‘Coachable moment’: Blind Canadian Paralympian removed from cruise ship

A blind BC man and Paralympian who was removed from a cruise ship on Sunday says the incident is a “coachable moment” for the travel industry.

Swimmer Donovan Tildesley was the flag bearer for Canada at the 2009 Paralympics and told Global News he traveled a lot alone.

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So he was surprised when he checked in on Virgin Voyages scarlet ladyHe was told on Sunday that the ship could not take him.

“So I’m sitting at the terrace bar … and I’m barely done with my second drink when two people come up to me from the ship and basically say we have bad news.”

“We have realized that as a blind person traveling alone there are some safety issues that we cannot address, so you must now complete the cruise and disembark.”

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Tildesley said the crew arranged for him to return to a Miami hotel and was still struggling to understand what had happened.

He was particularly confused as his travel agent had written to him saying he was visually impaired and traveling alone.

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“I thought it was a joke at first. For real? Something like this happening in 2022 with a company as progressive as Virgin claims to be?” he said.

“I’ve traveled the world alone. I was alone in South Africa. I ski double black diamond downhill including backcountry skiing this season. And you’re telling me it’s not safe to have me on a cruise ship?”

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On Sunday evening, Tildesley received a call from Virgin’s senior vice president of fleets, who apologized and told him there had been a “misunderstanding,” he told Global News.

The company has since offered to fly him to Honduras on Tuesday to join the ship and will cover the cost of his cruise.

In a statement, Virgin Voyages said it had “failed to live up to” its commitment to the highest standard of customer service.

“We know what needs to be done to prevent this from happening again and we are equally committed to making things right,” it said.

“The safety and well-being of our passengers will always be our top priority and while this was done out of great caution, you take full responsibility for the situation and are grateful for the chance to make things right.”

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Tildesley said while he was disappointed to have lost a few days from his week-long cruise, he hoped the incident could lead to a positive outcome.

“This is also a real coaching moment for people in the travel industry and for cruise lines in general. Just because someone can’t see doesn’t mean they’re not a competent traveler,” he said.

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“You have to go the way. It is not enough to say on your website that you have accessible ships and Braille in your elevator. You must have a strategy as to when this passenger will board your ship.”

Global News has reached out to Virgin Voyages for comment.

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