It’s part of the travel and roadside Americana that’s become sort of a passion for Angel. The diners, the drive-ins, the tourist stops and the amusement parks that sprung up to accommodate middle-class Americans who early on in the 20th century discovered a new sense of freedom in their cars — it’s all good stuff to Angel.

Salem, Mass. - Jason Angel hasn’t seen the old hit television series “Route 66,” the early ’60s show that followed two young drifters crossing the country along America’s iconic highway. It was a little before his time. But he knows the road.

It’s part of the travel and roadside Americana that’s become sort of a passion for Angel. The diners, the drive-ins, the tourist stops and the amusement parks that sprung up to accommodate middle-class Americans who early on in the 20th century discovered a new sense of freedom in their cars — it’s all good stuff to Angel.

But Angel’s not your ordinary tourist. This month, the Amesbury, Mass., resident graduates from Salem State with a degree in geography and tourism. When he takes a trip, he brings a professional eye to all the details. And something else. Back in 1990, two days before his high school graduation, Angel was in a car accident that left him in a wheelchair. Traveling’s a little more complicated now, but Angel never stops moving.

A while back, Angel and his wife, Patty, took a trip through Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah — along Route 66 or the “Mother Road,” a phrase writer John Steinbeck coined back in 1939 in “The Grapes of Wrath.”

“Route 66 has all the diners and all the roadside attractions, but it’s Route 66. It’s the road that’s the attraction,” says Angel, who appreciates the highway’s place in American cultural history.

Angel recently presented a paper on that trip at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers at the Sheraton in Boston. He was among more than 4,000 geographers who presented papers to a conference that boasted 7,000 attendees. Not too shabby for an undergrad.

Angel’s paper and presentation, “Accessing the ‘Mother Road,’” looks at the difficulty of being a disabled tourist with respect to air travel, rental car experiences and restaurant accessibility. He also describes the problems people in wheelchairs face when they visit attractions along Route 66 like the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, Four Corners and the casinos.

Dignity for the passenger
There’s no shortage of artists and musicians who have paid tribute to Route 66. Nat King Cole, Bob Dylan, Nelson Riddle, The Cramps, Chuck Berry and the Stones have all recorded versions of the famous song glorifying the “Mother Road” experience. And Angel has plenty of insight and poetry to add to the annals. But the Association of American Geographers wasn’t so much looking for poetry.

“I was among many scholarly papers, mostly people presenting masters’ theses and professionals,” says Angel. “The AAG casts a pretty broad net and they get all disciplines in return.” What the AAG got with Angel was a concise nuts-and-bolts look at how the tourism industry needs to do better to make to make travel accessible to everyone.

Starting with air travel, Angel describes the need for more signs in older airports — newer airports do better since most of them comply with the standards set out in the Americans with Disabilities Act. While there are measures being taken to accommodate travelers with disabilities, Angel says, “the procedure [lacks] dignity for the passenger.”

He believes more uniform procedures should be in place and suggests the creation of a standard procedure for all airports. He also recommends that aircraft designers take a look at current buses and trains, which do a better job of accommodating disabled passengers.

Even though Route 66 is the “hip trip,” you still gotta eat, and Angel describes some of the problems disabled tourists face in the many roadside diners and restaurants along the way. Angel points out that a lot of places have done OK making sure a wheelchair can get through the front door, but once you’re inside, it’s a different story. He describes how it can be hard to navigate through the tables, and accessing the restroom — yeah, that can be a problem too.

This is, of course, a road trip, which means you need a car, and Hertz gets points for providing Angel with a newer model Monte Carlo better able to accommodate him and his wheelchair. There was plenty of room in the back as well as room under the steering column for hand controls that allow Angel to drive.

As for all the things you want to stop and see, in general Angel says accessibility was good throughout the tourist attractions, “but small annoyances added up.”

For example, viewing stations didn’t always provide the best vantage point for someone in a wheelchair at the Grand Canyon. The Painted Desert was a good driving alternative, but there were no accessible paths for those who were in a wheelchair. Although the Access Pass was not recognized on the Navajo Nation at Four Corners, Angel called the attraction a “geographer’s paradise.” Older casinos present more challenges than newer ones.

Next Stop
Right now, Angel isn’t sure what his next big move will be — he’s too pumped thinking about his upcoming graduation .

“I am looking forward to walking the walk, so to speak,” he says.

“College graduation is huge for me. I have wished for this day ever since I was in kindergarten. I remember thinking then that I only had 12 more years to go before [high school] graduation. I missed that one. This is definitely significant.”

But he knows he’s already made a mark in his field. “Delivering this paper will go a long way as resume material for my graduate school application,” he says. And while he hasn’t filled out any grad school applications just yet, Angel knows he wants to continue his studies.

But something else Angel is sure he wants to do is to continue helping the travel and tourism industry update what it offers so everybody gets to take a look at what’s out there. “I want to continue doing some of the same research, I’m hoping to maybe create a travel industry standard,” he says.

He’s already got a new project in mind, a paper on Disney World and how it can improve its accessibility for disabled visitors. He says the theme park already does a pretty good job, but again, it’s the details — a lot of which he says park directors probably aren’t even aware of.

He knows this can be a dicey area, and some in the travel industry resist changes and renovations that can require investments, even if they’ll ultimately end up paying off big time. But that’s just part of the big picture Angel sees when he’s on the road, especially Route 66, America’s road, which is supposed to belong to all of us.

“Everybody is supposed to be afforded reasonable accommodations,” he says.