A Manifesto for the Future of Tourism

Chapter two: Accessible tourism

Accessibility in tourism. Equal access to travel and tourism is currently a myth

Everybody needs good accessibility

Twenty-two percent of the UK population has some form of disability, long-standing illness or impairment, whether it is physical, mental or cognitive. Furthermore, additional needs are not always visible: in the US, 96 percent of those with chronic medical conditions live with a condition which is invisible.
Quotation markOne billion people on the planet — that's one in seven of us — live with a disabling condition.Quotation mark
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The world's population is also living longer, leading to a greater likelihood of accessibility requirements as people get older.
Quotation markMore than 46 percent of people over 60 worldwide have a disability.Quotation mark
With one in four people in the UK experiencing mental health issues each year — from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, through to phobias or anxiety — and with awareness increasing, the number of people affected may rise further.
Most adults living with specific access requirements have developed their condition through ageing, illness, injury or accidents. In the UK, one in five people will experience life-changing impairments or illnesses affecting their personal mobility.
Quotation markThree in five people will be carers at one point or another.Quotation mark

The road to nowhere

Equal access to global travel and tourism is currently a myth. Yet studies have found that people are at their happiest when they have a holiday planned.
On average, adults with a disability travel just over half the distance per person per year travelled by adults without a disability. Families with children with access requirements feel unable to take a holiday together. Those with a disability are doubly disadvantaged, as they are more likely to be living in poverty or confront a significant disability pay gap.
Quotation markThree quarters of people with mental health issues say their disability has stopped them travelling.Quotation mark
Quotation markThree quarters of people with mental health issues say their disability has stopped them travelling.Quotation mark
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Facing a brick wall

So why is travelling with a long-standing illness or impairment still so challenging? And how do we make it easier for those affected — and for their family and friends?

Travel websites and product

Travel websites are not offering enough accessible product, nor are they designed in an accessible way. Read more...
Poorly designed travel websites and a limited (or non-existent) choice of trips can make planning a holiday difficult. On top of that, there's an overwhelming lack of information from travel companies about the availability and suitability of accessible holidays.
Quotation markNot knowing what to expect was cited as a barrier to travel for 40 percent of respondents in one Australian tourism study.Quotation mark
When it comes to choice, accessible options are in short supply, especially when it comes to adventure and wildlife trips. The European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT) conducted a study in 2014 of three million travel service providers across Europe. They found that just 9 percent had accessible products on offer. This is a huge failing of the travel industry. Travel — including adventure travel — can and should be for everyone.
In 2012, ENAT conducted a study which reviewed 41 European National Tourism Organisations (NTOs) websites. Only 19 included information specific to travellers with disabilities.
And what about browsing holiday company websites? Under the EU Web Accessibility Directive, public sector websites and apps must be accessible by September 2020. (Private companies, however, aren't covered.) Then there's the 2019 European Accessibility Act which requires businesses with an annual turnover of more than €2 million to have accessible websites for online sales by 2025. It's an important step forward.

Airports

Special assistance is not available across the globe. Read more...
The EU passed legislation in 2006 so that passengers with disabilities are legally entitled to free special assistance when travelling by plane or ferry. Similar rights apply in the US. However this is not the case across the globe. In Brazilian airports, for example, there are no dedicated assistance services for passengers with additional needs.
Quotation mark57 percent of UK adults with a disability find airports and flying difficult.Quotation mark
Even in Europe, passengers often aren't getting the assistance they need — or in good time. In 2018, four UK airports were still found to be failing passengers.
Crowds in an airport
Those with hidden disabilities can often find seeking help extremely difficult at airports. The noise, queues and sensory-driven retail areas can be overwhelming and extremely challenging for many.
A green lanyard scheme has been introduced in the UK to help identify those with hidden disabilities who need help, but this is currently only in UK airports. On arrival overseas, passengers often do not continue to receive the help they require and can be left stranded.
Additional pre-departure information via airport websites, familiarisation films and visits are a great help to customers with autism spectrum disorders, for example. But they're only available at a few airports around the world.

