Jeremy sees another gas station. We are on our way to Merzouga doing development for our iconic accessible desert excursion. Next to the gas station is a mini-mart with ramp – steep as the mountain slopes we have been driving past – but we decide to stop anyways. Maybe…just maybe, their bathrooms won’t have a ramp with a slope that resembles the Atlas Mountains. Maybe universal design will have influenced this place. As we pull around to the far side of the building, we both get excited, “look at that ramp! That should work!”, I exclaim with excitement. As we walk in to the restaurant, there is a mix of excitement and skepticism. What is going to be the one piece that makes this rest stop not work for our clients traveling Morocco in a wheelchair? I notice silently to myself that there is no step at the front entrance. We step in and look right and amazingly, there are no steps into the bathrooms. Fantastic!
A waiter greets us energetically, expecting that we are there to eat. “Salam Alaykum!” I greet him warmly and explain that we have a travel company that specializes in tours for people that use wheelchairs and other mobility devices. He smiles and welcomes us warmly and asks if we like the ramp outside. “Yes, the ramp is fantastic! Thanks for being forward thinking in designing this rest stop. Can we take a look at your restrooms and take some measurements to see if this will work for our clients?”, I ask. “Absolutely, one thousand welcomes!” He bows slightly with a flair of Moroccan hospitality and gestures towards the swinging doors to the right.
Jeremy and I get to work taking pictures, measuring doors, taking notes and talking animatedly between ourselves. The bathroom stall doors are wider than most in Morocco. Not quite to ADA standards for accessible bathrooms, but definitely workable! This is a familiar routine for us. The current setup for the rest stop will be adequate for our clients. However, with a few adjustments this could be a really good option to make the 7 hour drive from Fes to the desert more comfortable for our clients. We scribble some notes into our notebook of recommendations and changes that we would like to suggest.
As we exit the restrooms, we are offered tea and cookies by the waiter. We sit down to visit with him for a bit. “Can you honor us with your name, kind sir?” Jeremy asks in the local dialect. Language is one of the keys to working cross-culturally and developing excellent rapport with our new friend. It is one of the values we hold as business owners and we have worked hard to learn to speak Darija – the local Morrocan Arabic dialect.
“My name is Hassan”, he says as he beams with pride. We proceed to discuss the various suggestions of changing the direction that the bathroom door opens as well as the possibility of adding grab bars in one of the stalls in the Gents and one in the Ladies. “Of course! We built this ramp for people to have access to our restaurant and any suggestions you can give us will help to make this restaurant better for all of our clients. We would be honored to work with you and your clients in the future.”
We thank him for the tea, get a business card and head out to the 4×4. This is the forging of a potential partnership for our accessible desert excursion. Increasing accessibility in the tourism service sector is often the first step in increasing accessibility for locals and visitors, alike. We will return in a few weeks with grab bars to mount on the walls and to change the orientation of doors for easy access and use for our clients as they travel to the desert.
Just another day of doing business in Morocco. Advocating for accessibility in Morocco is a vital part of our business vision.
Making Access Happen
Three weeks later I return to Restaurant 7 in Ait Toughach. The 3 hour drive there flies by as I am mesmerized by the stunningly beautiful Middle Atlas Mountains. Hassan recognizes me right away with a warm smile and open arms. After the animated pleasantries of Moroccan greetings I get right to work. A measuring tape, hammer drill and masonry bit are all it takes for this adaptation.
Removing the door, a few anchors with solid bolts, flipping the door hinges – really simple tasks that will have a significant impact on dignity, independence and comfort for many people in the future as they make their way to the majestic Sahara, barrier free — Moroccan and international tourists alike! How cool is that?! Creating key rest stops to break up the the 8 hour journey from Fes to Merzouga is vital for making this an accessible desert excursion. I love getting out of the office. And when it can increase access for my clients and business for our suppliers – that’s even better!