Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Candy for the Disabled

Today, I interview Candy Harrington, an editor of a magazine that leads the disabled to accessible travel, as well as the author of the new book, "101 Accessible Vacations." Candy tells us how she developed this specialized niche, how it is to work with her husband and even a tip for a successful marriage!
Remember, readers, if you would like to ask questions of our authors, please post it in the comment section. I will then ask the authors to answer you if they can.

Tell us about yourself.
I’m the editor of Emerging Horizons (a magazine about accessible travel) and I also write books, columns, website content and freelance articles on the subject. I’ve been covering accessible travel exclusively for the past 14 years and prior to that I wrote for mainstream travel outlets. I’ve always made my living from writing, but at this point in my life I’m able to focus on topics and subjects that are important to me. I consider quality of life an extremely important issue -- people and experiences are what matter the most to me these days. When I’m not traveling, I like to spend time with my husband at our mountain cabin in the Sierras. In fact, I wrote most of my latest book up there last winter. It was a very Steven King-ish experience -- sitting in front of the fireplace with my laptop, in this very remote area. It was a very productive time.

Tell us about your new book, "101 Accessible Vacations."
It’s my third book about accessible travel. Basically it’s a vacation idea book for wheelchair-users and slow walkers. The book evolved from a question that has been posed to me countless times over the years, “Where can I go on vacation?” To be honest, I’ve often been at a loss for a reply to that query, especially if I don’t know anything about the person asking the question.Unlike traditional travel books that are organized geographically, 101 Accessible Vacations is organized by area of interest. It’s divided up into 12 sections that include everything from “Road Trips” and “Family Friendly Fun” to “A Little Culture”, “Crusin’” and “Historic Haunts”. That way readers can focus on the sections that most match their travel styles and areas of interests. In short it answers that question, “Where can I go on vacation?”And like in Emerging Horizons, and the rest of my work, detailed access information is included in this book. To be clear, I don’t just say something is or isn’t accessible, but instead might say that a particular attraction has a level entry, roll-in shower or wide level pathways. I don’t use tables or charts or pictograms all access information is included as a narrative part of the text in the chapter. And it’s included in every chapter.

How did you develop the niche of writing about accessible vacation spots.
I had been covering mainstream travel for many years and I was bored. I was well paid, but tired of writing of what I considered fluff. So I spent a lot of time volunteering at different non-profits; trying to find something more meaningful to do. A friend suggested writing about accessible travel, and at that time it was a pretty far out idea, as it wasn’t addressed at all. I thought it would be interesting and quite a challenge (I love challenges) so I set off to learn about the laws and realities of accessible travel. In the beginning I thought I could cover all aspects of accessible travel, but after further research I realized that scope was too broad. So I decided to address travel for people with mobility disabilities -- from slow walkers to wheelchair-users. I didn’t even know anybody with a disability at that time, but as a writer I knew how to research a topic. It took me a few years before I felt comfortable writing about it, as it’s all very complicated. Suffice it to say I was just at the right place at the right time and a lot of doors opened up; and in the end that’s how I knew I was on the right track. And since I was “first in market” I developed the reputation of being the expert; and that reputation has really advanced my career. Looking back, I wish I could say that I knew accessible travel would be a hot topic in 15 years when the Baby Boomers started to retire, but in reality the timing was just dumb luck. Still I’m very happy with what I do now and I can never imagine retiring -- slowing down, yes, but not totally retiring.

Your magazine, "Emerging Horizons," which presents a critique of accessible vacation spots, accepts no advertising. How do you finance it?
Emerging Horizons is entirely subscriber supported. The reason we don’t accept any advertising is that we want to present an unbiased view of accessible travel options, and we don’t feel we can do that if we accept advertising. Sometimes it’s a very fine line between editorial and advertising and I just don’t want to walk that line. We consider ourselves answerable to our readers and we try to present information that will help them make informed choices as far as travel goes. Sure, we’d probably make more money with advertising, but then we’d be a different publication, and that’s not where I want to go. We’re now in our 10th year of publication and I’m very happy with not only the slant and the content, but also with the fact that we are making a profit.

