Accessibility accreditation for the tourism sector

Castle at Disney World showing the towers and pinnacles. Accessibility Accreditation.
Disney World Castle

The Australian Tourism Industry Council runs an accreditation program for tourism businesses to meet certain standards. It’s how businesses get a star rating. Now accredited businesses can do an additional module to add accessibility accreditation to their listing. 

The module was developed in consultation with TravAbility. It helps businesses evaluate the level of access and inclusion their experiences offer. The aim is to encourage tourism businesses to make adjustments to accommodate people with disability. 

A guide with facts and figures about the business case was prepared for the launch of the accessibility self-assessment module. It includes the needs and aspirations of travellers and how to become accredited. There are sections on the size of the market, what travellers need, eligibility to apply, and the cost of accreditation. The guide also shows how to get started with the assessment.

Quality Tourism Accredited Business logo.Quality Tourism accredited businesses can begin their application under the existing Quality Tourism Framework. Other businesses will need to become an accredited before they can access the self-assessment module.

The module was developed by the Queensland Tourism Industry Council for the Australian Quality Tourism Framework. The module assesses provisions for people with:

      • limited mobility and wheelchair users
      • low vision
      • low hearing
      • cognitive conditions 
      • allergies and intolerances

At the end of the process the business will receive a report that will help identify improvements, and a tailored Accessibility Guide for the provisions already in place. This guide helps potential guests understand what the business offers in terms of access and inclusion. 

A previous post with a list of organisations catering specifically for people with disability shows how others are capturing a specialised market. The accreditation program is for the mainstream market for a more inclusive experience. People with disability often travel with family and friends without disability.


Inclusive customer to customer experiences in tourism

Roman Colosseum heritage site. Customer to customer experiences in inclusive tourism. Visits to heritage sites are more than history and the site itself. It’s also about the interactions you have with others. Most inclusive tourism research has focused on the relationship between the operator and customer. But what about the relationship between visitors with and without disability? Shared settings for visitors create value for all customers and therefore the business. So how can operators facilitate inclusive customer to customer experiences?

Chiscano and Darcy used a heritage site for a qualitative study on customer to customer interactions. The aim of the research was to find out how people with and without disability share an experience. They also wanted to know how the interactions created value for the customers. Their paper is very academic with lots of theory and methods. It uses the language of “value outcome” and “social practices”.

Interactions were observed and participants reported on their interactions throughout the experience. The article reports in detail their findings of interactions that include and exclude. The concluding section has a table of quotes by participants which includes participant feedback on how they felt.

The article concludes with advice for heritage and cultural site managers. Operators can facilitate positive outcomes for visitors with and without disability by changing some of their processes. Providing support tools for people with different disability types before the activity is very helpful. People with disability enjoy their experience more if they can share it with other visitors with or without disability.

Everyone wins with inclusion

Bottom line; operators can benefit from customer to customer interactions and shared resources to create value for the business.

Simon Darcy wrote a post on Linked In: “Tourism is as much about the interactions you have with others as it is about the sites you are seeing and quite often people with disability have segregated experiences because of the lack of innovative service development that incorporates co-design and universal design principles within all service and product development.”

The title of the article is, C2C co-creation of inclusive tourism experiences for customers with disability in a shared heritage context experience.

Accessible tourism organisations

A woman in a yellow jacket is being assisted onto the tour bus by two men up a ramp.Should we call it ‘inclusive tourism’ or ‘accessible tourism?’ Well that depends. If it is a destination or activity specifically designed for people with disability then it’s accessible. If it is a mainstream service AND it is fully accessible for everyone then it’s inclusive. There is a place for both. Here is a list of some accessible tourism organisations that are specifically for people with disability. 

Getaboutable is a social enterprise focused on travel and leisure for people with disabilities. It offers a platform to promote inclusive tourism and travel businesses around the world. 

Have Wheelchair Will Travel is a website where a family shares their travel experiences to help others.  They also share day-to-day tips and other activities in between. They produce a magazine titled, Travel Without Limits

Travability was originally set up to provide accessible travel information. Now it is part of a world-wide group with a mission to create equality in accessibility in the hospitality and travel industries. The Destinations section of the website has plenty to offer travellers. There is also a news and resource section for the traveller and the tourism sector. 

