When Harrah Hotel College seniors Kylie Stubbs and Yupar Aung registered for their facilities management course, they had no idea it would entail a trip to Red Rock National Conservation Area’s visitor center or pushing each other in a wheelchair.
Their professor, Dina Zemke, partnered with Jim Parsons, founder of wheelchairjimmy.com, to teach her students the difference between travel attractions that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and those that are also “wheelchair friendly.”
“The Facilities Management course covers compliance with the ADA, but mere compliance is not the same thing as being hospitable,” Zemke said. “This project helps the students experience first-hand how challenging it can be for our guests in wheelchairs to enjoy the hotels, restaurants, casinos, and attractions in the Las Vegas Valley.”
Parsons, who has been paraplegic since he was 20, developed his website to guide other travelers with mobility restrictions to the hotels, restaurants, city attractions, transportation services, and cruise ships that have the best accessibility.
He rates each location using a variety of criteria, including the installation of commercial grade ramps and elevators and the feasibility to move about a bathroom stall from a wheelchair. But unlike the ADA, Parson’s standards are not required by law and are only meant to evaluate the guest experience, which is an important element taught in Zemke’s course.
“A good facility will lead to a great guest experience, as well as a great workplace for employees,” Zemke said.
Working in pairs, the students received permission from 28 locations to conduct surveys using Parson’s criteria. These attractions included Clark County Wetlands Park, Kabuki Japanese Restaurant, The Mob Museum, Ferraro's Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar, The M Resort, and Red Rock’s visitor center.
“The assignment was definitely eye-opening,” Stubbs said. “Being able-bodied, you don't really ever put yourself in the perspective of someone else who isn't. I think Yupar and I got lucky that Red Rock is so wheelchair friendly because I can’t imagine trying to get around a property that isn’t.”
Within four years, Parsons’ website has grown to cover 15 major U.S. cities and others in New Zealand and South America. As a seasoned traveler, he shares his experiences with others and takes the guesswork out of making traveling accommodations.
“There are 3 million Americans who use wheelchairs and another 6 million using walkers, canes, or crutches,” Parsons said. “Sadly, a lot of them sit at home because they’re scared. The goal is to get them outside, let them have fun and enjoy life in a comfortable way.”