Q&A with Meghan Mulvenna of Special Travelers.com

When did you think of creating your organization?

I began traveling with families early on in my career, as a respite provider.I was attracted to supporting  ‘real-world’ experiences for children and families, outside of the educational settings.
Then in 2007, I accompanied a student on a family vacation. I had been managing his home-based educational program and consulting with his school district, and was moved by how much more connected and motivated he was in the natural environments of the beach and restaurants.
As part of our service plan, I continued to provide the individual instruction of his home-based program, as well as opportunities to practice these skill in the new environments.
It was through this experience that I realized that the world is our classroom and that the more we are willing to step out with our students, with the right supports, the more we gain and discover what else we need to learn and teach.

Q&A with Meghan Mulvenna of Special Travelers.com beach

Photo credit Meghan Mulvenna

What are some of the greatest gaps in travel that need to be covered?

Honestly, fear is the main adversity, for travel, positive change, or any new opportunity.
The travel industry has become much more accommodating over the twenty years I’ve been in the field, mostly due to pressure to adjust to who’s traveling. Many things are possible, if we step past fear, for information and understanding.
I say fear because if families hold onto to the fear of what won’t be in place, or how others will respond, they will not take the first step to traveling. Conversely, if travel entities operate on fear, based on misconceptions of individuals with disabilities, they will not embrace more inclusive practices, or openly share their willingness to accommodate.

What tools do you rely on when traveling?

There is a reason for the common expression, “a picture tells a thousand words,” and travel is most about showing and experiencing, not so much telling.
I have found photographs to be a very useful tool. They serve as a preview to individuals of where they will go, an informative sequence of events, as well as a means for building conversation and learning.

The other greatest tool is flexibility. Plans will change, as they do for all of us, with or without a disability, and to resist or try to avoid this is self-defeating.
The willing to adjust, let go and move on will make all the difference between a “successful” vacation or a total disaster.

Q&A with Meghan Mulvenna of Special Travelers.com teacups

Photo credit Meghan Mulvenna

What steps in planning would you recommend to someone with disabilities?

  • Choose a travel experience based on interest; you will be more motivated and engaged to make it work (same is true for careers.)
  • Know your limits and needs, a host location cannot know these for you; for example, what is a reasonable time for walking, waiting, being engaged, processing information.
  • Once you know what you want, and what you will need, reach out to the travel destination and begin to build a relationship.
  • Avoid initial emphasis on their policy, and instead, create a conversation about your individual story.
  • Allow them the time and space to get to know you and your needs, and then note what and how they can do to meet those.
  • A final email, summarizing the specific expectations and agreed upon accommodations is useful.

What is your preferred kind of travel?

My favorite kind of travel is that of when I’m helping others.
I’ve visited five continents, explored and lived in areas with beaches, mountains, and have become immersed in incredibly varying cultures. They have all been beautiful experiences and enriched me by supporting individuals with disabilities.

Travel has opened me to knowledge, practice and gifts in ways that I couldn’t have imagined, and I want to provide those opportunities for others.

Q&A with Meghan Mulvenna of Special Travelers.com girl

Photo Credit Meghan Mulvenna

What would you recommend for family and friends traveling with autism?

Let go of fear.
Continue any systems, routines, adaptive equipment that are used in everyday life; vacation should not be a break from what’s working, but a continuation of what’s working in a new environment, perhaps even an expansion of new strategies and tools.
Be optimistic.
Develop a relationship with the host entity where you will visit.
Know everyone’s interests and limits, and seek to balance them.
Be flexible.
Recognize that there are some things you do not control, and allow this to focus you, and improve, what you can. Enjoy.

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