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LiveWorkPlay Travel Support: Update From Punta Cana!

Club Med Punta Cana TripWith the return of 19 members from the LiveWorkPlay supported trip to Club Med Punta Cana on Sunday, there has been much to celebrate. After a day of rest, individual Facebook accounts have been pumping out stories and photos to go along with the more than 200 photos and videos already shared on the official LiveWorkPlay page.

We have also received a number of interesting questions from family members, professional colleagues, the general public, and others, and we are answering them below! These are paraphrased questions that are intended as a summary of various inquiries that we’ve received.

    • Why does LiveWorkPlay provide a travel support service? Doesn’t it reinforce negative stereotypes to travel in a group with staff?
    • How can LiveWorkPlay members afford such a trip? Isn’t this unfair to people on fixed low incomes?
    • I told one of the staff I hoped they had a “nice vacation” and I got the impression that I said the wrong thing?
    • Do staff pick the trip destinations?
    • What other trips have you done?

Why does LiveWorkPlay provide a travel support service? Doesn’t it reinforce negative stereotypes to travel in a group with staff?

Great question! We have struggled with this over the years and have found ways to make LiveWorkPlay travel a more inclusive experience. For example, we now support bus tours with public travel groups like Ottawa Valley Tours, such that for the entire trip, LiveWorkPlay members and staff are a part of a much larger group. In this way experiences are shared within this larger group and the stigma of “travelling as a group of people with disabilities who need support” is greatly reduced in function and appearance. Natural supports and interdependence develop with other travellers as the trip rolls along.

With respect to other types of trips, Club Med is a deliberate choice that has been made because their resorts feature inclusive values and they operate with the assumed norm that all guests will share equally (and together) in all of the available activities. Club Med staff and LiveWorkPlay staff have always worked well together to discreetly and respectfully support members to be active and fully included guests.

One of the challenges to more independent travel for people with intellectual disabilities, particularly with air travel, is that it requires a period of highly intensive and stressful personal management with a requirement for fast-paced intellectual processing. For example, much of what took place arriving and departing from the Punta Cana airport was very difficult for our members to understand, and staff support was critical. There were other times throughout the trip where problem-solving was required of a type that is very difficult for most people with intellectual disabilities. For these reasons, skilled staff support (skills related to travel but also to supporting individuals with stress management and coping) offered by persons who are known and trusted by people with intellectual disabilities remains critical to many forms of travel.

Many LiveWorkPlay members can and do travel on their own, for example, by bus or train to visit relatives or friends in Toronto, and the list is always growing. LiveWorkPlay travel support contributes to skill development and builds confidence for our members and their families to expand their independent travel options.

How can LiveWorkPlay members afford such a trip? Isn’t this unfair to people on fixed low incomes?

LiveWorkPlay offers a variety of travel opportunities each year with a range of costs. Members only pay for the expenses of third parties (what LiveWorkPlay pays the airline, hotel, tour operators, etc.) they do not pay for the LiveWorkPlay costs of supporting the trip (the weeks and months of planning, making bookings, and communicating before the trip, or the staff time during the trip).

Trip destinations are determined through a consultation process with members, and the goal is to announce them a full year in advance, providing time to set up a monthly payment plan. For those members that are in uniquely difficult financial circumstances, we assist them in selecting a trip they can afford and/or help them explore possibilities for acquiring any additional funds they need.

I told one of the staff I hoped they had a “nice vacation” and I got the impression that I said the wrong thing?

This is an innocent question or statement that gets asked/made often,  but your impression was correct: that is not an accurate way of describing the role of LiveWorkPlay staff in supporting travel for our members. It would be like asking an OC Transpo operator at the end of a shift if he/she “had a nice drive today” or asking an Early Childhood Educator if they “had fun playing games.” You get the idea. LiveWorkPlay staff have some fun doing their jobs every day, whether they are supporting travel or not. But they are indeed at work.

Part of the confusion about the staff role with travel comes from how the positive outcomes of travel support are celebrated; namely, lots of really nice photos and videos of members and staff doing really fun things in beautiful places (photography and videography are in fact one of the cherished services LiveWorkPlay staff provide). We don’t post photos and stories about the rest of their work (16 hour days, sometimes longer, and sometimes including emergency response) because that is a matter of respect and dignity for our members.

To understand that travel support is work and not a vacation for LiveWorkPlay staff, just consider them as you would other workers in the travel industry. Our staff offer a highly specialized travel service that requires particular skills and training that most workers in the field would be unable to provide. In fact, LiveWorkPlay staff often receive the most relevant source of compliments possible: from those who work in the travel industry and are able to recognize the difficulties, challenges, risks, and responsibilities inherent in the task.

Do staff pick the trip destinations?

To some extent yes – but based on what members are looking for each year (sort of like travel agents). Travel consultation meetings are held, and staff look for a consensus for one “large trip” such as this year’s Club Med Punta Cana excursion. At the 2012 travel consultation most members were wanting the option of a trip to a resort during the winter (the Punta Cana trip) whereas the previous year, they’d wanted to try a cruise.

The next 2013 trip is a motor coach journey to Washington, D.C. in the spring. This was chosen from a short list of possibilities in the Ottawa Valley Tours brochure. In 2012 a small group of members got together to request support for a trip to see an NFL football game in Buffalo, which was organized with a combination of LiveWorkPlay staff and volunteers. Through volunteering matching, we expect in future to see more and more members travelling with just one other person or in small groups.

What other trips have you done?

It’s a pretty long list, you can find brief discussions about many of the trips on the history page and in the albums on our facebook page.