Your husband is a photographer. Does he take many of your travel photos? How is it working together?
Yes, he takes most of my travel photos, and he does an excellent job. He knows exactly what I need -- he can just tell by how I act and from years of working together. And even more important, he takes great access photos, which isn’t easy. In access photos, you need to show the access features, but you also want to give folks a flavor for the destination. And most of the time he has very little time to set up shots and he just has to take pot-luck with lighting and weather. He even climbed over a fence to get the cover shot for my new book. It was taken in Curacao, and he had done that shot before but in the interim they threw up a fence on us. I think he made a nice save.We work together very well, but we are just one of those couples who can. We don’t like to be apart and we always travel together. That’s one of our big rules. We both have a great sense of humor and we strongly believe in the 10 second fight. It’s not like we never disagree, but when we do, we hash it out, make up and get on with life, in 10 seconds or less. I guess you could call it speed fighting. To be honest, I think that’s the secret of a happy marriage.

How do you find accessible vacation spots?
Any way I can! I rely a lot on reader recommendations but some times I just have to pound the pavement myself for accessible choices. I surf the internet a lot and of course talk to PR folks about their clients. I try to do as much pre-trip research as possible, but even with that we still find some glitches. I’ve had people outright lie to me about access at their property, just to get me there. I guess they think once I get there I will just fall in love with it and the access won’t matter. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s very frustrating. After my inns and B&Bs book was released I had a lot of innkeepers contact me telling me that their property is accessible, which is great because there is going to be a second edition of the book. In the end, I just keep my eyes and ears open all the time. I’ve even gotten good leads while at the hairdresser.

What is the writing process like for you? When is your best time to write?
I’m kind of a strange writer, as I don’t have this set-in-stone process that many writers have. I just sit down and do it. Sure, for major pieces I have outlines, and of course I take copious notes while doing my editorial research; but a lot of times the only structure I have is a few words scribbled together in a loose outline, under headings that only I would understand. As long as I have it in my head, it’s as good as down on paper to me. In fact, I pretty much consider a piece almost finished when it’s hashed out in my head. Getting it down on paper at that point is merely a mechanical exercise. And then of course there’s the fact-checking, which is essential in my niche. That sometimes takes up a chunk of time, as I’m a stickler for accuracy.My most productive time is in the early morning, although ironically I’m not a morning person at all. It’s just that as the day progresses I’m more easily distracted. For my books I do have to be a little more disciplined, to make sure I set aside enough work time; but when push comes to shove I can pretty much write anywhere. I wrote a good chunk of my second book aboard a cruise ship, and I’ve written more than a few editorials at airports. I’m just a very flexible writer.

Is there a writing quirk no one knows about you?
I do my best work in the shower. Really. If I ever have a problem sorting out the logistics of writing -- from crafting a better lead to organizing a book outline, I just take a shower and it all becomes clear. I also get some of my best ideas in the shower. I came up with the original idea for 101 Accessible Vacations in the shower. And once it’s in my head in the shower, it’s as good as done.Admittedly, my husband knows I’m a shower thinker, but then again he’s used to me racing out of the shower, sitting down at my computer and writing non-stop for an hour or so. It’s kind of hard to miss if you live with me. The towel is a dead giveaway.

Some of your business is built around speaking. How much of your business do you devote to it and how do you find gigs, or do they find you?
For the most part I don’t actively seek out major gigs; they find me because of my reputation and the subject I cover. I have been known to seek out smaller ones though, just as a way to keep me in touch with my readers. I travel a lot and if I know I’m going to have a little extra time in a particular city, then I’ll contact some local disability groups and ask if they’d like me to do an accessible travel presentation. It’s kind of fun and every now and again it leads to something bigger. Right now I’d estimate that speaking only takes up about 15% of my time. And that’s about right for me. I like a little diversity in life.

What's next for you?
Well I just started doing a radio show, appropriately called Barrier Free Travels. It’s actually a segment of the Independence Journal, which is broadcast on WFNP 88.7 FM in the Hudson Valley of NY. I just taped my first two segments today.For a long time I toyed with doing a podcast, but for one reason or another that never got off the ground. Then out of the blue a colleague called and asked me if I’d like to do a regular accessible travel segment on his show. It’s the perfect solution for me, because he deals with all the recording and editing and manages the technology end of things, while I concentrate on content. And in the end I have some nice segments to post on my blog. Still it’s a new experience and a bit different from being interviewed by somebody. I’m learning a lot and although I didn’t have any disasters with my first segments, I’m sure they will improve as I gain more experience. I enjoy branching out creatively. It keeps my mind active. I really don’t like to stagnate.


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