The world has a lot to offer for those who wish to travel or have the ability to do so. For people with a physical disability, traveling can often be challenging and require lots of planning. For the Lachhman and Lachhman-Persad family, it’s important that Annie has the opportunity to experience the joys of traveling despite her disability. Annie was born with dystonic cerebral palsy, which causes involuntary muscle spasms and movements and makes it challenging to travel long distances. As a result, in 2018, the family decided to make New York City their playground; after all, it’s a city known for its attractions, cultural diversity, and one of the top tourist destinations in the world.
But they quickly found that it would require research and planning in advance to ensure attractions were truly accessible and accommodating to Annie’s wheelchair. After searching for accessible information for people with disabilities, it became clear that there was not a lot of published materials related to navigating spaces in New York for the disabled community. “We found that many of NYC’s tourism materials lacked information about traveling with a disability,” says Lakshmee, Annie’s older sister. Annie and Lakshmee saw the need to make this information more readily available to the disabled community. They decided to document their experiences by creating the blog Accessible Travel NYC as a resource to inspire families like theirs to get out and explore New York.
Both sisters share a love for traveling and exploring. Lakshmee is an avid digital marketer with 20 years of experience in the tourism industry and an advocate for people with disabilities. Annie is outgoing, loves art, exploring, learning, and is a big foodie. It’s almost four years since the family started this journey. It has created the opportunity to educate companies based on their experiences and ability to find information about their accessibility features. They also see the blog as an opportunity to meet people from other cultures and countries. “We’ve had families reach out to us from around the world, and we hope to one day meet them and learn more about their culture and experiences,” says Lakshmee.
They first started by visiting the major NYC attractions and sharing their experience with the companies. Annie will provide feedback about navigating the spaces and how accessible it is for people with disabilities. She also identifies if there is any discrimination against those with disabilities. Together, they will review the companies’ websites to find information about accessibility features or any representations of people with a disability in their marketing photos.
Lakshmee and Annie agree that businesses that cater to the disabled community should highlight diversity and inclusion in their marketing materials. “People are often unsure whether or not places can accommodate people with disabilities, which makes it important for information like this to be easily found on their website or social media,” says Lakshmee. To date, the family has worked with the NYC & Company, the official destination marketing organization of New York City, to create the first ever video “How to Explore New York City with a Wheelchair” and the Botanical Garden to develop accessible guides.
This process has also been a learning experience for the family. “Our experience has taught me that people and businesses are kinder and more welcoming than I thought, says Lakshmee. “Also, there are a lot of organizations working towards creating a more inclusive society.”
Lakshmee and Annie use the blog to create an open dialogue with businesses. Lakshmee shares her blog post with the establishments and asks for feedback before posting it on their website, which helps facilitate a conversation and make changes to create a more accessible and inclusive environment for people with disabilities to navigate. They’ve already initiated some changes where businesses have considered their feedback and included more information and resources.
Annie and Lakshmee are committed to seeing a change and building a more inclusive society for all. Lakshmee is a part of the NYC Tourism Recovery Steering Committee & Board of Directors and continues to find avenues to share their views about uplifting disability pride and advocating for a more inclusive tourism industry through networking and being a member of various advocacy groups. Both sisters believe social access within the industry improves overall wellbeing afterall it’s why they started using New York City’s vibrant tourism scene as their playground.
(Annie’s artwork in the Metropolitan Museum of Art ADA30)
Annie is an artist, and she loves drawing and painting. Lakshmee and Annie are hoping to expand their outreach by utilizing Annie’s artistic skills to creating window stickers that small businesses can use as a badge to highlight their accessibility features. Annie is also creating a pin based on her Metropolitan Museum of Art ADA30 feature to raise awareness on the disability pride flag to empower people with disabilities to embrace their identity. ‘It’s all about embracing our talents and our differences because this journey would not have been possible otherwise,” says Lakshmee.
Check out Laskshee and Annie’s travel blog by clicking the link below:
If you are thinking about exploring New York City this summer, NYCGo provides additional resources regarding Accessible NYC locations: https://www.nycgo.com/plan-your-trip/basic-information/accessibility/