Almost daily, we research accessible tourism and wheelchair-friendly travel.
We tweet about access for wheelchair users using the #accessforall hashtag, participate in groups such as the Travel for All Community and hang out on Lonely Planet forums which discuss travelling with a disability.
Necessity brought us to accessible tourism; before travelling with a wheelchair, we’d never heard of the term.
We’ve found that “Accessible Tourism” is a bit of a mystery, so instead of sitting back and accepting the status quo, we’d like to do our small bit in bringing accessible tourism into the mainstream.
What is Accessible Tourism?
We’d never heard of “Accessible Tourism” until we started travelling with Bridget in her wheelchair. Naively we assumed everywhere would be accessible; this is the 21st century, after all… but apparently not!
Before we share what accessible tourism means to us, here are some explanations from the internet:
“Accessible tourism is tourism that can be enjoyed by everyone, including those with access needs. Many people have access needs including disabled people such as those with hearing and visual impairments, wheelchair users, older and less mobile people and people with pushchairs.”
Visit England Business Development Unit
“Accessible tourism enables people with access requirements, including mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive dimensions of access, to function independently and with equity and dignity through the delivery of universally designed tourism products, services and environments. This definition is inclusive of all people including those travelling with children in prams, people with disabilities and seniors.”
Wikipedia – Accessible Tourism
** You can also find a number of other explanations from various sources on the European Network for Accessible Tourism website **
It would seem explaining accessible tourism isn’t as easy as first thought because accessibility covers a plethora of issues, situations and people.
The list includes people with disabilities, pushchairs, and older, less mobile people. Then within this section, there is a whole host of individual access issues specific to each group.
It’s clear accessible tourism isn’t a one size fits all term; it’s an individual thing which is important to a mass audience.
What Accessible Tourism Means to us
We approach accessible tourism from a physical disability point of view, so accessible tourism means being able to travel without fear, going where and when we want and experiencing the world the same as everyone else.
We accept there are limitations to what we can do, and we’re not asking for special treatment, just an understanding of our difficulties.
The easiest way to explain accessible tourism from our perspective is to break the process of travelling down.
In simple terms, travelling involves deciding where to go, researching the destination, booking the trip, getting there and enjoying the destination.
#1 – Deciding on a destination –
Choosing a place to visit should be a happy time, and for the most part, it is. Sometimes, it’s a nightmare because the most important information isn’t freely available.
We’re realistic and generally pick places we know in advance will be accessible. But this is often easier said than done because access details are scarce, which leads us to the next point.
#2 – Researching a destination –
If we’re unable to find access information in advance we’re not coming; it’s as simple as that!
Why should we incur the expense of telephoning numerous providers to check if we can enter the building, visit the attraction or generally get around?
This might sound harsh, and we’re far from campaigners, but why would we want to spend time and money if there’s a chance we’ll be unable to participate?
It’s easier to vote with our feet and just not come! It’s surprising how many destinations, tourist attractions and accommodation providers fail to have a simple access statement. It’s not that difficult to put a few sentences together to give an indication of accessibility.
But what’s even more shocking is the amount of money these businesses must lose!
#3 – Booking a trip –
Bridget has trouble using her hands, so she uses them sparingly. Searching for accessibility information is hard for her fingers, so I do it.
But what about people with no help; we’re guessing many give up!
If you’re a business trying to entice customers, why hide your access information?
Why can’t it be upfront and centre?
We have a theory about this which we’ll share when we have more proof, but for now, access information shouldn’t be a secret. It should be an integral part of the marketing programme.
#5 – Travelling to the destination –
We travelled by plane, train and car. So far, barring the odd hiccup, we’ve found it relatively stress-free. Any assistance we’ve needed has been easy to book in advance and without additional cost.
As utopian as it sounds; if you refer to point 1, we’d already removed many potential barriers at the planning stage.
This could possibly change when we travel further afield. If we self-book, we run the risk of coming unstuck, so we might have to consider using a specialist-accessible travel agent, which often incurs additional charges.
We’re not criticising specialist agents as they need to make a profit and offer a fantastic opportunity to many who wouldn’t ordinarily travel. But what about the rest of us who like to have choices, who like to be self-sufficient and travel independently?
It all comes back to having the information available at the planning stage!
#6 – Enjoying the destination –
We’re not ogres. We’re flexible! As a couple, we’re not on a mission to find fault; we’re on a mission to discover the best of a destination. Hopefully, you can tell from how we write about destinations we’re looking for what we can do, not what we can’t.
With this in mind, our enjoyment of a destination comes from being able to explore without too much trouble. If we need to take a few detours or improvise along the way, it’s not the end of the world.
It may be getting a bit monotonous, but the information is the key. Help us to help ourselves, our enjoyment levels soar, and we’re more than happy to sing from the rooftops about it.
It should be said at this point; that most touristy destinations in the UK understand the needs of people with mobility problems and do what they can to accommodate them. It’s when you veer off the beaten track that problems can occur, but with a bit of forethought and understanding, even these can be turned into minor irritations.
Final Thoughts on Accessible Tourism
So there you have it, “Accessible Tourism“, and what it means to us.
To be fair, this is not an in-depth report. There simply isn’t enough time in the day because it’s such a big subject.
We can accept without hesitation that accessible tourism is an individual thing; we all have different needs in different situations.
In our next post, we’ll be writing about “Why Accessible Tourism Matters” and “Who Cares About Accessible Tourism”, but for now, it’s not unreasonable to say it matters to a large proportion of society, not just disabled people and it should matter to the tourist industry.
Tourism departments have done a lot to make our world more accessible every year, millions of us benefit from this effort, but there’s still more to be done.
It’s difficult moving a building, but it’s not that difficult to tell us how to get around it, and that’s the main point of this blog post.
Information is the secret that will unlock the gates. With the right information, we can come through; without being stuck outside!
What Does Accessible Tourism Mean to You?
We have no idea who’ll read this post. Maybe people with the power to change things will!
Here’s your chance to have your say. Share what accessible tourism means to you; who knows, it might make all the difference… You might also like What is Accessible Tourism and Who Cares Anyway?, a post I originally wrote for Disability Horizons.