One of the first centres for universal design was set up in Japan, so it is no real surprise that Japan Airlines is pushing Boeing to re-think aircraft and air travel design especially as they not only employ many older workers, they also want to appeal to the older traveller. Anthropologist Kenneth C Erickson writes a very interesting chapter on this in Handbook of Anthropology in Business, which is available from Google books. He covers the whole travel experience from a user perspective using ethnographic techniques. It seems that Boeing, in trying to make the flight experience more convenient, might be adopting universal design principles without perhaps realising it. Here is an an excerpt from the latter part of the text:
“Boeing knows how important it is to see where you are, where you are going, and what things look like outside the airplane window. They’ve reconfigured the interior of the new Dreamliner so that windows are … roughly eye-level. The carbon-fiber fuselage allows greater structural strength and affords bigger windows, while light-sensitive glass obviates the need for those window shades that used to be difficult for passengers to manage […] And although we think of Boeing as making only the airplane, they also make jet-bridges and some of the display technology that shows seat availability for passengers waiting at the gate. This is evidence that Boeing already knows that air travel does not begin when passengers enter the plane; it is not inconceivable that they may broaden their view of travel further and include the entire process of baggage handling, making it, too, more transparent. […] And the work of flight attendants on the ground and in the air … can be made visible and appreciated, so they in turn may see and appreciate those whose bodies – and luggage – they care for. That’s where universal design fosters a good kind of globalization: through it we recognize our common, traveling humanity, and the difference between the temporarily able-bodied and the other dissolves, for a time, into thin air.”
The title of the chapter is, Able to Fly: Temporality, Visibility & the Disabled Airline Passenger, in Handbook of Anthropology in Business, 2016
Accessibility and hospitality have been worlds apart. That one room for wheelchair users at the end of the hallway, a terrible view, and only one bed. Hotel managers still have ugly design in their minds thinking hospital-looking bathrooms, and fear that “other” guests would never book the room. The Hotel Accessibility website has some great articles aimed at hotel managers. For example, this one titled, Hotel Managers – who is the sexiest of all? Here is an excerpt:
“In this day and age, thanks to all the progress that has been made, the most sophisticated wheelchairs, stunning design accessible bathrooms and of course smartphones and tablets have helped people facing a disability tremendously. And now they like to travel the world. Just like anybody else.”
As Marlies van Sint Annaland says, “If hotels invest a tiny percentage of their marketing budget on promoting their accessible facilities – rooms, pool, fitness, wellness – it will bring more than tenfold the investment in no time.”
While the emphasis of many accessible travel websites is on wheelchair users, it should not be forgotten that not everyone with a disability is a wheelchair user, for example, older ambulant people, people who are deaf, and people with low vision. However, a room that can accommodate a wheelchair user, can accommodate anyone.
Editor note: The Hotel Accessibility website is most useful for its written articles aimed at the hotel industry. It has a way to go before being useful for the traveller. Other sites do this better, for example, Travability.
The Lonely Planet website has a section on accessible destinations. The section is looked after by Martin Heng. On the list of the 10 most accessible places in the world is Melbourne. The others are: Playa del Carmen, Mexico; Barcelona, Spain; Sicily, Italy; Manchester, UK; Ljubljana, Slovenia; Singapore; San Diego, USA; Vienna, Austria, and surprisingly, Galapagos and Amazonia, Ecuador. A short overview of each destination is provided and other information and personal stories are included on the site. With a focus on wheelchair users, it is essentially the most wheelchair accessible destinations.
Picture: Schonbrunn Palace Gardens, Vienna. They have a motorised ‘train’ that circles the site and takes people to the key viewing spots.
Airline travel has featured in the media as problematic for people with disability and other needs. Virgin Atlantic flew the British Invictus Games team to Miami for the 2016 Games and in the process learned a lot about accommodating various additional needs of passengers. While the promotional video below shows what they can do, it is worth noting that this was a one-off flight and passengers did not have to mix with passengers who do not have or understand disability. It remains to be seen if Virgin Atlantic’s claims for accessibility reach throughout the whole organisation and all flights. Virgin Australia has yet to catch up. However, good to see a start – a change in attitude is needed before a change in policy can happen.
Virgin Atlantic has a Special Assistance Team that can be contacted via the airline’s website.