Mobility Awareness Month and the Special Olympics USA remind visitors that Florida welcomes all
As Orlando is poised to host the Special Olympics USA Games this June, Florida is making one thing clear: we’re here to welcome everyone. An ever-growing list of accessible experiences and outdoor adventure continues to make Florida a top destination for all travelers.
Athletes participating from Florida, like stand up paddle boarder Michael Tulipano and spring triathlon competitor Adrienne Bunn, have been able to take advantage of Florida’s outdoor assets to reach their dreams in the Special Olympics. VISIT FLORIDA wants visitors to feel the same sort of satisfaction when visiting the state.
In the lead-up to the games, VISIT FLORIDA will be adding more than 60 new accessible experiences to its accessibility homepage to celebrate Mobility Awareness Month this May. In the meantime, here are a few of the highlights around the state to share.
Amelia Island hosts a trove of accessible experience. The newly built SpringHill Suites Amelia Island, across from beautiful Atlantic beaches and Main Beach Park, offers accessible rooms, entries, routes, showers, pool entrance and pathway, self-parking and more. Another newly renovated property under the same brand, SpringHill Suites Pensacola Beach, is Pensacola’s only all-suite property to boast fully accessible accommodations.
In Jacksonville, museums and beaches all sport various accessibility options. The Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens provides an oasis of peace, equipped with a variety of ADA compliant accessibilities. Handicap unisex restrooms and water fountains, paved walkways at the entry, accessible walkways to the pavilion are just a few features important to those with mobility challenges.
South Walton, on the Gulf Coast, is known for its sugar-white sands, turquoise waters and 16 unique beach neighborhoods. Seven of the county’s nine regional beach accesses are ADA accessible. Those with mobility issues can enjoy the breathtaking beaches of South Walton with the help of wheelchair-friendly mats from the Ed Walline Regional Beach access. The South Walton Fire District offers push, floating and motorized beach wheelchairs free of charge.
This year SportsAbility has more going on around the state in-person and virtually than ever. In-person events wrap up in April, but an Online Education and Resource Expo will provide people of all abilities the opportunity to learn about a variety of recreation and engage in online recreation. Additionally, the VR SportsAbility Park is available year-round and unique events will be held in the virtual park during SportsAbility.
In Tampa Bay, both Zoo Tampa and the Florida Aquarium are partners with the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) program, ensuring inclusive programs and exhibits. Busch Gardens offers its Ride Accessibility Program (RAP), designed to allow guests to fully participate and enjoy the parks while adhering to the safety requirements of the rides and attractions. Through RAP, guests can enroll in Special Access which allows guests with disabilities to enjoy the attractions without waiting.
Fairgrounds St. Pete is now open, created in collaboration with over 60 artists, creating an accessible experience inviting guests to explore an immersive world of playful art and technology exhibits based on original Florida stories. Visitors are encouraged to escape reality, experience interactive story-driven installations, and engage in a world of art, play, joy and discovery.
Getting out on the water has never been more welcoming. In Mount Dora, Rusty Anchor Boat Tours offers accessible cruises along the shoreline of Lake Dora and through the beautiful Dora Canal. Take a relaxing narrated journey of your choice and learn about the flora, fauna, past and present of this historic city. The spacious pontoon boats are easily accessible for everyone including electric scooters.
Silver Springs State Park recently added a brand new accessible boat to their fleet of glass bottom boats. The boat is named Chief Potackee Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, after the only female Seminole Chief, and is officially taking passengers. The benches on this new boat lift up and down, making it accessible for wheelchairs and making it easier for every passenger to see the glass viewing area.
In Orlando, a new game at the Escape Game Orlando, “The Depths,” is fully accessible to guests. The Depths is a 60 minute escape room adventure where you and your team will board a submarine voyage to an undersea laboratory. Nearby Discovery Cove has doubled down on offering a variety of accessibility options throughout the park, including wheelchairs, and service animal accommodations. The park is a Certified Autism Center and offers specialized service to guests with autism and special needs. Discovery Cove ambassadors have received specialized training to cater to children with special needs and understand that sensory processing issues are to be taken very seriously.
In Naples, LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort is committed to exceeding requirements for the Americans with Disabilities Act. The staff is trained to accommodate guests with special needs, so that all are able to have an enjoyable and safe stay. Facilities include roll-in showers with hand-held shower sprayers, entry doors with 32’’ width, lowered peepholes and accessible routes to all parts of the room and hearing accessible rooms with visual arms and notifications devices.
In Fort Myers, The Edison and Ford Winter Estates is ADA compliant and committed to making its facility and programs accessible to all visitors. Visitors can tour the 15,000 square-foot inventions museum and the botanic research laboratory along smooth pathways using ramps with sturdy metal railings for easy access. Artifacts in the museum are spaced apart and labeled with large text so guests may view each gallery feasibly. The Edison Ford app with narration is compatible with common audio accessibility devices and contains written bullet points, as well as visuals. Service animals are welcomed.
In Punta Gorda and Englewood Beach, a litany of parks and kayak launch points are ADA compliant, making it a convenient choice for outdoor adventure enthusiasts. Oyster Creek Environmental Park and Port Charlotte Beach Park are just a few of the many accessible options.
For more information on accessible travel in Florida, head over to VISIT FLORIDA’s Accessible Travel Ideas site.
ABOUT VISIT FLORIDA
As the number one industry in the Sunshine State, tourism was responsible for receiving 122.4 million visitors in 2021, down from the record 131.1 million visitors in 2019, attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the latest economic impact study, visitors to Florida contributed $96.5 billion to Florida's economy and supported 1.6 million Florida jobs in 2019. According to the Bureau of Economic and Demographic Research, for every $1 the state invests in VISIT FLORIDA, Florida's official tourism marketing corporation generates $3.27 in tax revenue. VISIT FLORIDA promotes tourism in Florida through sales, advertising, promotions, public relations and visitor services programs. As a public/private partnership, VISIT FLORIDA serves more than 13,000 companies in the travel industry, including major strategic alliances with Busch Gardens Tampa, Disney Destinations, Hilton, LEGOLAND Florida Resort, SeaWorld Parks & Resorts Orlando and Universal Orlando Resort. For more information about VISIT FLORIDA, follow @FloridaTourism on Facebook and Twitter or visit www.visitflorida.org. For inspiration in the Sunshine State follow @VISITFLORIDA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or visit www.visitflorida.com. For media resources, visit www.visitfloridamedia.com.