Physical and Neuro Diverse Business Travelers Deserve Support

Fox World Travel’s George Kalka collaborated on a GBTA project to understand business travel gaps for physical and neuro-diverse travelers. The group produced a GBTA member-only resource to help travel managers assess their programs.

Can companies factor physical and neuro diversity into the business travel equation? BTN recently asked this question and it’s safe to say the answer is ‘yes’—without a doubt they can. And more in the industry are advocating they should. So why haven’t we?

This topic was the focus of a recent Global Business Travel Association Global Leadership Professional project. We set out to positively impact how corporate travel can improve the experience for travelers impacted by both visible and invisible conditions who seek additional care along their travel journey. To change how our industry supports travelers with physical and neuro needs, it’s crucial to begin raising awareness of their travel experiences and the complexities they face. Until recently, there hasn’t been much discussion around this topic or resources available to support travel buyers. Through efforts like the GLP project and BTN’s coverage, awareness can graduate into action. As an industry addressing this topic, we’ve sat on the sidelines long enough with a reactive approach (at best) to caring for our fellow human beings.

Scoping Physical, Neuro Health Needs

Let’s start with some simple facts. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 61 million Americans live with a disability. That’s one-quarter of the U.S. population, so it’s no stretch to assume that virtually all travel programs have employees with visible or invisible physical or neuro health conditions that impact the business travel experience. To illustrate this, 14 percent of adults face a mobility challenge, yet the American with Disabilities Act only requires one room for every one hundred in total to have a roll-in shower. There’s a 1 percent chance the traveler who needs that room is going to receive it. This friction point is where corporate travel management comes into play and can begin making a difference. If your organization’s preferred hotel is sold out of this room type and there is a traveler who requires it, do you allow your traveler to stay at a non-preferred hotel instead?

Corporate travel is in an incredible position to lead initiatives that create common care standards and work cross-functionally so travelers don’t have to continue jumping through policy exception hoops.”

What if you have a traveler with a cognitive condition, which 11 percent of adults live with, who has difficulty navigating an airport or significantly struggles when flight disruptions or gate changes occur? Does your organization permit a direct flight even if it’s more costly? 

As a travel manager, if you answered ‘yes’ to either of these examples, you’re on the right path to how corporations can accommodate for physical and neuro diversity within the travel program. Now ask yourself if the experience booking outside of policy is easy for the traveler, or will they need sharp scissors to cut through all the red tape?

What Can Corporate Travel Do?

A GBTA survey of travel managers on this topic found corporate travel is ripe with opportunity to support travelers with physical and neuro health needs. The gaps to supporting these travelers are wide: over one-third of travel managers didn’t even know if their organization had travelers with conditions that impact mobility, and 60 percent of travel managers didn’t feel they were prepared to adequately address travelers’ physical and neuro health needs. It isn’t surprising, given these insights, that over two-thirds of buyers considered their travel programs only ‘low to average’ in meeting the needs of these travelers.

While few organizations are addressing travelers’ physical and neuro challenges beyond the basics or minimum legal responsibilities, some have developed a thoughtful path for these travelers to self-disclose their conditions and plan for their travel-related needs. Given privacy concerns, this process is often outside the corporate travel program and managed through human resources. However, travel leaders are partnering with HR, legal, and diversity and inclusion teams to develop the framework to proactively care for these travelers in advance of and throughout their travel journey. These progressive organizations are removing friction from the corporate travel equation. 

Think about the experience of a traveler who self-discloses, which in itself can be an anxious moment for someone. In one organization, the self-disclosing traveler is met with a defined program and process that demonstrates care and dignity throughout the travel journey. Now think how that may play out in a different organization who hasn’t planned to support a traveler with these needs. In this organization, the traveler needs to justify a policy exception every time they travel: to book the flight and hotel they need, the multiple levels of approval that may be required, and then potentially request another exception due to increased costs when completing an expense report. At the end of the day, both scenarios provide accommodation for the traveler, but it’s safe to say as human beings we all would choose the first experience. So why do so many corporate travel processes operate like the second example?

We must move beyond passing the responsibility and saying it’s someone else’s job. There’s a better way to support these travelers than a one-off case-by-case basis. Corporate travel is in an incredible position to lead initiatives that create common care standards and work cross-functionally so travelers don’t have to continue jumping through policy exception hoops and face unnecessary friction throughout their travel experience. In the era of the ‘great resignation’ there is arguably no better time to invest in the well-being of your workforce. Beyond that, it’s simply the right thing to do. 

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