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Advocating for Accessible Bathrooms

Advocating for Accessible Bathrooms

Jeremy sees another gas station. We are on our way to Merzouga doing development for our iconic accessible desert excursion. Next to it is a mini-mart with ramp – though a distinctly steep and not accessible ramp – but we decide to stop anyways. Maybe…just maybe their bathrooms won’t have a ramp with a slope that resembles a mountain side more than a ramp promoting universal design as we hope.  As we pull around to the far side of the building, we both get excited, “look at that ramp! That should work!”, I exclaim with excitement. As we walk in to the restaurant, there is a mix of excitement and skepticism. What is going to be the one piece that makes this rest stop not work for our clients traveling Morocco in a wheelchair? I notice silently to myself that there is no step at the door and we look right and amazingly, there are no steps into the bathrooms. Fantastic!

A waiter greets us energetically, expecting that we are there to eat. “Salam Alaykum!” I greet him warmly and explain that we have a travel company that specializes in tours for people that use wheelchairs and other mobility devices. He smiles and welcomes us warmly and asks if we like the ramp outside. “Yes, the ramp is fantastic! Thanks for being forward thinking in designing this rest stop. Can we take a look at your restrooms and take some measurements to see if this will work for our clients?”, I ask. “Absolutely, one thousand welcomes!” He bows slightly with a flair of Moroccan hospitality and gestures towards the swinging doors to the right.

Jeremy and I get to work taking pictures, measuring doors, taking notes and talking animatedly between ourselves. The bathroom stall doors are wider than most in Morocco. Not quite to ADA standards for accessible bathrooms, but definitely workable! This is a familiar routine for us. The current setup for the rest stop will be adequate for our clients. However, with a few adjustments this could be a really good option to make the 7 hour drive from Fes to the desert more comfortable for our clients. We scribble some notes into our notebook of recommendations and changes that we would like to suggest. 

As we exit the restrooms, we are offered tea and cookies by the waiter. We sit down to visit with him for a bit. “Can you honor us with your name, kind sir?” Jeremy asks in the local dialect. Language is one of the keys to working  cross-culturally and developing excellent rapport with our new friend. It is one of the values we hold as business owners and we have worked hard to learn to speak Darija – the local Morrocan Arabic dialect.

“My name is Hassan”, he says as he beams with pride. We proceed to discuss the various suggestions of changing the direction that the bathroom door opens as well as the possibility of adding grab bars in one of the stalls in the Gents and one in the Ladies. “Of course! We built this ramp for people to have access to our restaurant and any suggestions you can give us will help to make this restaurant better for all of our clients. We would be honored to work with you and your clients in the future.”

We thank him for the tea, get a business card and head out to the 4x4. This is the forging of a potential partnership for our accessible desert excursion. Increasing accessibility in the tourism service sector is often the first step in increasing accessibility for locals and visitors, alike. We will return in a few weeks with grab bars to mount on the walls and to change the orientation of doors for easy access and use for our clients as they travel to the desert.

Just another day of doing business in Morocco. Advocating for accessibility in Morocco is a vital part of our business vision.  

Making Access Happen

 

Three weeks later I return to Restaurant 7 in Ait Toughach. The 3 hour drive there flies by as I am mesmerized by the stunningly beautiful Middle Atlas Mountains. Hassan recognizes me right away with a warm smile and open arms. After the animated pleasantries of Moroccan greetings I get right to work. A measuring tape, hammer drill and masonry bit are all it takes for this adaptation.  

 

Removing the door, a few anchors with solid bolts, flipping the door hinges – really simple tasks that will have a significant impact on dignity, independence and comfort for many people in the future as they make their way to the majestic Sahara, barrier free — Moroccan and international tourists alike! How cool is that?! Creating key rest stops to break up the the 8 hour journey from Fes to Merzouga is vital for making this an accessible desert excursion. I love getting out of the office. And when it can increase access for my clients and business for our suppliers – that’s even better!

