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 However, the terms used were outdated and even harmful, especially ‘handicapped’.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.
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.