this is kind of the safe zone. But getting onboard a cruise or visiting a different destination is scary, so I urge everyone to–you dont have to decide right away, but start to really think about the fact that you can still do it, and our job is to give the information and to make sure that it is most accessible and it meets your needs.

HR:

Well that says it all, and on that note, were going to wrap up this episode of Exploring Different Brains. And before I let you leave, I know Im getting a little bit obnoxious with this, but I want to make sure that our viewers and listeners and readers can get ahold of you. So I want you to repeat all of the different ways they can get ahold of you.

TD:

So they can give me a call, our toll-free number is 1-888-993-9295. I have a new website actually, that will be launched in a day or two, and thats TravelForAll.Ca. You can also email us at info at travelforall.ca, and wed love to help you with whatever you would need.

HR:

Well, Tarita, its been wonderful, wonderful speaking with you.

TD:

You as well, Hackie.

HR:

And I hope that you’ll blog with us and you’ll stay in touch and do interviews in the future, and we want to keep in touch with you because youre doing just great, great stuff and I want to thank you very much.

TD:

Thank you so much for having me, its been an absolute pleasure and I know that theres lots of great things we can do, and lets join hands and make the world a little bit more inclusive.

HR:

We’ve been speaking with the amazing Tarita Davenock, with Travel For All.

 

 

 

Author Image
Dr. Harold “Hackie” Reitman is the founder of DifferentBrains.com. He is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, children’s activist, retired orthopaedic surgeon, and a former professional heavyweight boxer. He who currently serves as the CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based PCE Media, LLC, the multi-platform production company he founded in 2004. Dr. Reitman wrote, executive produced and co-directed the full-length independent film, “The Square Root of 2” (starring Darby Stanchfield of ABC’s “Scandal”), and is the author of the book “Aspertools: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Neurodiversity” from HCI Publishing. He also hosts the DifferentBrains.com interview show “Exploring Different Brains.”

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