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 Statementfor 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.
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 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.
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 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:
How does anyone know whether a tourist attraction or destination is accessible? 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 it has accessibility accreditation for the tourism sector.
Now accredited businesses can doan additional moduleto 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 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
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.
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.”
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.
Accessible Accommodation is a find and book website with good visual and video information about the properties. You can subscribe to their newsletter.
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.
Travability provides accessible travel information.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.
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 Adventuresin Australia.
Go Wheel the World is an international travel organisation that will find and book holiday experiences.
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.
A 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 articleon 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.
Now that Airbnb has taken over Accomable, they are able to offer more information about the accessibility of destinations and places to stay. Airbnb has introduced 24 filters that help travellers find listings that meet their specific needs, including roll-in-showers and step free access to rooms. The Assistive Technology Blog shows in detail how the site can be used.
Who 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:
Hotels and Accommodation Providers, 15 minute video.
D/deaf Awareness, 12 minute video.
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.
The European Concept for Accessibility Networktourist 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.
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 so that heritage is no barrier to accessibility.
The five cities are theDutch 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. The title of the article is Cities without barriers. Heritage is no longer an excuse for exclusion.
Medieval cities need not be “disabled”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.