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Profiles in Excellence. AVIS logo includes a button which reads 'We try harder.'

Avis Really Tries Harder

By Joan Leotta

For people planning trips for business or pleasure, flying and then renting a car for transportation in the destination city is a common scenario. But if you’re a person with a disability, the auto rental segment may give you pause: Will you be able to find a rental car that meets your needs? Avis car rental offices are prepared to give you a smile, an answer to your questions, and a car adapted so you can drive it.

The Avis Access Program offers numerous devices that make travel easier. From hand controls and portable ramps for wheelchair users to panoramic mirrors required for Deaf drivers, these devices are available for all categories of rental car at no additional cost to the customer—even if you choose to pay with coupons or other discount promotions.

From idea to launch

The Avis Access Program aims to serve the 54 million Americans with mobility, hearing and visual impairments, and their families who travel within the United States and Canada. Michael Caron, Vice President of Avis Product and Service Development, explains how the program came about. “A couple of years ago we began to see an upswing in requests for special devices to aid driving,” he says. “One in five Americans is considered to have a disability of one form or another,” he noted in a press release announcing the program’s debut in September 2003. “We’re very proud to take the lead in the car rental industry by addressing the needs of this underserved segment of our population.”

Once Avis leaders recognized the need for providing such specialized services, they worked quickly. “We engaged a firm named Diversity Partners in New York to help us research the situation and identified products and services that could help us to better serve our customers and the potential customer base of persons with disabilities and an increasingly gray customer population,” Caron explains.

It took only four months to go from the initial idea to the launch of the test phase. Less than eight months later, Avis rolled out of the program nationwide. Research has already begun on expanding the program, and Avis is considering adding vehicles equipped with wheelchair lifts to their fleet.

While all drivers must meet Avis’s standard licensed driver conditions, there are no additional requirements nor any added fees for the adaptive devices. In addition, Avis provides accessible bus services for customers and waives the second-driver fee for designated drivers of customers with visual limitations.

What the program provides

A listing of the available accommodations is available in the “Avis Access Program Products and Services” sidebar. Although the devices are on-site in only 81 of the larger Avis offices in North America, shipment to other locations is available upon request. By making advance reservations, customers should have no problem receiving the necessary accommodations, says Caron. Even walk-in customers can obtain adaptive devices if they are willing to wait for shipment from another location.

Community impact

In Avis’s press release announcing the program, Eric Lipp, executive director of the Chicago-based non-profit Open Doors Organization, states, “The Avis Access Program is a beacon in the tourism, hospitality and rental car sectors for all companies to learn from and follow.” Open Doors was founded in 2000 on the principle that all businesses need to make themselves accessible to people with disabilities.

Informal evidence shows that the first few months of the program have been a success. Avis looks at call volumes and anecdotal stories as proof that the program is meeting needs that went unmet before. Caron notes, “Since the program began we have experienced a fifty percent increase in the number of calls requesting assistance—I think the program is working!”

Even before launching the Access Program, Avis has been a welcome presence in the disability community. The company has long made efforts to support runners and other athletes with disabilities. In addition, Avis has invited cooperation from organizations serving special populations to get the word out about the benefits that Avis provides.

Spreading the Word

The breadth of the program—covering both many devices and many disabilities—make the program both popular to the disability community and hard to promote in brief television ads.

“We are getting the word out on this program primarily through a print campaign,” says Caron. “Our television ads are great for getting across a thirty-second image of the company, but explaining these new services is a bit more complex than that.” To solve that problem, Caron explains, Avis is “using a medium that will give people time to read and understand—print. We have not necessarily targeted disability magazines, but the ads are appearing in a wide variety of national magazine including the publications of AARP, since these modifications will also benefit an aging population.”

Future Plans

The success of the program’s first few months, combined with the Avis company culture, ensure continuous improvements in the future. Avis, whose company motto is, “We try harder,” attempts to be both broadly inclusive and strongly committed to service. Caron notes that they put potential customers’ needs first in designing the Access Program. “We continue to a look at service issues from this point of view, and will continue to use this perspective to review options and work with those travelers who need additional services.”

Avis Access Program Products and Services

Call 1-888 TRY-HARDER (879-4273) for any of these services to be made available at your nearest Avis office.

  • Transfer Board : Eases a driver or passenger from a wheelchair into the car seat
  • Swivel Seat : Allows the driver or passenger to turn in the car seat with limited effort. The seat can easily be removed from underneath the person.
  • Spinner Knob : Enables a full turning radius of the steering wheel by one hand.
  • Panoramic Mirror : Provides a much larger field of view for any driver, and is a legal requirement for deaf or hard of hearing drivers.
  • Hand Controls : Lets drivers with limited leg function accelerate or brake using a hand-controlled device. Controls do not interfere with drivers who do not have physical disabilities.
  • Accessible Bus Service : Offers an electrically operated ramp or lift, two ADA-compliant wheelchair positions, wide aisles, and low luggage racks.
  • Additional Driver Fee Waiver: Customers with visual impairments can rent an Avis car without incurring any additional driver fees for their designated driver.

Edited by Mary-Louise Piner.

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