 

6 Reasons Why We Chose Morocco for an Accessible Travel Company

6 Reasons Why We Chose Morocco for an Accessible Travel Company

We have lived in Morocco for several years now and though we speak the local language, try to adapt to local customs, have learned culturally appropriate responses to life situations, we still stick out sometimes!  We don’t always fit into the box that a lot of people expect for foreigners in this land.  One of the most common questions that we get asked by people – Moroccans and clients alike – is “why did you choose Morocco to start an accessible travel company?”  Thinking about the countless options for a travel business – what would cause us to choose Morocco as the best country to start a new company?  For us, the answer is quite simple.  Here are 6 reasons why we believe Morocco was and is the perfect place for us to own and operate an accessible travel company.

 

1.  Morocco offers a vast array of landscapes 

There really isn’t another country like Morocco.  We have mountains, sea, ocean, desert, and history (1,200 year old city anyone??).  All 4 seasons are present with snow in the mountains and a dry desert to the South – along with just about everything in between.  In the same day you are throwing snow balls in the mountains in the morning you can be dipping your toes into warm desert sands in the evening.  You can roll through a 1,200 year old city one day and be at a beachside modern resort the next.  It really is an incredibly diverse country with ever changing landscapes.  The best part about Morocco is that these landscapes can all be experienced (albeit quickly!) in a matter of a few weeks.  So when you think about places with tremendous opportunity for exciting travel – Morocco is and should be near the top of the list.

 

 

2.  We wanted to come to a place where we could make a difference 

Both Erik and I have relationships with people who have disabilities.  I, Jeremy, as a physiotherapist have worked with people with mobility limitations for years.  We have seen the challenges that travel presents for those who need a little (or a lot) of extra assistance.  For us, when we looked at a place like Morocco, we saw a country with tremendous potential but underdeveloped infrastructure to meet the needs of accessible travel.  We knew that it would be a lot of work but felt (and still feel) that Morocco was a strategic place to really make a difference not only for the foreigners who travel here but also for those with disabilities in the local community.

The picture above is a perfect example of the need for education and enforcement.  Two parking spaces were developed and reserved for people with disabilities – but they are full of motorcycles!  Speaking to the attendant and having our client with a disability not have a place to park and easily access their services speaks volumes to people.  Real people, real faces, real access challenges – and real solutions. 

Since we have started, we have helped to develop accessible bathrooms, adapt hotel rooms, create dropped curbs in our local community and even create accessible accommodations at a local language school that allowed someone in a power wheelchair to study Arabic in Fes for an entire year.  Moving to Morocco and working in the tourism sector has increased our capacity to encourage change in accessibility for foreigners and locals alike.

 

 

3. Morocco is taking steps towards implementing its accessibility laws

Every time I watch this video, I get really excited about the adaptations and changes that are happening around Morocco as they continue to expand universal design in this country.  Is Morocco perfect? No – but major steps are being taken right now to drastically improve accessibility and access for all in this beautiful country.  From the 1,200 year old city of Fes to the Sahara Desert – accessibility is improving at a rapid rate. The exciting thing to us is that it is not just the government doing small steps – which is important – but also the willingness of local business owners to make adaptations as well.  It is an exciting time to be bringing accessible travel to this country receiving a major facelift for accessibility.

 

 

4.  The moderate Mediterranean climate lends itself to year round travel

Weather here is awesome.  There are all 4 seasons which allows for incredible vacations and holidays just about any time of the year.  Sure, there are times that it is just too hot to go to the Sahara Desert – especially for many people traveling in a wheelchair – but when the desert isn’t an option there are beaches and mountains. If colder weather isn’t your ‘cup of mint tea’, then you can skip the mountains and visit a 1,200 year old city and 2,000 year old Roman ruins instead.  Realistically, there just isn’t a bad time to travel to Morocco!  When we thought about people in wheelchairs that might be sensitive to the extremes of climate, Morocco makes perfect sense.  Generally mild and significant variety make Morocco a great place to visit year round. 

 

5.  Morocco boasts a good safety rating

Morocco is safe and one of the safest countries in Africa. I wrote extensively on safety in our blog hereAccording to the US Department of State, Morocco is a Level 1 country which suggests that travelers take a normal level of precaution when traveling and exploring. The security – both plain clothes and uniformed are attentive and plentiful. The intelligence community in Morocco does a fantastic job of keeping informed on potential threats. Crime that does happen is rarely violent in nature and usually consists of petty theft that can often be averted by paying good attention to your valuables.

