Today, Monday 3 December, has been designated International Day of Persons with Disabilities by the UN, with the theme of "removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all". While the Paralympic Games in London this summer showed just what many people with disabilities are capable of achieving, and acted as a driver for improving accessibility in London, it is nevertheless the case that many aspects of life, including participation in travel, tourism, sport and other leisure activities, bring additional challenges to people with disabilities.

According to the UN, over one billion people, or approximately 15 per cent of the world's population, live with some form of disability. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) calls on states to "take appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to all aspects of society, on an equal basis with others, as well as to identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers to accessibility". Article 30 of the CRPD states that the disabled should enjoy access to places such as theatres, museums, cinemas, libraries, monuments and sites of national cultural importance. Yet a report published today by Malaysian website shows just how far there is still to go to achieve these aims in many parts of the world.

The Malaysian story headlined "Poor accessibility for disabled deters tourists" highlights difficulties of participants at the first South-East Asian Conference on Accessible Travel (Seacat 2012), held in Kuala Lumpur. Dr Sandra Rhodda, director of Access Tourism New Zealand, highlighted a lack of even basic information while searching for accessible travel and hotels in Kuala Lumpur.

"For the various types of disabilities, what is needed are independent assessments and descriptions of transport available, accessible routes to the different destinations, entrances, local terrains and accessible toilets," said Rhodda.

"Like any first-time visitor to Malaysia, I googled for information. There is a lack of accurate, sufficient or detailed information. Disabled tourists will not risk going to Malaysia if they cannot find any information. The Tourism Malaysia official website is difficult to navigate and has no information on accessible travel."

This story is from Malaysia, but similar reports could probably be written for the majority of global destinations. Making it easier for people with disabilities to travel and obtain access to hotels, leisure attractions and sporting facilities (and find information about that access) is not only the right thing to do, but makes sound economic sense both for destinations and individual businesses. A few facts and figures:-

  • Approximately 15 per cent of the world's population, live with some form of disability. With an aging population, the number of people with some degree of access difficulties is only going to increase
  • An "Inclusive London" website that was launched last March by the Greater London Authority has received 12 million hits so far.
  • Research by VisitEngland has found that that 74% of people with access needs say they would be a lot more likely to choose a destination that offered the best guidance.
  • Based on its reference global benchmarking survey TRAVELSAT© Competitive Index, TCI Research reports that nearly half of international tourists with special needs have been in a situation to complain following to a negative experience during their stay. This percentage is almost twice as high as for average tourists.
  • Australian research in 2008 estimated the economic contribution of domestic overnight accessible tourism to the Australian economy as A$4.8bn or approximately 11 percent of the current tourism market, but also estimated the potential domestic overnight accessible tourism market at A$8.7bn, putting potential latent demand at A$3.9bn.
  • In 2005, the value of accessible tourism in Europe was estimated at 80 billion euros

According to ENAT, the European Network for Accessible Tourism, accessible tourism includes:

  • Barrier-free destinations: infrastructure and facilities
  • Transport: by air, land and sea, suitable for all users
  • High quality services: delivered by trained staff
  • Activities, exhibits, attractions: allowing participation in tourism by everyone
  • Marketing, booking systems, web sites & services: information accessible to all

Progress in many of these areas is being made through legislation, codes of practice, and good business sense, but there is large global variation in that progress, and much remains to be done. Links to some of the best sources of news and information on accessible tourism are given below, and many more links are available from the Access Tourism NZ blog. For those readers with access to CAB Abstracts or CABI's Leisure Tourism Database, the leisure and tourism subset of CAB Abstracts includes over 2000 bibliographic records on disability issues in travel, tourism, sport, and the leisure and hospitality industries.

External links

Access Tourism NZ

Accessible Tourism Research


European Network for Accessible Tourism

Tourism for All (UK site)

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