Issues and Problems of Inaccessible Tourism
Prof. Dr. Nasir Sulman
Department of Special Education
University of Karachi
Often referred to as the world’s largest growth industry, tourism is being undertaken by increasing numbers of people travelling to more countries and regions of the world. Its impacts are multi-faceted, with social, cultural, political and environmental implications as well as economic.
Closely linked to the needs of the seniors market are people with disabilities. The travel needs of this group have been categorized as barrier-free tourism (BFT). BFT offers a new opportunity for segmentation that merges the access requirements of the seniors and disability markets. In particular, providing information as well as presenting, promoting and marketing easy access tourism facilities can provide destinations with a greater competitive advantage for attracting these growing niche markets.
Concepts about barriers
People with disabilities have the same motivations to travel as the rest of the population. However, while many tourists might experience barriers to tourism participation, it has been found that these barriers disproportionately affect people with disabilities. Barriers can be defined as those impediments encountered while participating or attempting to participate in a tourism experience. This contrasts with the definition of constraints, which are factors that affect an individual’s propensity to travel (pre-trip).
Smith (1987) and Kennedy, Smith and Austin (1991) developed a framework for understanding and categorizing the barriers facing people with disabilities undertaking leisure-related travel. These barriers were conceptualized barriers as intrinsic, environmental, and communication.
Intrinsic barriers result from an individual’s own levels of physical, cognitive or psychological functioning. These barriers may be directly related to an individual’s specific disability, but they may also be due to a lack of knowledge about tourism opportunities, ineffective social skills, physical and psychological dependency upon caregivers, and skill/challenge incongruities (Kennedy, Smith and Austin 1991).
Environmental barriers are external to the individual with a disability and include attitudes towards people with disabilities, architecture, ecological features, transportation, economic elements, rules and regulations, and barriers of omission (Kennedy, Smith and Austin 1991). Communication barriers result from the interactions of individuals and their social environments (Kennedy, Smith and Austin 1991).
In response to a call for more empirical research, a number of research papers identified specific constraints and barriers to tourism faced by people with disabilities. The constraints and barriers can be identified by conceptualizing the tourism journey undertaken by travellers with disabilities through the following stages:
- Underlying social and cultural constraints;
- Travel planning information;
- Transportation barriers;
- Accessible accommodation; and
- The destination experience
This typology is used here as the framework for addressing the constraints and barriers that a traveller with a disability may experience.
1. Underlying social and cultural constraints
In contrast to the more conventional medical view of disability, there has been growing recognition that disability is a product of social relations rather than the fault of an individual’s physical characteristics. The social approach to disability recognizes that it is the disabling environment and hostile social attitudes that creates disability rather than any underlying physical impairment. Tourism is part of the wider social relations in each country, but also has its own set of sectoral responses to disability that must be understood in the country context, because only then can a strategy to provide barrier-free tourism be developed.
Miles (1982; 1996; 2000) has suggested that there are underlying differences between the way most Western and Eastern cultures conceptualize disability. This involves differences in factors that are psychosocial, religious, prestige and visibility, empire and ego building, political inequalities, and inappropriate training. These differences have implications for the likely social participation and predisposition to travel of people with disabilities in the tourism generating regions. Such conceptualizations may affect the acceptance of travellers with disabilities in the destination regions.
Low employment rates affect income, and the level of disposable income directly affects the likelihood of travel. These constraints must be considered in targeting tourism generating regions where there are people with disabilities who have disposable income. There are a range of well-documented additional costs associated with having a disability. These costs include: mobility equipment (wheelchairs, crutches; orthopedic shoes, etc.); personal care equipment (shower chairs, commode, hoist, slings, etc.); personal care supplies; attendant care; and extra transport costs because of inaccessible public transport.
Tourism-related expenditures could be constrained for people with disabilities by the need to satisfy the essential costs of living. The costs and participation are further compounded for people with higher support needs. The higher the person’s support needs, the more complicated their travel arrangements and the more costly to travel than for non-disabled people.
Travel planning information
People with disabilities need to make a substantially greater amount of pre-planning to undertake travel than the non-disabled. As noted by the English Tourism Council (2000b), information providing about barrier-free tourism would lead to increased travel. However, poor information dissemination has been identified as a major weakness of tourism for people with disabilities.
