The Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality, otherwise known as SATH, is an organization that promotes equality of travel for people with disabilities. Their group mission is to remove all physical and societal barriers for disabled people who wish to exercise their right to travel. The group has been around since 1976, and its original title was the Society for Advancement of Travel for the Handicapped. It was changed to reflect new attitudes and new language related to people with disabilities.

The organization has been active in passing laws concerning travel for people with disabilities, including the Air Carriers Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act and several rules for the International Air Transport Association. In 1991, the World Tourism Organization adopted the advocacy group’s Code of Conduct for travelers who have disabilities. They have been active internationally as well, helping several governments write national guidelines for disabled access to travel facilities.

Educating the World About Travelers With Disabilities

In 1976, the organization’s founder, Murray Vidockler, envisioned an airline industry in which disabled people had access to the same modes of transportation as anyone. He created SATH with several other like-minded people, and at first, their biggest challenge was to educate travel industry professionals about the huge economic benefits they were missing by excluding disabled people from travel. The world was much different in those days; the Civil Rights movement was still underway, and Equality of Opportunity was just getting started. Attitudes at the time were beginning to change, but very few advocacy groups represented disabled people.

From the beginning, Vidockler knew that he didn’t want the travel industry to pity people with disabilities or treat them differently than anyone else. He used slogans such as “Charity no, services yes” and “No discounts for the handicapped.” His original intention was for disabled people to fly to their destinations with the same dignity as other people. The result of his advocacy was that airlines began making millions of dollars that they previously had been missing and attitudes began changing toward people with disabilities.

Awards, Honors and Recognition

Twenty years after founding the organization, in 1996, Vidockler was given the American Society of Travel Agents’ highest award at their World Congress in Thailand. They inducted him into their Hall of Fame, congratulating him on setting new standards for the treatment of people with disabilities in the travel industry. Two years before Vidockler was awarded the American Society of Travel Agents award, in 1994, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act, further raising awareness of people with disabilities at home and abroad, and Vidockler’s society had a hand in writing parts of its code.

Every year, the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality gives out the Access to Freedom Award, honoring those who did the most in creating new economic opportunities for disabled people in the hospitality industry and increasing awareness of disabled travelers. The first of these awards was given to President Bush, at the American Society of Travel Agents World Congress in Lisbon, Spain, after he signed the Americans With Disabilities Act.

In 1976, disabled people lived in a much different world than today, and Murray Vidockler envisioned a world in which disabled travelers had the same dignity and access to air travel as other people. He founded SATH so that disabled people would have an advocacy movement similar to the Civil Rights and Equality of Opportunity movements.