So when we considered the various options of places to start an accessible travel company, security needs to play a role in the discussion. The more we researched, the more confident we have become that Morocco is in fact a safe destination for our travelers.

 

 

6.  We get to work hard AND play hard

 

One of the major benefits of owning a business in Morocco is that you get to live and travel in Morocco!  So while it is enticing for our clients with disabilities to travel to Morocco, it is also enticing for us to travel in Morocco!  Morocco boasts a bit of a slower lifestyle which affords us the opportunity to enjoy a mid-day cup of tea with a friend, ride camels in the Sahara Desert, enjoy a fresh tagine straight off the coals, or catch some sun at the beach.  My wife and I love raising our kids in an exotic culture with an endless playground of things to do with them.  Of course there is some daily grind like everywhere else but we can be in the biggest sandbox in the world in 8 hours.  We can be at the beach in 2 hours.  We can be in the mountains in 1 hour. We live in a city that is 1,200 years old. There is just not a lot of downside to living and playing in Morocco!  

 

 

7.  There is nothing quite like Moroccan hospitality

Morocco ranks right up there with one of the most hospitable countries in the world.  The hospitality that is lavished on guests in this amazing country is second-to-none and is one of the greatest assets to this country.  For any lack of accessibility that may be found during your travels to this cultural gem, it will be made up for with hospitality and a genuine willingness to do just about anything for their guests.  

We have seen wheelchair users carried up multiple flights of stairs (we officially say that is at your own risk!) to see the tanneries in Fes, see a balcony overlook of Jemaa el-Fna in Marrakech, or (as shown above) to see the Masoleum in Rabat at Le Tour Hassan.  Our clients have been invited to our drivers’ homes – and thoroughly enjoyed – eating with their families during a celebration.  

Hospitality is a vital component to accessible travel and it is readily available all across Morocco. 

 

Discover. Accessible. Morocco.

 

If you are needing accessible travel and are looking for the best country to explore – seriously consider Morocco. You will discover amazing things. You will be surprised by just how accessible Morocco can be. There are so many reasons why this is a fantastic place to visit. If you have questions about accessible travel to Morocco do not hesitate to contact us – we would love to talk to you! We are looking forward to seeing you on the winding streets of Fes very soon!  

 

Is Morocco Safe? 7 Things to Know Before You Go

Is Morocco Safe? 7 Things to Know Before You Go

Morocco is considered one of the safest countries in Africa.  Almost 12 million tourists visited Morocco in 2017.  Over 12 million tourists visited in 2018 and the tourism sector continues to flourish in this unique and breathtaking North African country.  From cultural hospitality and positive foreign relations to high quality security presence (both seen and unseen), Morocco continues to attract millions of travelers each year, offering an unparalleled, exotic experience.

So first things first – is Morocco safe in the grand scheme of things? According to the US Department of State, as of the time of writing, Morocco is a Level 1 country which suggests that travelers take a normal level of precaution when traveling and exploring.  So yes – Morocco is considered a safe country to visit and provides millions of tourists from all over the world with fantastic holidays every year.

That said, here are 7 important things that will be helpful to know before you arrive in Morocco about safety and security during your travels.

1.  Be aware of your surroundings

As always when traveling, it is important to be aware of your surroundings.  Know where you are headed and look confident in where you are going.  Violent crime is rare in Morocco and as such, most of the crime is associated with petty theft.  Often petty thieves target those who look lost and “stick out” from their surroundings.  While it is easy to get lost in the medina streets on your own, navigating with confidence will go along way to avoiding unwanted occurrences.  When you are in a big crowd such as you will find in a place like Jemaa al Fna in Marrakech (pictured above), it is good practice to ensure that you keep good track of your wallet, purses, and cell phones as petty theft (i.e. pickpocketing) is possible.

While unexpected (we’ve lived here for several years without ever having an issue with petty theft), it is always good to have a certain level of vigilance that can help protect from something really ruining your travels!

2.  Dress conservatively 

It is important to keep in mind that Morocco is vastly a Muslim culture.  While other religions may have a limited presence, Muslim traditions will predominately be found in most places around the country.  As such it is important to be aware of and respect local customs and expectations of dress.