Research has found that information from disability organizations are the most important source, in addition to family and friends with significantly lower levels of reliance on mass media usage. The use of travel agents by people with disabilities has generally had unsatisfactory results. However, the Internet is becoming a primary means to collect travel information for the general public and people with disabilities. The major issues about travel planning and information for people with disabilities can be summarized. One issue is the need for shared understanding of what constitutes access and disability by the stakeholders (people with impairments; operators; tourism sectors; intermediaries). This includes:
- Recognize the different dimensions of access (physical; vision; hearing and cognitive);
- Understand the complexity of operationalizing these dimensions of access;
- Provide accurate access information;
- Provide the right level of detail about the access information;
- Ensure the availability of information;
- Have a proper format for the information;
- Have appropriate presentation of the information;
- Identify distribution channels (mainstream and disability specific);
- Communicate the information to staff at all levels of the organization; and
- Communicate the information to intermediaries.
Tourism has an additional level of communication barriers for many tourists with disabilities. While all tourists face the common barrier of language differences between host and guest, this can be compounded for people with disabilities who may have expressive difficulties. These difficulties may require a greater level of concentration to understand the person. The non-disabled listener may also have attitudinal problems towards people with disabilities and this will further aggravate the communication problem.
3. Transport barriers
Transport has been a major facilitator of social participation and leisure experience. Within an individual’s community, day-to-day transport relies largely on pedestrian access, bus, train, light rail, ferry and paratransit taxi options. In many instances, these public transport options are not available for easy use by people with disabilities. Developed countries also face the accessibility of public transport as a major issue. This may cover physical access, as well as cognitive or communication dimensions of access. Universal designs and technological solutions1 to barrier-free public transport have grown over the last decade in response to the well-documented public transport issues for people with disabilities. Barrier-free public transport has become standard in many developed countries with anti-discrimination legislation. However, both developed and developing countries in Asia have lagged behind with these public transport solutions.
Transport issues become accentuated for tourism where an individual has to negotiate the transport system to get to a destination region. This includes prolonged travel time, unknown territories and unfamiliar transport options (train, coach or aeroplane). The major air transport issues identified are:
- Ground services to and from airports;
- Convenient drop-off points near main entrances;
- Adequate auxiliary services within airports (accessible toilets/change rooms, phones, autobanks, etc.);
- Airline flight information dissemination to the hearing and vision impaired;
- Airline information management of the needs of people with mobility disabilities;
- Distance from check-in to departure terminal;
- Extra cost of travelling with an attendant;
- Loss of travel independence;
- Method of boarding and disembarking from aircraft;
- Ground staff training in the physical handling of people with mobility disabilities;
- Seating location;
- Availability of seats with retractable arms;
- Health-related issues during flights and impairment differences;
- Lack of accessible toilets;
- Access to special toilets where provided;
- Rules and regulations for carrying equipment (electric batteries for wheelchairs and oxygen);
- Equipment loss and damage;
- Retrieval and identification of luggage;
- Disability awareness training for ground staff towards people with disabilities.
The overall experience of people with disabilities demonstrates that the accessibility and reliability of transport is the facilitating link among tourism industry sectors (transport – accommodation – attractions – hospitality – intermediaries). The availability and variety of transport options affects the ease of movement for people with disabilities. The availability of these factors directly affects ability to participate in tourism due to the extra costs associated with using paratransit systems and exclusion from packaged tours.
The overall satisfaction of disabled people with the tourism experience can be considered correspondingly less than for the non-disabled. For many, this contributes towards their propensity to travel more frequently. As one experienced traveller explained, all forms of public transportation are so problematic that they restrict their travel to areas in which they can drive in their private vehicle.
Transport solutions require a level of independent access that provides an equality of service provision to which the non-disabled already have access. Paratransit systems should only be considered a starting point and more cost effective mainstream barrier-free transport needs to be the solution in destination regions planning to cater for this group.
4. Accessible accommodation
For many people with disabilities affecting mobility, accommodation availability is critical to staying at a destination. Quite simply, if they cannot find barrier-free accommodation then they will not travel to the destination. One travel planning information issue is obtaining information about barrier-free accommodation. Many accommodation operators do not understand what accessible or barrier-free accommodation entails. They are often unable to provide accurate or detailed information about the features of their rooms. In many cases, this involves accommodation operators representing their rooms as accessible or barrier-free, but people with disabilities find that the rooms are not suitable. When this occurs in one’s own country it is serious enough but when it occurs at an overseas destination, it is devastating to the traveller with a disability.