Airlines

Wheelchairs are regularly mishandled and damaged, leaving passengers immobile. Read more...
Wheelchairs aren't allowed on aircraft, so they must be put in the hold. However, for those reliant on wheelchairs for their independence, handing over this essential and trusty equipment to untrained staff can be terrifying.
Quotation markOver 2,000 wheelchairs were mishandled or damaged by US airlines in the first three months of 2019 in the USA.Quotation mark
This often means leaving passengers immobile at their destination. Wheelchairs and other personal mobility aids are treated as 'special luggage' for insurance purposes. Compensation for lost or damaged devices will rarely cover the actual cost of replacement.
Once onboard — and even when using an onboard wheelchair — the configuration of planes means that it is often impossible for those with reduced mobility to use the toilets without the help of a companion, as cabin crew are not permitted to help lift those who need assistance. The traveller has to make a choice between risking travelling alone or forking out for another plane ticket for someone to travel with them.
Seats on a plane
Those with hidden disabilities risk being ignored or brushed aside by untrained staff, like the Ryanair passenger who was told that she didn't "look disabled". Others may be unable to sit next to their carers or receive priority boarding that can make all the difference for someone with autism.

Getting around

Train and underground stations, buses and taxis remain inaccessible in countries around the globe. Read more...
Forty percent of UK train stations remain inaccessible to physically disabled people. In Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, only 5 percent of train stations are accessible for wheelchair users — and that's despite the city holding the Paralympics in 2016. Then there's New York City, where 75 percent of subway stations aren't wheelchair accessible. In Paris, a shocking 3 percent of the metro is fully accessible, having been excluded from France's disability and equality laws of 2005 due to the age of the network.
Quotation markBuses can be a challenge for travellers with accessibility requirements.Quotation mark
Although some city buses reserve areas for wheelchair users, there is often just one spot — and it's usually shared with prams and pushchairs. Delhi might have one of the most accessible metro systems, but buses largely remain inaccessible as they lack ramps. Drivers aren't trained in helping passengers with mobility impairments, regularly cruising on without stopping.
Paris Metro sign
Getting a taxi can be very difficult in cities like Beijing and throughout India. On the flipside, London is renowned for the accessibility of its black cabs. But even in countries where accessible taxis are available, users sometimes get charged extra.
Hiring a car can also be a struggle. Finding a vehicle with hand controls, or a van with lifts or ramps, is impossible in many places.

In destinations

Attractions and restaurants aren't always equipped to welcome those with access requirements. Read more...
The way we design our public spaces is crucial. A lack of drop kerbs and accessible pavements are a challenge for many travelling to cities such as Bangkok. Worldwide, there have been numerous cases of vehicles knocking wheelchair users out of their chairs, thanks to poor pedestrian accessibility.
Quotation markA US study found that pedestrian wheelchair users are over a third more likely to be killed in a road accident than the general public.Quotation mark
What about the museum, national park, café or restaurant you're heading for? Unfortunately, it's a similar story. Sixty-three percent of the UK's most-visited tourist attractions were not fully accessible for users of wheelchairs and other mobility aids. And it's not just about physical access, either. Only a third of UK tourism venues are equipped to fully accommodate people with autism.
Busy street
Ramps, accessible toilets, accessible car parking spaces, large print menus, hearing loops, Braille signage... All these things can transform the experience of someone with access requirements. Yet staff attitudes can also be a barrier. A survey by Guide Dogs UK found that 75 percent of all assistance dog owners surveyed had been refused access to a service at some point because they had an assistance dog with them.

Hotels

Global hotel certification schemes don't ensure those with accessibility or disability issues are provided for. Read more...
You can expect the very best service and facilities if you are staying in a five-star hotel — that's if you're not disabled, of course.
There's no worldwide standard for official hotel classification systems, but a UN report looked at the criteria in four- and five-star hotels in countries around the world. 'Accessible for guests with reduced mobility' was present in only 26 percent of hotel criteria catalogues. Compare that to 'minibar' (present in 80 percent) or 'number of towels per person' (85 percent).
European hotels fared even worse, where the prominence of accessibility standards was present in just 17 percent of four-star hotel criteria.
Quotation markIn the UK, none of the hotel certification schemes include accessibility or disability provisions at any star level.Quotation mark
This is despite building regulations for new hotels or extensions demanding that at least one in 20 bedrooms needs to be wheelchair accessible. VisitEngland schemes also contain good practice accessibility guidance.
Hotel room
For any star rating to be achieved in India, the hotels must have at least one accessible room. However, often this room is 'under renovation' and unavailable, particularly in the budget category.
Is this the warm welcome you'd expect from a hotel?

