Today (December 3rd) is UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a day that aims to celebrate and acknowledge the experience, expertise and achievements of people living with disability, and to encourage support for their dignity, rights and well-being.
Accessible Tourism - Tourism for All
Travel has the power to transform lives, empower communities, and inspire change both for travelers in their own lives and for the host destinations. Everyone, regardless of age, race, gender or disability, should have access to the opportunity to travel and to the physical, emotional and social benefits of travel.
Accessible tourism is a way of making this possible for more people around the world.
"Accessible Tourism, or 'Tourism for All', is making travel and tourism destinations, products, and information suitable for all those who have particular accessibility needs, including mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive dimensions of access, and even parents traveling with children. Even though accessible tourism is not a new concept, it has only recently been brought to the forefront as tour operators, businesses, and destinations are beginning to take notice to the increasing demand for accessibility." - Allison Kleinman, Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA)
People with disabilities have equal rights to be active and to enjoy the opportunities and benefits of being active. And accessible, inclusive, and responsible travel is a great way to celebrate diversity and promote dignity for all.
Disability is Not Inability
For many people, when thinking about disabilities and what it is like to live with one, adventure and active travel may not be something that comes to mind as "appropriate" for accessible tourism. What's important to realize, though, is that the abilities of people living with disability are not defined by how others perceive as accessible or possible.
Just as everyone else, people with disabilities have the right to decide for themselves what’s safe, enjoyable, appropriate, and desirable. The responsibility of the tourism industry is to support and encourage their active participation in various travel activities by making destinations, places, and activities as accessible as possible.
The documentary film "Right to Risk", which chronicles a 15-day, 225-mile whitewater rafting adventure through Grand Canyon by eight individuals with disabilities, illustrates this important point. As emphasized in the trailer, the key concept of this adventure tour is to "allow people to take responsibility and to make choices for themselves", without any preconceived assumptions about who is capable of what.
Everyone has the right to push themselves in the way they want and at the speed they need, and experience the great feeling of accomplishing something, whether it’s whitewater rafting, climbing a mountain, or deep sea diving in a wheelchair.
Accessible Tourism Examples and Inspirations
Here are some more inspiring examples of accessible tourism in action.
The Special Traveler: Accessible Eco-Adventure in Brazil
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of learning about and getting to know the O VIAJENTE ESPECIAL ("The Special Traveler") project, which is a virtual accessible tourism guide highlighting wheelchair-accessible eco-adventure destinations and activities in Brazil, personally experienced and evaluated by Adriana Braun.
Wesemann Travel: Connecting Deaf Communities around the World
I learned about this great concept by Wesemann Travel, a company organizing tours in direct cooperation with the local deaf community destinations, at a Responsible Tourism Networking event where the company founder Jos Wesemann "pitched" his concept: deaf tourism where everyone involved - "from the guides to the hosts, to the people you encounter" directly associated with the deaf world. You can learn more about Wesemann Travel from this WTM Responsible Tourism blog post.
New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA): "Please Touch the Art"
Here's another exciting concept for inclusive and accessible tourism: museum art tours for the blind. In MoMA's "hands-on" art tours for the blind, participants are allowed to touch the museum's art - with plastic gloves and strict guidance of an expert guide, of course. As described in this article, the experiences of the blind museum-goers are a fascinating illustration of different ways people appreciate, interpret, and interact with art: those without sight may have insights and impressions that those with sight won't be able to access. Connecting those two groups of art lovers, for example by having the visually impaired guide the general public, therefore, can greatly enrich the museum experience for all.
Accessible Tourism Resources for the Tourism Industry
Here are some examples of organizations and resources that are useful for destinations and tourism businesses seeking to deepen their understanding of accessible tourism:
- International Association for Handicapped Divers (IAHD): an ISO certified and internationally recognised diving organization that is specialized in training disabled people to dive.
- Wilderness Inquiry: a non-profit adventure travel organization working to connect everyone to great places through inclusive outdoor adventure travel activities worldwide.
- European Network for Accessible Tourism: a non-profit association for those engaged in the study, promotion and practice of accessible tourism.
- UNWTO "Accessible Tourism for All": Information about UNWTO’s accessible tourism resources, under the Ethics and Social Responsibility section.