Can Go Everywhere has a list of accessible holiday options around Australia and a blog travel page. 

iSCREAM Travel provides tailored travel adventures from booking the holiday, hiring equipment, and connecting with care assistance. They say “you shouldn’t have to travel with the kitchen sink”. 

Push Adventures is based in South Australia and offers services to the tourism sector to improve their accessibility. The blog page has information on various destinations for travellers. They have a showcase of 101 Awesome Accessible Adventures in Australia.

Lonely Planet Accessible Travel Guide is a collection of resources designed to help you experience the joy and benefits of travel.

Go Wheel the World is an international travel organisation that will find and book holiday experiences.

Freewheel Weekends is a travel blog with stories and a directory of places and venues in Melbourne. 

In New Zealand

Grab Your Wheels Let’s Travel is a blog site for travellers. It has a list of activities and accommodation. The site has a good example of how to describe a wheelchair accessible hotel and room. 

Making Trax is an adventure tourism site for travellers and operators. 

Ability Adventures is a specialist travel company providing tailored itineraries.

More on travel and tourism

There are many research papers and business guides on travel and tourism on this website. The emphasis of the research is on the missed business opportunities for operators. The guides are devised to help operators improve their accessibility. 


3 key changes for hotels and airlines

A man and a woman stand behind a hotel reception desk. The man is smiling at the camera. 3 key changes for hotels and airlinesA lot has been written about accessible and inclusive tourism. It’s a pity we are still writing. Economic evidence, training packages, and guidelines have made some progress over the years. But we are not there yet. And it gets more complex. We’ve moved on from a ramp for wheelchair access to considering many other disabilities. Here are 3 key changes for hotels and airlines for people with cognitive conditions.

Fodor’s travel blog has an article on how travel companies can make people with cognitive conditions feel welcome. People who are neurodiverse, have a mental health condition or an intellectual disability like to travel too.

First, don’t assume you know what neurodiverse people need based on one person you know who is autistic. 

Secondly, train your staff. A ramp and automatic door do not compensate for the fear or discomfort in the eyes of a frontline person who is alarmed or rude to a person who displays neurodiversity. 

Third, offer alternative check-in times for people requiring a low sensory experience for themselves or a member of their family. If that is not feasible perhaps a quiet room to complete the process. 

People with cognitive or intellectual disability might need things simplified. That includes things like the check-in process itself, not just writing information in plain language. Streamlined check in and clear information are good for everyone – it’s universal design. 

When it comes to airlines, the same things apply, but there is one extra thing. Staff need training on how to handle wheelchairs properly – carefully like golf clubs. 

The title of the blog article is How the travel industry can become more accessible for all.  It has lots of advertisements which distract from reading. 


visits4u Inclusive Tourism

Logo of visits4u inclusive tourismWho is the customer of inclusive tourism? Everyone! This is the introduction to the visits4u Access Guide for tourism operators. The Guide is from Europe. It has a project guide and a short online training course. The good part of this training course is that it comes in text and audio voice-over. A PDF transcription for each module is available for download. The visits4U inclusive tourism training modules are:

      1. Hotels and Accommodation Providers, 15 minute video.
      2. D/deaf Awareness, 12 minute video.
      3. Information and Wayfinding, 12 minute video.

While the current pandemic conditions prevail, this is a good time to refresh tourism businesses to make them more inclusive. After all, people often travel in groups and if it’s inaccessible for one, the whole group goes elsewhere.

Case Studies

Front cover of publication. Blue background with a night time scene across a city. Design for All inclusive tourism.The European Concept for Accessibility Network tourist guide is based on their Design for All (Universal Design) principles. Each chapter is a case study, and each discusses the seven success factors, and drivers and obstacles. Cities featured in the EU tourist guide are located in Italy, Belgium, Sweden, Luxembourg, Germany, Spain and Australia.

Design for All in Tourist Destinations includes a section on Sydney’s “Cultural Ribbon”, which was written by Simon Darcy and Barbara Almond. Featured is the accessibility of the Sydney Harbour Foreshore precincts, Sydney Opera House, and Darling Harbour.

In the introduction it encourages a business approach rather than a compliance approach. In the past, it was expected that a person would give up their personal goals when it looked too difficult to be inclusive and accessible. But now, we have the technical and organisational means to overcome many barriers. Non-discrimination laws have helped people gain more freedom. 

