Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

Anne Gordon, founder and owner of Live Life Travel in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., started her agency, an affiliate of Travel Experts, four years ago.

Gordon was raised by her grandparents, and after her grandfather died she decided to make the move from Manhattan -- where she spent almost 20 years working in advertising, media and marketing -- to be closer to her grandmother. She also made the decision to start a new career as a travel advisor, having worked with one years prior.

Now Gordon has a new mission: She wants the travel industry as a whole to become more accommodating to travelers with autism.

When she first started in travel, Gordon didn't know how she would acquire clients in Saratoga Springs. Someone suggested she exhibit her services at a bridal show. She did, and it paid off; today, one of her niches is honeymoons and destination weddings. The other is family travel, a natural fit since she has a 12-year-old son.

She was planning a trip for a family member who has a child with autism spectrum disorder when the thought hit her: She should be certified as an autism specialist.

"I'm a family travel specialist," she said. "Why am I not certified?"

Earlier this year, Gordon got certified through the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES).

She described some of the facts around autism as "completely eye-opening." For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistic that 1 in 59 children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

Gordon also cited an IBCCES survey conducted among parents with children with autism: 87% don't take a family vacation, 89% said they weren't satisfied with the current travel options available to families with autism and 93% said they would be more inclined to take a family vacation if there were more autism-certified options available to them.

"What I really have set out to do is increase awareness on both the vendor side and also the travel advisor side," Gordon said.

She is encouraging advisors and suppliers alike to get certified, and she is hoping to help the industry move toward a set of standardized best practices that would help travelers with autism.

For instance, she pointed to work the IBCCES did with Sesame Place. Together, they created a sensory guide to help guests with cognitive disabilities, including autism.

The guide ranks each attraction -- including water rides, shows and parades, dining experiences and more -- with a "sensory level summary" for each of the five senses. It ranks the attraction from 1-10, with one designating "low sensory stimulation" and 10 designating "high sensory stimulation."

Creating something like a standard guide that could be used by multiple suppliers would be a step in the right direction, Gordon said.

"It's about having options for people and to be inclusive in general," she said.

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