Giant cruise ships have long been the quick and easy vacation option for people with access needs. However, if you want something more adventurous, less crowded and more responsible, look into the vast array of small ship cruises on offer, from the Greenland to Galapagos, Alaska to the Amazon. Many are very switched on to access issues. You just need to ask.
Many safaris are making attempts to be more accessible, particularly in South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya. Ensuring that safari lodges are on one level, have adapted bathrooms, or easy access to minibuses. Still mostly aimed at wheelchair users, however, it is also worth looking into a safari with tailor made vacation experts, as they are the dons of catering for all sorts of special requirements.
Recent research shows that the European tourism sector is missing out on as much as €142 billion due to rubbish services and attitudes to people with access needs. If destinations were accessible, demand could increase by 44 percent a year. So, you shouldn’t need a hearing loop to catch the message loud and clear on this one. People with access needs really want to travel.
It’s hardly surprising, given the lack of inclusivity in tourism to date, that tourists have played it a safe when it comes to vacations. However, people are generally getting more adventurous in their travels, and the accessible tourism sector is no exception. Look into countries you haven’t thought of before, or join social media networks to be inspired by others who have scuba dived, sky dived or sailed the oceans.
This is the key information on a company’s website to let guests know that everyone is welcome. It goes way beyond legal obligations but shows that companies are at least trying to cater for everyone’s needs, what is and isn’t available, and what the company will try to make better in future. It should be a living document, being updated all the time. The VisitEngland website has superb free guidance on creating an access statement.
In order to save the guest a vast amount of time in phone calls or emails, having videos and photos of adapted bedrooms, bathrooms, restaurant access, leisure facilities, local activities, and so on, is invaluable. It means the difference between someone smiling when they see the website, already feeling welcome, and then booking. Or just giving up and going to the Marriott, because it’s easier.
Making websites accessible is a great step in removing barriers and showing that all guests are welcome. There are experts out there to help companies adapt their sites; for example, by putting in code that allows the visually impaired to use text-to-speech software and/or text-to-Braille hardware. There are many simple ways to adapt websites to help people with mobility issues too.
From pools to parking facilities, toilets to TVs, spas to sunbeds, having adapted and inclusive facilities makes all the difference between an OK vacation and a wonderfully welcoming one. Simple things like a unisex family changing room by the pool solves lots of issues. And please use the word accessible or inclusive instead of ‘disabled’. A disabled toilet sounds like it is out of order!
Tourists with access needs have too many sorry tales about their travels. The accessible toilets are used as storage spaces, the receptionist addresses your able bodied partner rather than you, or the waiter doesn’t ask your child with autism what ice cream he would like, but asks his siblings. The list is too long. Businesses with customer care at their core get training, get switched on and get with the programme.
It is not enough for a travel company to say that it is accessible. It needs to give full details of door measurements, bathroom facilities, parking, assistance for visually impaired and so on. It is never a case of ‘less is more’ when it comes to access issues. It should be a growing list, in order to anticipate all travelers’ needs.
Ok, so they have had the resources to adapt buildings for people with access needs, and so traditionally they are the first port of call for guests. However, there is a whole world of accommodation out there that might suit your needs, from yurts to yachts, riverside cabins to riverboats. The more you ask them to cater for your needs, the more they will see how easy it can be to do so.
It is not enough for a business to say that they are ‘wheelchair friendly’. Apart from the fact that, in the UK, wheelchair users account for only 4 percent of the accessible tourism market, that is never enough information. Businesses need training and advice on catering for all access needs. See the Responsible Tourism page of this guide for more details.