Here are a few tips (especially for women) in order to have an enjoyable and successful trip to Morocco:

Women

Avoid low cut and overly tight tops. Instead, opt for a looser fitting top that covers your shoulders and midsection. A scarf to wrap around your neck while venturing into the old city can be an excellent way to supplement your wardrobe.

Avoid short skirts or shorts.  Instead, opt for loose flowing dresses or pants.

Generally speaking, showing too much of the thighs or shoulders may attract some unwanted attention and likely will be considered disrespectful within the culture.  Too much intentional eye contact between genders may be considered suggestive and thus, is a good idea to avoid.

Men

Generally, men have much more leeway for dress but we still recommend pants or longer shorts and shirts with sleeves

Also, if you would like to visit the Hassan II Mosque for a tour it is important that you plan ahead in your dress.  It is one of the only mosques that non-Muslims may enter and appropriate dress is required for entrance.  Appropriate dress into this architectural wonder is no shoes (you’ll be given a bag to put your shoes in while taking the tour) and the covering of your shoulders and knees.  It is possible – even likely – that you will be turned away and not allowed to enter if you are not dressed appropriately for this experience.

We, at Morocco Accessible Travel Consultants, leave it up to you to decide what is and isn’t appropriate while helping you to navigate cultural expectations in the best way possible.  Do your best to use common sense, study the culture a bit before you come and use it as a way to enter into a culture that is not your own in an intentional and respectful way!

3.  Don’t drink the water

All around Morocco you will see beautiful and ornate fountains.  These are particularly common around the old, walled medinas with a “common cup” for anyone to take a drink as needed.  While cultural and a good photo opportunity, perhaps leave this experience as a memory of what you almost did.  Instead opt for a bottle of Sidi Ali or your favorite bottled water brand.

Often when you travel abroad it is good practice to drink only bottled water.  This is also true in Morocco.  Though generally safe, it is a good practice to avoid drinking tap water while traveling abroad. It is incredibly easy in Morocco to find bottled water.  Corner stores (called hanuts in Moroccan Arabic) will usually give you a few different brands to choose from and are very cost effective.

Along with not drinking the water, it is a good idea to avoid eating fruits and vegetables that do not have a skin on them and are uncooked.  Sanitation in regards to washing vegetables can vary from restaurant to restaurant and as such, it is a good idea to make wise decisions of what to eat in order to avoid the unfortunate occurrence of stomach issues while traveling.  Instead, consider enjoying a piping hot tagine, freshly cooked off of the coals!  Food is a highlight in Morocco with exotic flavors and a dynamic cultural experience.

So grab a big bottle of water, order an amazing tagine and get ready for a culinary treat that will tantilize the tastebuds!

4.  Beware of faux guides

One of our national tour guides sharing historical treasures with a group in Fes.

Everyone who travels with us will be protected from this issue.  We only work with licensed, English speaking guides that we approve.  We consistently receive feedback from our clients about how amazing and unique their tours were in the historic medinas throughout Morocco.  Our guides, thankfully, are respectful, knowledgeable and gifted communicators about country that they love.

That is not always true of everyone who claims to be a “guide” in Morocco.  While often starting out at a cheaper price, faux guides have been known to take people to places where they are pressured to buy goods, placed in uncomfortable situations and are charged high prices for help to get back to a traveler’s hotel.  Additionally, these guides are illegal in Morocco and can really turn a fun tour into an unpleasant experience.  While local police authorities have done a lot of work to clean up this issue, some faux guides are still present in and around the old cities hoping to prey on uninformed tourists.

We highly recommend ensuring that your tour guide is a legit guide with proper documentation that will significantly increase the likelihood of a successful medina tour.

Finally, if you are arranging a guide outside of a tour agency (which will be done for you), ensure that you settle on a price before you embark on the journey.  If you try to bargain or set a price afterwards that task becomes difficult to impossible without heated discussions!

 

5.  Travel with a friend – or lots of them! 

There is strength in numbers.  When we travel with people it allows for another pair of eyes (or several pairs of eyes in larger groups) taking care of one another.  It is always good to have others with you in order to ensure that as you explore the nuances of Morocco.

