Globally, it is estimated that there are over 1 billion persons with disabilities, as well as more than 2 billion people, such as spouses, children and caregivers of persons with disabilities, representing almost a third of the world’s population, are directly affected by disability. While this signifies a huge potential market for travel and tourism, it still remains vastly under-served due to inaccessible travel and tourism facilities and services, as well as discriminatory policies and practices.
Accessible tourism enables all people to participate in and enjoy tourism experiences. More people have access needs, whether or not related to a physical condition. For example, older and less mobile people have access needs, which can become a huge obstacle when traveling or touring. Thus, accessible tourism is the ongoing endeavour to ensure tourist destinations, products and services are accessible to all people, regardless of their physical limitations, disabilities or age. This includes publicly and privately owned tourist locations, facilities and services.
Accessible tourism involves a collaborative process among all stakeholders, Governments, international agencies, tour-operators and end-users, including persons with disabilities and their organizations (DPOs). A successful tourism product requires effective partnerships and cooperation across many sectors at the national, regional and international levels. From idea to implementation, a single destination visit normally involves many factors, including accessing information, long-distance travel of various sorts, local transportation, accommodation, shopping, and dining. The impact of accessible tourism thus goes beyond the tourist beneficiaries to the wider society, engraining accessibility into the social and economic values of society.
International action and normative frameworks
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2006. CRPD Article 9 on Accessibility calls for State Parties to take appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities have equal access to the physical environment, information, transportation and other facilities and services open or provided to the public. It also calls for the elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility, including all transportation and facilities. Furthermore, Article 30 on Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport also calls for State Parties to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy the benefits of tourism.
At the 2013, historic UN High-level Meeting on Disability and Development, which included several Heads of State, the link of disability and development was discussed and the meeting called for enhanced action to mainstream disability in the global development agenda. In the outcome document of the meeting, accessibility was identified as a key area for action.
In the recent 2030 Agenda for Global Action containing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 2015), Goal 11 focuses on principles to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. This goal captures tourism and recreation through its call for the provisions of universal design for accessible and sustainable transport systems, inclusive urbanization, and access to green and public spaces. In its 2011 Declaration,The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) predicted tourism will increase and experience sustained development, reaching 1.8 billion international tourists by 2030. Accessible cities and tourism provisions therefore ensure the full social and economic inclusion of all persons with direct benefits of promoting more sustainable travel habits among users.
What are the barriers to travel and tourism for persons with disabilities?
For persons with disabilities, travelling can be a challenge, as finding the information on accessible services, checking luggage on a plane, booking a room to fulfil access needs, often prove to be difficult, costly and time consuming.
Challenges for persons with disabilities include:
• Untrained professional staff capable of informing and advising about accessibility issues
• Inaccessible booking services and related websites
• Lack of accessible airports and transfer facilities and services
• Unavailability of adapted and accessible hotel rooms, restaurants, shops, toilets and public places
• Inaccessible streets and transport services
• Unavailable information on accessible facilities, services, equipment rentals and tourist attractions
Why is accessible tourism important?
Accessibility is a central element of any responsible and sustainable development policy. It is both a human rights imperative, as well as an exceptional business opportunity. In this context, accessible tourism does not only benefit persons with disabilities, it benefits all of society.
To ensure that accessible tourism is developed in a sustainable manner requires that tourist destinations go beyond ad hoc services to adopting the principle of universal design, ensuring that all persons, regardless of their physical or cognitive needs, are able to use and enjoy the available amenities in an equitable and sustainable manner. This approach foregoes preferential or segregated treatment of differently abled constituents to permitting uninhibited use of facilities and services by all, at any time, to equitable effect.
I am not a person with a disability – how does this affect me?
Accessibility is also an important aspect of realizing the rights of the world’s ageing population. As we grow older, our chance of experiencing a permanent or temporary disability is increased. A focus on accessibility can therefore ensure that we are able to participate fully in our societies well into our older years. Accessibility also benefits pregnant women and persons who are temporarily rendered immobile.
The improvements to physical and service infrastructure that come with a focus on accessibility also encourage a more multigenerational focus in development planning. For families with small children, accessible infrastructure – particularly in transportation, city planning and building design – improves the ability of these families to participate in social and cultural activities.
The United Nations is committed to sustainable and equitable development. Certainly, making basic adjustments to a facility, providing accurate information, and understanding the needs of disabled people can result in increased visitor numbers. Improving the accessibility of tourism services increases their quality and their enjoyment for all tourists, as well as improving quality of life in the local communities.