Barriers to accommodation occur in relation to the surrounding environment of the accommodation (location, proximity to services, public transport, parking and drop-offs), the reception, other facilities and services, and the rooms. The accommodation needs of people with disabilities on the individual, their disability and the level of their support needs. The most important access features information requirement about accommodations involve the following:
- Lack of continuous pathways (from parking or drop off throughout all hotel facilities and to the room);
- Reception counters are too high;
- Rooms are inappropriately located;
- No steps into rooms;
- Door widths;
- Door stops weight;
- D type door handles;
- Circulation space in corridor;
- Circulation space in rooms;
- Uncluttered furniture layout;
- Cupboard height and reach;
- Access to balconies;
- Location of cupboards, fridge, TV, clock radio, telephone, ironing equipment, etc.;
- Availability of telephone typewriters and visual signals for deaf people;
- Provision of orientation for people with vision impairments, including blindness;
- Table heights;
- Bed heights;
- Clearance under beds;
- Switch and handle locations;
- Hobless roll in showers;
- Hand held shower hose;
- Lever taps;
- Mirror location;
- Hand basin positioning;
- Space under the hand basin;
- Need for adequate shower chair or bench;
- Location of handrails;
- Toilet height; and
- Positioning of the toilet (distance from the walls and front clearance).
Apart from specific elements of room design, other critical issues where equality of service provision is needed includes:
- Location and distribution of rooms within accommodations;
- Number of barrier-free rooms available at a destination;
- Availability of rooms across classes of accommodation within destination regions;
- Prices charged for barrier-free accommodation are often higher; and
- Lack of budget accommodation.
In addition to barrier-free accommodations, some travellers with mobility disabilities may require additional equipment such as shower seats, a commode and hoists. However, few accommodations provide this equipment, so people have to either take their own or hire equipment at their destination. This complicates the tourism experience in terms of additional costs and/or travel planning.
5. The destination experience
The tourism experience involves a multitude of interactions and social relations at the destination. Public transport, the environment, the streetscape, accommodation, attractions, day-trip availability and customer service attitudes all play important roles in the tourism experiences of people with disabilities. People with disabilities have usually been devalued and treated poorly in many areas of service provision. Tourism has been no exception in this discrimination against people with disabilities (Darcy and Daruwalla, 1999).
Two important components for creating a barrier-free destination are the country/region’s disability discrimination legislation and the regulation of the built environment. These two components interact to produce the physical and attitudinal environments that travellers experience at a destination. Unless the regulation of the built environment incorporates barrier-free considerations, the physical environment for transport, the built environment, streetscape and attractions will not be inclusive of travellers with disabilities’ physical and sensory requirements. Secondly, disability discrimination legislation provides an environment where the attitudes and behaviour of service providers incorporates the needs of travellers with disabilities throughout their service provision. Receiving tourists with disability cannot be seen as an optional extra but as part of mainstream service provision.
The research, while predominantly coming from Western developed nations, offers an understanding of the major barriers likely to be encountered at destination regions. These include access to accommodation, restaurants, clubs, attractions, places of interest and anywhere else a tourist may desire to visit in a destination region.
Barriers create physical, sensory and communication exclusions to an inclusive tourism environment. A starting point to improving barrier-free tourism is to understand the nature of destination regions and the requirements for a truly enabling environment. Pakistan do not has national building codes or standards for access. The Australian and New Zealand systems of building codes and standards for access offer a framework for improving access to the built environment and developing barrier-free tourism product (Standards Australia 1992a; 1992c; 1992b; 1995; 2001).
Barrier-free tourism extends beyond the built environment to customer service provision. People with disabilities have been discriminated against in tourism service provision. As a service industry the attitude that the tourism industry has towards people with disabilities has a major impact upon their experiences. Research has shown that destination marketers and face-to-face tourism service providers’ attitudes reflect the wider social stereotypes about disability (Ross 1994; Daruwalla 1999). These attitudes need to be challenged through systemic disability awareness training to the tourism industry.
To summarize, there are many myths about people with disabilities and tourism. These include that the market is inconsequential, that people with disabilities travel in ‘packs’, and that they are best catered for through activities organized by institutions and governments familiar with their needs. Other myths include that accessible facilities are too expensive to build, such facilities are never used, and people with disabilities cannot afford to use them. Yet, people with disabilities have the same motivations to travel as the rest of the community. However, as this article has identified they have faced a range of constraints and barriers that impede their tourism desires. Destination marketers and those responsible for planning destination regions can be proactive in removing the disabling barriers faced by travellers with disabilities. By doing so, they will create a competitive advantage for their destination through developing a barrier-free approach to this emerging market segment.