When you ask if a place is accessible and the owners or managers say yes, this often means that they are wheelchair friendly. Which is a patronising term in itself, when you think about it, like there is an option to be unfriendly. Travel organisations, and we include ourselves in this, have been slow to invite everyone to the party. So we are encouraging you to tell businesses what your disabled access holiday requirements are, and what you need in order to make your travels not only more inclusive, but more fun, more relaxing, more adventurous and, ultimately, more responsible.
It’s weird, but it’s true. People working in tourism, in general, have been wary of tackling the subject of accessibility because they are afraid of getting it wrong. However, when you think of the millions of people in the world working in tourism, that’s a ridiculously large number of people who are scared to say ‘May I help you?’ It will help businesses learn and grow if you can assuage their fear, and calmly point out what your needs are in advance of your travel, and at the same time show them gentle steps that they can take to make it easier for other guests. Sometimes they need a big loud reminder that yes, they really can help you. And that no, you aren’t scary.
Julià Montero Ortega, founder of our supplier, Barcelona Zero Limits: “You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have an accessible product. That is not usually the problem. The problem is that there is a lot of fear about the subject of disability within the businesses. Because they aren’t familiar with these types of customers, and so get scared because they don’t know what to do with a person in a wheelchair or a blind person arrives at their hotel. In fact, they don’t need to do anything different than with another client. It is a normal client! So, don’t fear these people. Tourism businesses need to be brave, creative and offer their best products to people, whatever their needs. Don’t always offer a special product. Now is the right time to change the mentality within the tourism industry.”
Liz from our supplier Space Between on accessibility in France’s Mercantour National Park:
“We recently welcomed a guest affected by fibromyalgia, and also struggling with fatigue. Because we knew in advance of her needs, we were able to create an easy programme of walking and cultural content, respecting her space, and planning her public transport to ensure she could get around easily. We do our best to enable the best holiday experience for all our guests - so it is important to understand from the outset what any accessibility issues might be - and for instance with trike expeditions into the park allows some time for us to organise.”
Turn frustration to creation
Discovering that the accessible toilet is little more than a store cupboard is not only common but also an unfortunate metaphor for just how insensitive people can be. People aren’t to be hidden away in a store cupboard, forgotten, or just ignored because no one knows where else to put them. And the irony is that this is a hospitality industry. You have a right to be angry, and you also have a right to inclusion. However, peaceful protests and articulate arguments are the ones that create change, not ranting and raging reckless ones. We can wait for the governments to make it obligatory or for businesses to wake up to the fact that, on so many levels, it makes sense to include everyone. But as Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Don’t wait for others to get their acts together, but educate the people who need to understand better what your disabled access holiday requirements are– and do so creatively and with inspiration. We have all ears open at Responsible Travel too and are happy to hear all suggestions, as we know that we are only at the beginning of our learning curve.
Our travel team is always happy to discuss your particular requirements when it comes to accessibility. If we know early in the process exactly what you need then through communication with suppliers we can make appropriate holiday recommendations, and ensure that every aspect of your trip will meet your needs, from accommodation to meals and support.
Fiona Smart co-founder of our supplier Mas Pelegri, a superb sports hotel in Girona Spain: “I have just been training this amazing woman who is turning 60 this year and has just recovered from breast cancer. She has decided she wanted to do a 100 mile bike event and do a spring triathlon. So this week was the first time on a road bike and she has already biked 50 miles yesterday. She was a little afraid of the open water swimming, but with a wetsuit for buoyancy and our support, it helped her lose the stress a little. Real inspiration.”
Social media is a wonderful tool to create awareness and change. Get switched on to the social media network, and praise companies who are getting things right. Or tourist boards that are getting it wrong. Most accommodation websites offer information to families, walkers, cyclists, honeymooners and so on. If, however, you are blind, autistic, deaf, have arthritis or are a wheelchair user, then you’ll sometimes be surfing from dawn ‘til dusk to find a cottage in the country to cater for your needs. By becoming part of the social media world, one that features highly on all travel organisations’ agendas these days, you are not only giving shout outs to the people getting it right, but also showing that you are willing and able to travel. If the industry would just be more willing and able to host you.
Get good at lists
The default line with many tourism organisations is ‘yes we are wheelchair friendly’ or ‘yes, we are accessible’. However as we know, accessibility is a term that means so little, as everyone’s needs are different. So get good at making lists of all your needs, save a document that you can copy and paste with ease, and put a few tick boxes alongside it, so that the tourism business can fill it in easily. So, ironically, you are making the process easier for them, not the other way round. We know that sounds silly, but we think that this is the best way, at the moment, to start teaching businesses about the nitty gritty needs of travellers around the world.
Key questions to ask tour operators and tourism businesses from Brian Seaman, accessible tourism expert, who worked at leading charity, Tourism for All UK for 19 years.
Does your holiday insurance cover pre-existing medical conditions? Does your holiday insurance cover wheelchair or equipment repair or replacement?Can the agent make accessible accommodation a ‘requirement’ rather than a ‘request’?Can the agent guarantee this room will be available?Are the other facilities and beach accessible?If oxygen is required on the flight – is this free-of-charge?Is there assistance available at the departure and destination airport?If the transfer bus at the destination is not accessible is there an alternative accessible taxi service?Who is liable for the cost of a transfer taxi?