Tourism and Disability: Book review

A woman in a yellow jacket is being assisted onto the tour bus by two men up a ramp.Tourism and Disability is a new book addressing the existing  challenges and opportunities related to tourism for people with disability. The Booktopia review describes this as an underdeveloped and underestimated niche market. While there is a larger market for family group travel, there is also a market for disability-specific tourism products. 

The book examines the strategies, policies, and initiatives at regional, national, and international levels. The aim is to foster the development of accessible tourism.  It examines the different social, cultural, legal, and information/interactive barriers to inclusion. The book’s focus is on the distinctive travel demands of people with disability and how their needs differ from the preferences of travellers without disability. 

The various chapters provide a multidisciplinary approach to the topic covering management, economics, and statistical analysis. This makes it useful for academics and practitioners alike. 

Front cover of Tourism and Disability. The Title of the book is Tourism and Disability: An economic and managerial perspective. Published by SpringerLink you can purchase individual chapters online. The book is also available from other suppliers. 

The book is structured in sections dealing with the supply and demand sides of tourism for people with disability. The final section takes a “tools-related perspective”. 

The editors and most contributors are based in Europe where tourism is a key part of the European economy. 

You can find more posts in the Travel and Tourism section of this website. 

Future of tourism should be accessible

While the tourism industry thinks “accessible tourism” is for a separate type of customer, the concept of equity and inclusion will remain elusive. Assumptions and biases show up in our language, and those who are on the wrong end of these biases are the ones to call it out. Ryan Smith called out this bias when he saw a Tourism Australia infographic depicting the future of tourism and made his own infographic. 

The Tourism Australia infographic depicts six strands, adventure, wellness, youth, agritourism, accessible, and events. The bias is in the assumption that the five other strands aren’t going to be accessible. However, the graphic shows sustainability and Indigenous culture across all six of the strands.

Tourism Australia's infographic showing accessible tourism as a separate entity.
Tourism Australia’s view of the Future of Tourism

Ryan Smith reproduced the infographic to bring the concepts into the 21st Century. The five strands are depicted as resting on three key elements: Accessible, Indigenous, Sustainable. He also replaced the photographs with icons for an easier read.

Ryan Smith's version showing Accessible as part of all other types of tourism.
Ryan Smith’s version showing Accessible as part of all other types of tourism.

This is a good example of exposing biases. It also shows why we should involve all stakeholders in publicity and promotion. That’s what makes co-design a good thing for everyone and for business. 

Tourism Accessibility Guides: Good examples

A heritage building in Scotland at night with nice lighting from the windows. Accessibility guides like this encourage more visitors.
One of the attractions from the Visit England website

According to the Visit England website, 63% of tourism businesses do not promote their access provisions for visitors. Yet 95% of visitors with access requirements look for this information before deciding to visit. The website also has advice and help for creating and publishing accessibility guides. It includes sections on photography, and how to create a location map and video guide. 

The Visit England website also has a link to a video and three good examples of tourism accessibility guides:

Self-catering example

The self-catering example has an easy to read webpage setting out where there is level access, and access to bedrooms. Under the hearing tab it explains the TVs have subtitles and a hearing loop. 

Under the vision tab it explains colour contrast, large print and Easy Read formats. They have non-allergenic bedding and a portable hoist. 

There is a three-minute video explaining the importance of this information and how businesses benefit. 

Restaurant example

The restaurant example explains they are a family run business and similarly to the self-catering example they cover level access, hearing and vision. They cater for a variety of diets and assistance dogs are welcome. 

Visitor attraction example

The example is based on a whisky distillery with a guided tour, a shop, restaurant and tasting experience. Visitors can check out level access, and provisions for hearing and vision.

The example guides are a good start, but would be enhanced by more photographs of the rooms and spaces. See previous post on The Kelpies for another good example of a guide for ALL visitors. This one is in the form of an access statement and includes several photographs to aid visitors.

Is your pub accessible?

Picture from front cover of the booklet showing two pubs and a man who is blind using his smartphone to order food. Is your beer accessible?The British Beer & Pub Association has a straightforward booklet of advice and good case studies for accessibility. It dispels a lot of myths, and many of the adaptations are simple, such as easy to read menus. It covers physical, sensory and cognitive issues that potential customers might have. So joke-type symbols for toilets are not a good idea, as well as understanding that not all disabilities are visible. Excellent resource for any food and beverage venue. As is often the case, it is not rocket science or costly, just thoughtful.

The title of the publication is An Open Welcome: Making your pub accessible for customers. “Pubs are places where everyone is welcome. It’s where family, friends and colleagues come together and where tourists to the country feel they will see the true, welcoming Britain”. 


Access Statement for The Kelpies in Scotland

Giant silver coloured horse head sculptures depicting mythical Kelpies in a new parkland. Visitors can see the access statement for the Kelpies for information before their visit. The Kelpies are 30 metre-high horse-head sculptures in a new parkland area near Falkirk, Scotland. The project connects 16 communities in the council area and the Clyde Canal. The sculptures attract many visitors to The Helix site and the whole project was designed with access and inclusion in mind. This is apparent in the Access Statement for the Kelpies – a good guide for all visitors.

