ACCESS ALL AREAS
Travel experiences everyone can enjoy are gaining traction the world over
Ionce dated a guy who was hotter than Chris Hemsworth and funnier than Wil Anderson. He also happened to use a wheelchair to get around. Like many young couples who still live at home, we decided to go away for the weekend. Big mistake. Getting our sexy on was the last thing on our minds when we discovered our “romantic accommodation” looked more like a nursing home than a love nest.
Fast forward 25 years and much has changed when it comes to travel options for people with a disability. It’s a good thing too. Australian travel research firm My Travel Research has found about one sixth of the global population live with some kind of disability. Given the world population is ageing and living longer, accessible travel looks set to grow.
Australia’s accessible tourism sector is worth about $10 billion. This is on par with the value of the inbound Chinese tourism market. And around 20 per cent of people with a disability say they would go on holiday even more if they were aware of travel products that met their needs.
If you think accessible travel doesn’t apply to you, don’t be so sure. My Travel Research also found that once people are aged over 60 there is a 50 per cent chance they’ll experience disability, which means this issue is important to everyone, not just those who now travel with special needs.
WHAT DOES ACCESSIBLE TRAVEL MEAN?
Accessible tourism essentially comes down to designing travel experiences, products and services that are appropriate for everyone, regardless of their level of ability.
It’s also about more than travelling with a wheelchair. Parents with children in prams, seniors with limited mobility, people with hearing, vision, and sensory processing issues and those with intellectual disabilities also need access to inclusive tourism experiences.
Carolyn Childs, My Travel Research CEO, says it is not enough for tourism providers to simply say they are accessible. Organisations need to put detailed accessible tourism information on websites, ideally on the top bar, and tag it. Like other travellers, people with a disability use the search function when researching holidays.
WHAT RESOURCES ARE AVAILABLE?
If you’re wondering what resources are available for travellers with special needs, there are certainly more than there were 25 years ago. Travel service providers such as airlines and airports are now required by law to provide services for people with a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act (1992). However, instead of simply complying with legal requirements, many Australian tourism operators and organisations are actively driving change.
Gold Coast Tourism has worked with accessible travel experts to develop a disability access statement and new inclusive tourism experiences, while Destination Melbourne has run an industry accessible travel education day.
Inclusive tourism is not just socially responsible, it is also a great business opportunity for travel operators who are willing to give it a try, says Carolyn Childs. “Jervis Bay Wild leveraged this opportunity and it has turbo-charged its growth, moving the company from a seasonal few days a week business to one that is seven days a week.”
These and other positive industry changes and inclusive travel options have been welcomed by people with a disability and their families.
Julie Jones, the creator of Have Wheelchair Will Travel (havewheelchairwilltravel.net), travels regularly with her family, including her son, Braeden, who lives with cerebral palsy, and her teenage daughter, Amelia.
“After years of travelling, we’re thrilled to see many improvements in the tourism industry. That’s not to say there isn’t room for much greater change but over the years we’ve seen beach wheelchairs, TrailRiders for bush walking and other facilities become widely available.”
Accessibility regulations and travel expertise vary throughout the world. However, where there is a will there is almost certainly a way, although patience can be required on both sides. Helen Cordery, who works at EcoCamp Patagonia, has sound advice for all travellers with a disability, not just those trekking with Chimu Adventures in Torres del Paine National Park.
“Inclusive travel is something new in South America and there may be times when staff or other guests need a hand in understanding your needs, so it is important to speak up and make your voice heard. We are starting a conversation but it goes two ways – we all need to take a moment to listen.”
HOLIDAYS FOR ALL
Accessible accommodation is much easier to find these days, with a choice of hotel rooms, apartments and even adventure camps to suit every taste and budget. Industry innovation is also helping travellers with a disability have a better holiday.
AccorHotels is working on “smart rooms” which use voice activation to control lights, entertainment, curtains and other in-room technology. Accommodation websites such as HomeAway now have a “wheelchair friendly”’ search option and Airbnb has more than 20 accessibility filters.
Specialist travel agents and organisations have also filled an important gap in the market.
Travel With Special Needs (travelwithspecialneeds.com.au) offers custom packages, deals and travel services, as well as articles about everything from concessions and carer rates to travelling with
WE ARE STARTING A CONVERSATION BUT IT GOES TWO WAYS – WE ALL NEED TO TAKE A MOMENT TO LISTEN
epilepsy or a service dog. Plane travel has come a long way for wheelchair users although there are still many processes which must be followed. Information about these can be found on airline websites.
Navigating the process of flying was one of Julie Jones’s biggest learning curves and her website is filled with helpful advice.
“It requires a lot of faith when you hand over a piece of equipment which is so essential to your mobility at your destination. It is always a relief to see Braeden’s wheelchair arrive in one piece when we land,” she says.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO GET STARTED?
If you are contemplating your first accessible trip, booking a staycation in your own city is a good way to find out what works for you. If you would like to venture further afield, a driving holiday can be easier than flying as you can bring any necessary equipment with you. Wherever you decide to go, a well-located hotel which allows you to walk or wheel to restaurants and attractions can help save money on transport and make your holiday easier.
If you are realistic about what is and isn’t possible and provide detailed information about your needs, it will be easier for people to meet them. If things don’t go perfectly, look on the bright side: you’ll be just like every other traveller. Nothing ever goes exactly to plan on holiday.
All-terrain wheelchairs help travellers conquer terrain ranging from the arid steppes of Patagonia to Australian beach country; zoom down the slopes with the Cardrona Adaptive Snow Sports program near Queenstown; Braeden Jones explores Whitehaven Beach.