This doesn’t mean that as a solo traveler it is advised not to travel to Morocco but we would definitely suggest going with a tour agency.  Your driver and guides ultimately become your friends.  Over and over again we hear about our drivers still connecting with past clients via Facebook and WhatsApp simply because there was a connection of friendship.

Friendship, companionship and a responsibility felt for another person are great components to adding an extra layer of security to your trip.

6.  Beware of scams

The markets of Morocco create an exotic allure that beckons the curious traveler.  Generally speaking, these shops are excellent places to encounter culture and provide an exciting experience for you.  If you a haggler at heart, you might just enter a paradise of sorts.

That said, there are a few warnings to be aware of.  One, if you are passing by and a shop owner offers you tea with no expectations, know that you will be expected – and likely pressured – to purchase something.  These kind of sales can be common with classic Moroccan products such as carpets, textiles and leathers.  If it is too good to be true, it is.  That’s life in a lot of ways, right?

Second, when a shop keeper, possible guide, or someone in the medina offers help, “free products” or other services and along with it says “it’s no problem” or “it’s free” – it will be a problem for you and it will not be free. So the easiest solution is to avoid these types of offers altogether.

Third – and this is especially common in Jemaa al-Fna in Marrakech – if you take pictures of snake charmers, monkey handlers or just about anyone else working in that square, you will be expected to pay for them.  Not only will you be expected to pay for taking photos, they will want a ridiculous amount of money for them. Simply don’t pay for it.  It is a scam.  They make their money by telling you to take photos and then charging you a lot of money to take them.  If you do get caught in this trap and aren’t comfortable paying their high prices, feel free to show them that you deleted the pictures and walk away.

Lastly, for those that find haggling a bit like receiving 100 paper cuts all at once, don’t be afraid to hear the price, assess if you are willing to pay it and if it seems fair, just pay the asking price.  Could you get it for a lower price? Sure, it is possible.  But at the end of the day, there may be value in not having to haggle if it isn’t your thing.  Don’t be afraid to say “no, thank you” and walk away.  You can also look for places that have small signs with prices written on them.  These places have fixed pricing and may allow you to skip the sometimes awkward dance of haggling.

Scams can happen but there are a lot of good and fair shop keepers all over Morocco for you to interact with.  Don’t be afraid to explore, shop, and enter into the world of haggling if it is your ‘cup of tea’.  At the end of the day, remember that ‘no’ is an acceptable answer and you never need to buy something that you do not want to buy.

7.  When you get lost ask a shop keeper for help

Nowhere to be, spending time with people you love, enjoying your vacation – frankly, sometimes it is fun to get lost.  Sometimes you don’t want to admit that you are lost.  But let’s pretend for a minute that you aren’t a directional wizard.  When it comes to Moroccan medinas, it is not so much if you get lost, but when.  Without a guide, you will get lost.  If you are exploring on your own in Fes – probably even in Marrakech – it is ridiculously easy to get turned around.  Rather than pull out your tourist map book, start pointing in all different directions and looking nervous just look for a nearby shop owner that doesn’t look overly interested or wanting to engage with you.  Often these gentleman are a safe bet to ask them a simple direction to a nearby site that will help you get back on track. Many of these people are happy to point you in the right direction with no expectation of anything in return.

When you get lost, it isn’t a time for panic but rather calmly look to see if there are any landmarks you are familiar with and if not, just find the next person that seems content to continue sipping their coffee or mint tea and ask them for some assistance to get you to the landmark you wish to go.  Likely they’ll point you in the right direction and then you’ll have to ask another person along the way to make sure you are still headed in the right direction.  When in doubt, kids will be happy to make 5 Moroccan dirhams and lead you to the place you are looking for.  What is important is that you have fun while getting lost!  Keep your head on straight, stay away from places that you feel uncomfortable in and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you’re in a pinch.

Stay safe and enjoy your Moroccan adventure!

As it is everywhere in the world, it is important to be aware of your surroundings while traveling but as a general rule, Morocco is one of the safest countries in Africa to travel.  It boasts countless opportunities to experience an exotic culture.  There are few places in the world where you can enjoy beaches, desert, mountains and a 1,200 year old city within the same week!  There simply nothing quite like a trip to Morocco.  We look forward to seeing you in the markets!

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