Legislation

Unless people with access requirements make complaints, many businesses do not make the adjustments legally required. Read more...
The 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is an international human rights treaty ensuring equal access to — among other things — "cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport". That includes equal access to tourism venues and services. It's been ratified by 177 countries (although not the USA). However, the extent to which countries have put legislation into practice — and then ensured compliance — varies tremendously.
Under the Equality Act 2010, tourism providers in the UK must make "reasonable adjustments" to ensure that, as far as possible, people with disabilities enjoy an equal experience to that of non-disabled persons. The reality is, though, that the law is too vague. Unless disabled people make complaints, many businesses do not make the adjustments required.
This is outrageously unfair. A freedom of information request to the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that just 19 enquiries have been received in regards to accessible travel and tourism issues from January 2016 to June 2019.
Quotation markIt is clear that too much unreasonable burden is placed on the person with access requirements.Quotation mark
Finding the support and finances, let alone the stamina, to pursue legal action is daunting for anyone.
Sign to disabled toilet
Surprisingly — and unknown to many — the Equality Act also applies to holidays overseas if booked with a company in the UK.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 demands that hotel rooms must be accessible both at the booking stage and on arrival. But as with all disability and equality legislation across the globe, the implementation and compliance isn't always up to scratch. India passed a similar act in 2016, setting time frames for businesses to comply — however many are failing to do so.
The Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations were introduced to the UK in 2018. This meant that those companies booking accommodation, flights or car hire were committed to providing information on "whether the trip is generally suitable for persons with reduced mobility and upon the traveller's request, precise information on the suitability of the trip taking into account the traveller's needs". This regulation focuses too much on mobility issues, forgetting that the majority of people face hidden disabilities.

Is change possible?

If businesses can cast aside their fears around cost or of not being 'perfect' and start real conversations with customers, then real change can begin. Right now, the tourism sector is a dysfunctional marketplace. There's a demand for accessible tourism services, but the market isn't supplying. The tourism industry needs to show itself willing to open up and start a dialogue — one that doesn't exist right now.
The travel industry must wise up and look at some of the best practices that already exist. It is time to realise that all customers will have some specific access needs at some time, and that there is huge untapped potential in the £249 billion 'purple pound' in the UK alone.
The added value? By making our holiday environment more accessible, we also benefit the communities that live there. It's a win-win for all.
Quotation markWe can do much, much better. This conversation starts with just a few words. It's time to say, "Yes, we can help you — and this is how."Quotation mark
Quotation markWe can do much, much better. This conversation starts with just a few words. It's time to say, "Yes, we can help you — and this is how."Quotation mark
Person waiting for a train in a wheelchair

The travel industry must do much more

Watch our film, narrated by the brilliant and inspiring Karen Darke, an adventurer and Paralympic athlete, and help us change the travel industry so that it better serves people with accessibility requirements.
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What ACTION is needed?

Making tourism accessible

Resources

Special thanks for input and advice from: Harold Goodwin (Responsible Tourism Partnership); Ross Calladine (VisitEngland); Neha Arora (Planet Abled); Karen Darke (Inspire and Impact); Martyn Sibley (Disability Horizons); Ivor Ambrose (European Network for Accessible Tourism); Fiona Jarvis (Blue Badge Style); Chris Wood (Flying Disabled); John Morris (WheelchairTravel.org); Ami Naru (Travlaw); Kevin Chapman; The National Autistic Society (UK).
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Your feedback and ideas

If you have a specific question then please contact manifesto@responsibletravel.com. Otherwise please share your ideas, suggestions, personal experiences and examples below — we'd love to hear what you think. Subscribe to hear about new chapter releases and news.
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The Fork in the Road: A Manifesto for the Future of Tourism

We're releasing each topic as they're completed — click on a chapter to learn more.
Aviation and the climate crisis
Accessible tourism
Children's issues, coming soon
Overtourism, coming soon
Social media, coming soon
Cruises, coming soon
Water, coming soon
Wildlife, coming soon
LGBT+, coming soon
Local communities, coming soon
Plastics, coming soon
Modern slavery and workers' rights, coming soon
Women's issues, coming soon
Animal welfare, coming soon
Written by Justin Francis
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