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Monday, May 10, 2021

Western alumni helps travelers with disabilities plan trips

Traveling can be a pain.

There’s packing, figuring out transportation and booking a hotel.

However, some have many more issues to worry about.

Does the hotel have a roll-in shower? Are the beds easy to access? Is there an airport shuttle?

These are questions that AbiliTrek was made to answer.

Created by Western alumni Daman Wandke, AbiliTrek is a new website that allows travelers to book and find hotels online with detailed information about available disability accommodations. However, unlike other hotel websites, AbiliTrek also allows users to filter through hotels to find the ones that meet any special disability accommodations that they require.

Users are able to choose from over 20 accommodations they need and AbiliTrek uses both established hotel data and past AbiliTrek user reviews to find an accurate match.

“A few months ago I went to San Francisco and I had to go to three different hotels before I found a hotel where I could take a shower,” Wandke said.

Daman had called the hotels ahead of time and he was informed that they provided roll-in showers. Unfortunately for Wandke and other travelers with disabilities, the information that hotels provide about their accessibility accommodations is not always accurate.

AbiliTrek launched a month ago and has started expanding their marketing campaign. With a small budget, AbiliTrek has been able to save money by advertising through social media like Facebook. One of their videos had been viewed over 15 thousand times in a week as of June 1.

The company started development over a year ago, when Wandke was paired with student Jeremy McLaughlin at a startup challenge and they came up with the concept that later became AbiliTrek. McLaughlin has been an official part of the company for around six months with an internship and is the head product manager of AbiliTrek.

Travis Heller, a computer science major, joined the company in October 2016 as the lead software developer.

“When Jeremy contacted me in the beginning, I thought that they just needed some guidance on how to proceed,” Heller said.

After a short conversation, Heller was invited to join the company, where he still works today.

When Heller joined, the AbiliTrek website failed to meet the standards of their hotel data provider, which he fixed, along with fixing the site. Despite this being the first company he has worked for, Heller has helped launch both the website and the service that AbiliTrek needed to run.

Along with hiring students, Wandke has been able to expand his business thanks to the networking and help he receives from students and campus resources such as the IDEA Institute, which supports new entrepreneurs.

AbiliTrek placed in the top 16 and received the best consumer award from the University of Washington Business plan competition this year.

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