Landscape view of Barangaroo Parkland showing a pedestrian, wheelchair user, cyclist and pram pusher. Mentioned in EU tourist guide.
Barangaroo Parkland on Sydney’s foreshore

Image source:

Heritage no barrier to accessibility

A street in medieval Chester, UK. Heritage no barrier to accessibility.
A street in Chester, UK

Medieval cities with cobblestones, castles and Roman city walls are not the most disability-friendly places. And they are not easy to make accessible either. However, heritage is no barrier to accessibility in five European cities. They’ve made accessibility a top priority thanks to technology, design and engineering.

The five cities are the Dutch towns of Breda and Rotterdam, Lyon in France, Slovenia’s Ljubljana, and Chester in the UK. The motivation is that these are popular tourist destinations. These examples show that where there is a will there is a way. 

Some of the solutions are:

    • lifting cobblestones, slicing them and re-laying them upside down
    • an app that lets you tell the council about paving issues and follows progress until the remedial work is completed
    • sound beacons that tell blind people when and what bus or tram is pulling into the stop
    • an app for the most accessible restaurants, hotels and hotspots
    • building cascading ramps to the upper walkways of ancient city walls 

Part of the motivation is the tourist trade, both nationally and internationally. However, the EU also takes inclusion seriously and gives access awards to cities that prioritise accessibility in urban planning. You can read more about each city in an article on the website of a Swiss wealth management company. 

The title of the article is Cities without barriers. Heritage is no longer an excuse for exclusion.


Inclusive tourism: Pets are more welcome

A cat sits in an armchair on the beach with a cool drink placed nearby. Pets are more welcome.
Pets are welcome

According to almost all tourism brochures, travellers and holiday-makers are white and have no disabilities. This was one of the findings from an analysis of brochures from 228 counties in the American southeast. So few publications had a person with a visible disability in promotional images, they were able to list them in a short table. It would appear pets are more welcome than people with disability.  

Interviews with tourism operators revealed that they thought complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was good enough. They also thought that ‘diversity’ means including more people of colour. 

After looking at 9427 images, there were twelve depicting a person with disability. Of the twelve they found, 7 portrayed older adults, who were in the background or out of focus. The images they found of people with disability were all white.

Two people stand in front of racks of tourism brochures. Few will incorporate inclusive tourism.Many brochures referred to people with disability in their text. However, the terms used were outdated and even harmful, especially ‘handicapped’. Although this is an American study, it is likely that other countries would find, or have found, similar results. 

Key points

ADA compliant is ‘good enough’. Brochures regularly stated they were ‘ADA accessible’ or ‘ADA compliant’. However, there was rarely an explanation of what that meant for a traveller.

Diversity means including more people of colour. People with disability are part of the diversity spectrum. Indeed they are also people of colour. Black/African Americans and Latinx people travel widely yet they are rarely shown in promotional materials. 

Pets are welcome. The welcoming of pets is an upward trend and some hotels actively welcome pets. There were more mentions of pets in brochures than people with disability. 

The authors argue that promotional images are not just about selling a product or service. They convey representations of social groups, including racial and age groupings. This reinforces stereotypes which further marginalise people and exclude others. The lack of people with disability in marketing materials further entrenches them as the invisible minority. 

Title of the article is, Beyond accessibility: exploring the representation of people with disabilities in tourism promotional materials. It’s also available from Taylor and Francis Online.  This study contributes important information for those advocating for inclusive tourism services. 

Editor’s note: Conversely, promotional material for “accessible holidays” regularly shows a wheelchair user. 


Globally, over one billion people experience some form of disability. The number of people with disabilities (PWDs) continues to rise due to an ageing population, the spread of chronic diseases, and improvements in measuring disabilities. However, tourism promotional materials continue to perpetuate a homogenous gaze catering to non-disabled audiences. Thus, informed by critical disability theory, and an inclusive tourism approach, this study explores how PWDs are represented in tourism promotional materials, specifically tourism brochures, from the American Southeast.

Through a content analysis of over 200 county-level brochures from nine south-eastern states and interviews with state-level tourism marketing directors, three emergent themes were identified: ADA compliant is ‘good enough’; ‘Diversity’ means including more people of color or ‘ethnic’ groups; and Pets are welcomed but how about PWDs? The findings offer insights for inclusive tourism and breaking down the physical and psychological barriers that hinder PWD participation in travel and tourism.