The Access Statement for The Helix and the Kelpie sculptures uses and plain language and lots of photos. The photos show key places such as car parking, the visitor centre, playground, café and toilets. Visitors can hire manual wheelchairs and dog bowls are provided for assistance dogs. 

The Access Statement is not an overarching policy document. It is a visitor guide that includes information about the level of access visitors can expect. One of the best examples of visitor access information – makes it good for everyone.

There is more information about this destination and how to get there on the Accessible Travel Online Scotland website. Accessible Travel Scotland also has an accessible travel hub.

The video below provides more information about The Kelpies, the largest public artworks in Scotland. It explains the story behind the sculptures and their construction. 

There is more information on travel and tourism on this  website. 

Accessible nature

A rocky mountain scene from the Atacama Desert in Chile. This was not accessible nature. Photo by Jane Bringolf
Valle de Luna, Atacama, Chile

Are ableist views preventing the tourism and recreation sectors from being accessible and inclusive? This is a question arising from a scoping review of policies, practices and infrastructure related to nature-based settings. The review found many barriers were related to operator or designer assumptions about the value of the experience for people with different disabilities. And “accessible nature” is yet to be expressed in the form of access standards. 

Assumptions about value such as “this place is about the view, so why would blind people be interested?” is rarely explicitly expressed. Rather, it is embedded in systems and processes that place barriers, albeit inadvertently, to accessibility for all. But other barriers exist such as threats to conservation values that say, a footpath could impose. Consequently, ways to minimise the negative impacts on both social and ecological aspects should be found when introducing built structures. 

A more worrying view is that it is not safe for people with disability to experience certain landscapes. This perpetuates organisational notions that people with disability need extra care or special settings. Or that people with disability can’t or don’t experience nature in the same way as non-disabled people. 

From the conclusions

In the conclusions, the authors lament, “Perhaps more troublingly, there are indications that such gaps are intertwined in cultures within the tourism and recreation sector that perpetuate ablest views of what should be considered a genuine and laudable way to experience nature.”

The authors conclude there is a pressing need for specific standards for nature-based tourism and recreation spaces. People developing such standards should ensure they are not underpinned by current ableist views.

The health and wellbeing factors of nature contact are well established. So, it’s important for everyone to have easy access to the experiences nature offers.

The title of the scoping review is, Accessible nature beyond city limits – A scoping review. The authors are based in Canada.


The health and well-being benefits of nature contact are well known, but inequitably distributed across society. Focusing on the access needs of persons with a disability, the purpose of this study was to systematically examine research on the accessibility of nature-based tourism and recreation spaces outside of urban/community settings.

Following a scoping review methodology, this study sought to examine policies, services, physical infrastructures, and regulatory standards intended to enable equitable use of nature-based settings by individuals of all ages and abilities, particularly persons with a disability.

In total, 41 relevant studies were identified and analyzed. Findings indicate that there are considerable gaps in the provision of services and information that enable self-determination in the use and enjoyment of nature, and that accessibility in nature-based settings is conceptualized through three interrelated policy/design pathways: the adaptation pathway, the accommodation pathway, and the universal design pathway.

As a whole, accessibility policy and standards research specific to natural settings outside of urban/community settings is highly limited.

Management implications
There are growing calls to promote inclusive nature experiences in tourism and recreation spaces outside of community settings. Management of such spaces must reconcile equity concerns with a host of other priorities like environmental conservation.

In the case of promoting universal accessibility, few studies offer insight into the detailed standards that must be met to create barrier-free access, let alone how to integrate such standards with other management priorities.

Transdisciplinary research partnerships that involve management personnel, environmental and public health researchers, and persons with a disability are needed to identify effective management synergies.

Photo by Jane Bringolf

Creating a walkway with universal design

Stovner Tower in Oslo. Aerial view showing the looping walkway built on large timber poles - a walkway with universal design.Lookout towers are usually built with steps, so how can you make them accessible? The answer is of course a ramp, but not just any ramp. The Stovner Tower in Oslo shows how you can create a beautiful walkway with universal design. It curves and loops for 260 metres until it reaches 15 metres above ground. This provides excellent views of the city and landscape beyond. Located on the forest edge it is a destination for everyone to enjoy.

The project is described in detail with several images on the DOGA website. The key part of the design was the co-design process and community consultations. This was essential for gaining community support at the beginning of the project.

The path is wide enough for two prams or wheelchairs to pass each other. The slightly inward sloping railing gives an additional sense of safety.  Lighting at night makes it attractive as well as safe and accessible both day and night. 

The Stovner Tower illuminated at night.The tower has become a popular destination for both locals and visitors. It’s used for weddings, meditation, exercise, celebrations and encourages people to experience nature.

This project is an example of collaboration between local government, landscape architects and contractors. Universal design drove both the design process and design outcomes. It won a landscape architecture award for universal design in 2020. There’s a video showing it with snow and lighting on the visitor website.

Norway has universal design written into their planning and zoning codes. Other articles on Norway are: 

Schandorff Square: Parking lot to park 

Taming the wilderness with inclusive design  


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. However, inclusive in this context is not to be confused with “all inclusive” products and services where the price includes everything. 

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.

The Access Agency has a travel blog, Freewheel Weekends 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.