How the Journey Trade Ignores The Disabled

Disabled man with wheelchair at the bottom of the stairs

People with disabilities are still systematically discriminated against when traveling. They face barriers that non-disabled people don’t have that can prevent them from going on vacation – or at least drastically limit their choice of where to go and what to do.

Even before COVID-19, a survey found that 52 percent of adults with a disability in the UK hadn’t vacationed anywhere in the past 12 months.

The reasons are known. Three important things are often withheld from people with disabilities: good information, adequate facilities, and positive attitudes from other people.

To this end, many countries, including the UK, have enacted specific laws to address these inequalities. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities reaffirms the right of disabled people to participate in cultural life, leisure, recreation and sport.

You might expect this kind of political action to give people with disabilities equal access to travel. But when I interviewed disabled travelers and people who work in ecotourism – in the UK, US, Australia, Canada and Sweden – it became clear that many vacation providers do not value their disabled customers.

For example, there are some that are simply aimed at complying with regulations. They believe that there is not a sufficient market for disabled guests and have therefore only made practical changes – such as investing in ramps – when the law absolutely requires it.

One disabled traveler said he mentioned to an Ecolodge manager, “All you have to do is fix a few things in the room and it’ll be fine.”

The manager replied, “Why should we bother? We don’t make enough money with you guys to really justify that. “

Ramp allows wheelchair users to enter the water on the beach

Ramp allows wheelchair users to enter the water on the beach

A ramp has made this sea swimming area accessible.

Other business owners found such changes expensive to implement, but were motivated to keep up with “best practices”. It made business sense for this group to be disabled-friendly – but their efforts were often incomplete, for example only shown in certain parts of the website or for a certain type of disability.

The story goes on

As one study participant noted, “Instead of making the entire place accessible for mobility, we just make sure that there are at least two of the units and the main public areas. This is an alternative that seems to have worked. “

It may seem strange that ecotourism – a form of tourism that values ​​ethics and sustainability – does not seem to be leading the industry in breaking down barriers to travel with disabilities.

However, recent research has shown that even companies with the highest ecotourism accreditation have done little to meet the needs of disabled guests.

Universal travel

In terms of information, only 2 percent of the websites in this study – which focused on Australia – had a detailed information pack for people with disabilities to download. And while some companies felt they were disabled-friendly, institutions were more likely to consider wheelchair access.

Even then, only 40 percent of all websites offered information for wheelchair users, while 6 percent mentioned visual impairments and 8 percent mentioned hearing loss. When it came to intellectual disabilities, they even named only 8 percent.

Almost all websites have failed to provide simple courtesies, such as using captions (known as alternative text) to explain what is in a photo to people with visual impairments, or capturing video to help people with hearing impairments. A quarter of the establishments required disabled people to inquire about suitable facilities before visiting.

Fortunately, there are also operators who believe that it is an essential prerequisite for starting a business that people with disabilities have an experience that is equivalent to that of non-disabled people.

This type of approach needs to be more widespread. People with disabilities will only really have a right to vacation when tourism companies start investing in accommodations for them. This means taking precautions not only for wheelchair users, but for all groups of disabled people.

It also means adjusting business practices, updating websites, and training staff to properly and sensitively serve their disabled guests.

It is estimated that there are around a billion people with disabilities worldwide, which is around 15 percent of the world’s population. If the tourism industry is unwilling to treat these guests on an equal footing, everyone should be uncomfortable. If society is to see travel as a human right, it should be a right for everyone.

The conversation

The conversation

Brian Garrod is Professor of Marketing at Swansea University. This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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