ISO Standards for Tourism and Travel

A wheelchair user has access to the beach with the Council beach mat. Standards for tourism.
Photo courtesy Hobsons Bay City Council

Standards documents are rarely light reading. Similarly to legal documents they aren’t designed for skim reading. And they are rarely in plain language. However, if you can take the time to study standards and understand their structure, they are very helpful. The International Standards Organization (ISO) standards for tourism and travel are a case in point. 

Standard for Tourism and Related Services

Tourism is a global enterprise. It makes sense, therefore, for travellers to know what to expect when they go on holiday to any country. This is especially the case for people with disability. ISO recognises the economics of accessible and inclusive travel and consequently devised a standard. As an international standard it is possible to get some consistency across countries to support this growing industry. 

The title of the standard is, ISO Standard for Tourism and Related Services – Accessible tourism for all – requirements and recommendations. This document is based on the concept of ‘tourism for all”. The aim is to ensure equal access and enjoyment is experienced by everyone. It has key aspects of policy making, strategy, infrastructure, products and services in the tourism supply chain. A related standard is the Standard for Accessible Travel.

Standard for Accessible Travel

The ISO Standard for Accessible Travel has 5 key sections with sub-sections. 

    • The tourist office – When new to a city, often the first port of call is the tourist information office to make a plan of where to go and what to see. See the section on information offices and reception services
    • Accessibility every step of the journey – Most operators want people to enjoy their experiences. The guidelines for tourism and related services help operators with policy making, strategy, infrastructure, products and services. It’s about the whole tourism supply chain. It’s the overarching guide for tourism services.
    • Beaches for all –  the requirements and recommendations for beach operation is another subsection. It also outlines recommendations for the design of access ramps and boardwalks, toilets, showers and drinking fountains.
    • Tourism for all the senses – Braille is understood all over the world. There is a subsection on the application of Braille signage and for assistive products including tactile ground indicators. 
    • Accessibility in all standards – The Guide for addressing accessibility in standards is a standard for all other standards. Standards committees should be aware of this standard when they are devising a new standard or updating an old one.


Tactile or 3D?

A metal model showing a town layout in relief with Braille on buildings and streets. There is a church and lots of houses and a town square represented.Which type of map is best – tactile or 3D? Three researchers from Monash University carried out a study to see if 3D printed models offered more information than tactile graphics such as maps. There were some interesting findings that were presented in a conference paper. The abstract gives a good overview:


Tactile maps are widely used in Orientation and Mobility (O&M) training for people with blindness and severe vision impairment. Commodity 3D printers now offer an alternative way to present accessible graphics, however it is unclear if 3D models offer advantages over tactile equivalents for 2D graphics such as maps. In a controlled study with 16 touch readers, we found that 3D models were preferred, enabled the use of more easily understood icons, facilitated better short term recall and allowed relative height of map elements to be more easily understood.

Analysis of hand movements revealed the use of novel strategies for systematic scanning of the 3D model and gaining an overview of the map. Finally, we explored how 3D printed maps can be augmented with interactive audio labels, replacing less practical braille labels. Our findings suggest that 3D printed maps do indeed offer advantages for O&M training. 

The full title of the paper is, “Accessible Maps for the Blind: Comparing 3D Printed Models with Tactile Graphics“.  The article is also available on ResearchGate. 

Rough Guide to Accessible Britain

Front cover of the guide showing a large glasshouse in a garden.The Rough Guide to Accessible Britain is a good example of how to convey information in both online and PDF formats. The guide has a map at the beginning which divides up the country into counties. A click on a county takes you to the information for that area. With 262 pages this is a convenient way to get to the information quickly.

The first few pages give an introduction and helpful tips and an explanation on how to use the guide. However, it is unclear if the guide is accessible for people who use screen readers. The descriptions tell a story of the place with lots of words. There are no Easy Read or Plain English summaries. 

The level of accessibility and amenities are coded in icons for each attraction or venue. There are links to the websites of each attraction too. The guide has more than 200 reviews on places to go on a day out. So whether you are at home or travelling, you can find activities in the local area. There are more than 200 reviews 

The Rough Guide to Accessible Britain is a great guide for anyone regardless of being “accessible”. You can view the guide online or download the PDF version. I found the PDF version easier to manage and adjust the viewing size. 

This is an interesting format for an accessible tourism guide with lots of good photos. There are links to other Rough Guides for other countries and cities.