Medieval cities need not be “disabled”

A medieval town square with a cobbled pavement.When the user of a place or thing is most likely to be a person with disability, it is often labelled “disabled”. But what about places being disabled? “Disabled” in it’s original meaning is something that doesn’t work. So, if the chain of accessibility for everyone is missing, the place is indeed disabled. This was pointed out in an article in The Guardian: “People aren’t disabled, their city is“. 

The story is about the Dutch medieval city of Breda – now one of the most accessible in Europe. This is because there is “joined up” access throughout – not a bit here and a bit there. They have pulled up cobblestones and re-laid them upside down to create a flatter surface. Hotels are on board too. The key point is that the local authorities have a commitment to inclusion and accessibility and that’s what makes the difference. The next major step will be improving digital communication. See the article for more information.

How will we know when we have achieved inclusion? It will be the day when separate labelling for places and things is no longer required. 

Information: A critical factor in inclusive tourism

A map of Europe with pins placed in capital cities and string lines linking them together.“The basic task of accessible tourism is to stop focusing on the features of disability and to concentrate on various social needs and adjusting the conditions of geographical (social and physical) space to them”. This quote from a new research paper sums up the situation well. The paper focuses on the information aspects of inclusive tourism, particularly online information. It reports on a case study and lists several “rules” for accessible tourist information. The author, Anna Kolodziejczak, laments the lack of consistency of language and description across the inclusive tourism platform. The conclusion sums up the issues well:

Visibility, reliability and up-to-date facts are the basic features of tourist information. An increasing number of publications and internet websites are created for tourists with disabilities. However, due to the principles of both universal design and costs of publication it is advisable to include information on the accessibility of facilities and services in all publications intended for tourists. It ought to be emphasised that tourists, as main subjects of all activities aimed at enabling them to relax in the way they dream, need information at all stages of their journey. To this end, they use various databases of tourist information which, despite having many recipients, have also many creators. Only consistent and systematic cooperation of all information providers and the ability to react quickly to the needs of tourists can make the system work efficiently and the desired
results will be achieved.”

The title of the paper is, Information as a factor of  the development of accessible tourism for people with disabilities.

For more papers and ideas on inclusive tourism, see the dedicated section on this website. Martin Heng also writes on this topic.

A less lonely planet with inclusive tourism

Martin Heng is in a very busy street in India. It shows donkey carts cars and bicycles with street vendors on either side.International travel is a great experience for everyone especially when operators get on board with inclusive thinking. In his latest article, Martin Heng goes beyond the rights arguments to explain the economics of inclusive travel. With a growing market of older travellers tourism and travel businesses need to step up to take advantage. Heng also picks up the issue of terminology: “accessible” makes people think of compliance for wheelchair users. But he rightly points out that wheelchair users are a small proportion of the population that has some kind of disability or chronic health condition. That’s why we should be calling it “inclusive travel”. 

Heng goes on to list the easy, cost effective things that businesses can do. And not just thinking about the building. Easy to read fonts on menus and other information materials, TVs with captioning options, and websites that provide relevant visitor information about rooms, attractions and services. The article has several pictures showing Martin in various overseas locations. The title is What is accessible travel, and why should we be talking about it? Martin Heng works for Lonely Planet as their Accessible Travel Manager. 

Image courtesy Martin Heng from his article. 

Reaching for the coffee

Distance view of the hotel which is three storeys high.Scandic has embraced the principles of universal design throughout its hotel chain for more than ten years. This makes for an interesting case study in inclusive tourism because it goes deep into hotel operations. So it is not all about wheelchair accessible rooms – it is much more. And as always with customer service, it is the little things, such as being able to reach the coffee cups at the breakfast bar. The article on the Norwegian Inclusive Design website, is short and to the point and shows how all hotels can benefit from small but effective changes to practices. The video below shows how they took a universal design approach. The architect said it was more about use of materials than wheelchair circulation space.

The best evidence on that we are doing something right came from a guest. She told me that when she is staying at Scandic she is treated like a regular guest, not a disabled one”.  Magnus Berglund, Scandic. 

Travel magazine focuses on inclusion

Front cover of the magazine showing a family at the Vivid Sydney festival. The father is sitting in a wheelchair. His wife and two children surround him.A new magazine, Travel Without Limits, is specifically aimed at individuals and families living with disability. The first issue is 48 pages of information, personal stories of travel experiences from around the world, and of course travel advertisements. It also contains travel tips for people with specific disabilities from small children to older adults. The publisher is Travel with Special Needs which also runs a website with holiday information.

Editor’s Note: This online magazine is on the Issuu platform which, in my opinion, is not the most accessible. Even expanding the page size 200% did not help the small size or clarity of the font. I couldn’t see an option to download a PDF version. It will be interesting to see if the magazine improves matters for people with disability when they travel. My feedback about a successful trip has more to do with the quality and availability of the information about accessibility, as well as staff competence in welcoming guests with disability. Good to see this as an addition to the inclusive tourism sector. Perhaps we should have a magazine for older Australians as well?

Destinations for All: A Guide

man in a powered wheelchair looking out between Roman columns and across the water in the Roman BathYet another excellent resource for the tourism and travel industry – an industry now leading the way in best practice. Importantly, the principles and learning from case studies can be applied everywhere. The business world should take note of the good advice in Destinations for All: A guide to creating accessible destinations.

Included in the guide are several case studies, some statistics on the number of people left out if the destination if it is not inclusive, engaging with other businesses, and dispelling myths. It even challenges the notion that heritage issues make it impossible by showcasing the Roman Baths project. This guide is informed by research and can be applied as much to a day out in Sydney or Melbourne as a two week holiday in Scotland.