Ribbons of snow spray through the air as a dark figure in the distance carves turn after turn down a ski run at Mount Snow , Vermont . Only when he comes closer is it noticeable that this skier is actually a paraplegic arcing his way down the slopes in a wheelchair-like mono ski.

“Our adaptive ski program has grown rapidly over the last several years,” says Andrew Rubenstein, the resort’s public relations director. “Disabled skiers rarely come to the mountain alone, so when one does participate in our program, it can mean we sell three or four additional lift tickets—business that might be lost otherwise.”

Changes to accommodate the disabled have become much more than just an added expense for resorts and travel companies. Thirty years after the National Rehabilitation Act and almost 15 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), growth in the disabled travel market means added profits for businesses and expanding travel opportunities for the disabled. Part of the new mix of choices is a growing list of adventure travel options. No one is more aware of these new business opportunities than disabled entrepreneurs who’ve opened their own tour and travel agencies catering to this market.

A recent Harris Interactive/Open Doors Organization (www.opendoorsnfp.org) market study shows that with the expansion of accessible travel opportunities, disabled travelers now spend more than $13 billion a year on travel-related services, including more than 17 million hotel visits and 9.4 million airline flights. And those numbers are drawing the attention of the travel industry as never before. The Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality (www.sath.org), a nonprofit educational organization representing travelers with disabilities, hosts hundreds of travel professionals from across the globe at its World Congress each year. The next of these SATH events, scheduled for January 14–18, 2004 , in Miami , Florida , will be the largest such conference ever.

In the past five years, 12 percent of adults with disabilities in the United States have taken a cruise, compared to only 8 percent of the general population. And repeat business for cruises is particularly high, with 59 percent of disabled cruise passengers planning to take another cruise in the coming five years.

“As baby boomers age, it becomes more important to address the issue of passenger disabilities,” says Bob Sharak of the Cruise Lines International Association. “But it’s more than financial; we believe that everyone should have the opportunity to cruise.”

This newfound attention from travel-related businesses is opening up a world of activities and destinations never imagined by many who live with a disability. Adventure travel for the disabled is on the rise, and a crop of bold, new companies is attempting to meet growing demand. Whether it’s an African safari, kayaking in Vancouver , scuba diving in Australia , skiing in Vermont , or deep-sea fishing in Mexico , tour companies are making these adventure trips accessible to people with all sorts of disabilities.

Although disabled travelers are venturing further into uncharted territory, they are not throwing all caution to the wind. Looking for reassurance that these travel adventures can accommodate their particular access requirements, many people are relying on other disabled travelers to guide them in their journeys. As a result, a virtual cottage industry of disabled-owned travel agencies and tour operators has come into being over the past several years. Using their personal experiences, these deaf, blind, and mobility-impaired entrepreneurs now plan trips for travelers with similar disabilities.

Steve Osgood, owner of Accessible Cruise Planners, says that “being able to relate to clients about access issues and having done personal site inspections, I know just what the conditions are and can make recommendations confidently. My experience as a wheelchair user gives me an advantage over able-bodied travel agents.”

Companies such as Accessible Cruise Planners, NeverLand Adventures, Beasley Travel, Flying Wheels, and Outta Sight Travel—all founded by disabled business people—have made it their mission to enhance the lives of other disabled people.

Jackie Hull of Outta Sight Travel says, “Our personal travels and research help us assist blind clients in choosing destinations that go beyond sightseeing. We call it a multisensory travel experience. Blind people can do anything that sighted people can do but see, so why not give them the opportunity to explore the world in a manner that they can enjoy?”

With this inclusive approach gaining momentum, the travel industry is increasingly aware that new opportunities in disabled travel are genuinely benefitting everyone involved.