Taking the ‘dis’ out of disabilities

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Just like everybody else.

That might as well be Ron Pettit’s motto. He fervently believes that people with disabilities deserve to enjoy life – in particular, vacations – just like everybody else.

As Royal Caribbean’s director of disability inclusion and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance – and himself hard-of-hearing since birth – Pettit constantly works with his teams addressing day-to-day challenges on ships and shoreside as well as looking for new areas to improve as new ships come online.

“New ships come out with state-of-the-art access,” Pettit says.

“Accessible rooms are considered among the best in the industry.”

The work has not escaped notice.

This year, RCL was cited as one of the “Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion” by the U.S. Business Leadership Network and the American Association of People with Disabilities after scoring 80 percent on the groups’ two-year-old Disability Equality Index.

Also this year, RCL was honored for its Autism Friendly initiative with the 2017 Disability Matters Marketplace Award by Springboard Consulting.

Not all efforts are full-blown initiatives. Some are as simple as thinking about beach sand and seeing the simple enhancement of putting down mats so wheelchairs don’t bog down. Others are finding reliable ways to make such signature onboard adventures as the iFly skydiving simulator and FlowRider’s surfing experience accessible to those with disabilities. And food allergies are given a lot of serious attention so they can be accommodated with foresight and planning

“There are guests who have a long list of items that they cannot eat,” Pettit says. “So we work with the ships to make sure that their needs are addressed.”

Even onboard rock-climbing walls get the accessibility treatment.

“Sometimes there’s a platform beside the rock-climbing wall, some ramps, and then our staff is there to provide assistance,” Pettit continues. “When you talk about wheelchair users, obviously a person who may not have use of all four limbs, like a quadriplegic, may not be able to use it. But we have many paraplegics who do. If they have use of their arms, they can still get in the harness and climb up the wall.” Same goes for using onboard zip lines, evaluating guests’ abilities to use them, case by case.

Pettit says virtually everything about the cruise experience is given a hard look to find ways to make it more accessible, “but there’s a caveat to that.

“We have the new water slides and things like that,” Pettit explains. “They’re not always accessible, largely because there’s lots of stairs involved and you just can’t get around creating that kind of experience without stairs. So that’s sometimes the challenge that we face.”

Besides his formal title, Pettit says it’s true and accurate to call him an advocate for the cause, someone always looking out for giving people with disabilities a vacation from their hindrances.

“I know that can’t always happen,” he says. “But the goal is there.”

And it’s right in line with RCL’s top reputation for innovation and inclusion, above and beyond compliance.