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Accessibility. It’s more than a ramp

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Hiking time. Inclusive recreation. ©GettyImages

As an expert in the accessible travel and tourism market industry, Maahs Travels works with Ministries of Tourism, tourism boards, governments, hoteliers, business owners, parks and recreation, and entertainment venues around the world. Not only do we assess and audit the accessibility across disabilities for a destination, business, or venue, but we also work with each entity to develop strategies to attract more market share.

It involves a lot of analysis of data as well as collaboration across many stakeholders, but the outcomes are certainly worth the time and effort put into the project. In 2019, I was invited to speak in Dubai at the inaugural Dubai Accessible Tourism International Summit about accessible travel and tourism. After listening to 1⁄2 day of presentations by many talented and recognized leaders, it was evident that everyone was focusing on the actual “accessibility” of the location and things like ramps, audible signals, the use of braille and tactile information, but no one was speaking about all of the things that are necessary for a location, business, or destination to truly be inclusive and accessible.

Beyond the Ramp: True Accessibility

I decided to change the topic and the message of my third presentation for that Summit to fully explain the infrastructure that is necessary for any destination to be sustainable, inclusive, and accessible for people with disabilities. The title of my presentation was, “Accessibility. It’s more than a ramp.”

Assuming that recent data points are correct, there are about 1.4 billion people in the world living with some type of disability. According to a recent study, those 1.4 billion people who have some type of disability comprise about 20% of the world’s population with access to about $8 trillion US in disposable income. But they are only spending about 43% of that total because places are either not accessible, or they are not promoting the fact that they are accessible, therefore people with disabilities are not aware of their options. If we look beyond the ramp, in order to attract a bigger market share, we must look at things that help make a destination inclusive, for people with disabilities to travel to that destination, identify the types of information that is necessary for people to rely on and that destination, as well as the safety of people with disabilities and that this nation and the enforcement of laws protecting them.

Inclusion and Collaboration

First, in order to be truly inclusive, business owners, city planners, mayors, and others must ensure that people with disabilities are included in the strategic discussions, planning, design, implementation, and oversight of any project, structure, or plan that benefits all people. Further, the public and private sectors, transportation services, and general businesses must have the proper standardized training in disability etiquette.

People with disabilities must be visible to the public and senior levels of organizations and as business owners, included in the news and advertisements, and their stories included in the media. We must also be in front of and behind the camera of news broadcasts, TV and film productions, and other forms of entertainment. By doing this, you help to normalize people with disabilities.

Support Services for Travelers with Disabilities

When we speak of the support services necessary to be in place for people with disabilities to travel to a destination, or frankly live in it, people with disabilities must have a direct phone number to call for assistance in an emergency, must have accessible transportation for taxis, buses, trains as well as vehicle rentals.

Tourists with disabilities must have access must be able to obtain a blue placard that identifies that they have a disability for their rental vehicle. And, there should be free and available Wi-Fi services for Internet connectivity for people who need access to help find the support services that they need. In addition, travel nurses or caregiver services must be readily available and affordable to people with disabilities.

These individuals must be trained to provide personal care such as feeding, bathing, and other very specific needs. Volunteers can be trained to provide these services for anyone with any type of disability. And, very importantly, people with disabilities must have access to medical equipment and assistive devices for rental or repair. People with disabilities rely on specific information probably more than any other demographic for various reasons. Therefore, we need to make information more readily available and accessible to all. People with disabilities must have access to accessible digital formats of information, materials that are printed in braille, as well as materials that are printed in large print.

Ensuring Access to Critical Information

The signage on streets, paths, buildings, vehicles, etc. could include digital tags that help people who are blind or have low vision. At the very top of that list, websites must be accessible to all. People with disabilities are the most vulnerable and most bullied population in the world. Therefore, it is critical that laws and penalties for those who take advantage of people with disabilities, discriminate against, or violate any law or regulation that protects the rights of people with disabilities, must be enforced.

Building Inclusive Destinations

These are just a handful of critical things that help form a necessary infrastructure so that any destination can be more inclusive to all people, including those with disabilities. Remember, it’s not only right to implement these processes, it’s also good for business! Maahs Travels will work with you to help educate your employees about disabilities and accessibility, and then we will identify strategies to help build your market share.

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