Broaden the lens: Accessible tourism - more than just ramps and toilets

11 April 2023

By Anthony Baguley

Take a moment to reflect, what does accessible tourism mean to you?

When you think of tourism, what comes to mind? Whale watching in Hervey Bay? Seeing the sights in the outback? Staying in hotels and going to a festival? All of the popular, well known tourist attractions!

What comes to mind when you think about accessibility? Many might think of ramps and elevators, tactile indicators on the ground, or disabled toilets. All of these relate to visible disabilities.

For both tourism and accessibility, you are right! The obvious options have been considered. Now, let’s consider the less obvious elements of tourism and accessibility.

Let’s consider tourism. A tourist doesn’t spend 24 hours a day at high profile tourist attractions! Maybe they want to find somewhere to escape the hustle and bustle! They may wish to admire scenery without a tour guide talking at them the whole time! Perhaps some time out at a quiet café or restaurant! It might just be that someone wants to experience the everyday culture and lifestyle of a given location.

Now, lets think about disability and accessibility. The first thing that comes to mind are the points I mentioned earlier, and whilst there is much work to do in the space of visible disabilities, they are at the forefront of thinking for event planners, so very rarely completely forgotten! Unlike disabilities such as Autism, low vision (particularly when visible aids are not required), psychosocial disabilities, and learning disabilities, to name a few.

So let’s now reframe accessible tourism! I like to think of it as events, locations and experiences that everyone has the opportunity to participate in.

What might this look like? Take a moment to ponder this, given the information I have just shared.

Consider this. You are at a café; the menu is on a board behind the counter. It is an extensive menu, lots of writing in a small space, so the text is quite small. It must be visually appealing, so pictures behind the text shows off how great the meals look! You did a bit of research on the café, but could not find a menu online, and the board is the only place where the menu is displayed. From an obvious point of view, this is not accessible to a person who is blind, however staff would be alerted by the fact that the person has a cane or dog guide, therefore offers to assist.

What about a person who has low vision? Enough vision to get about independently, but not enough to read such fine text at a distance. How about a person who experiences high anxiety, and feels pressured when standing at the counter trying to decide? A person with learning disability who is unable to read at all. As a person who has low vision, I have experienced awkward situations such as this. I am embarrassed to ask staff to read the entire menu (from where they stand, I look normal, I don’t look like I have a disability, and so they would look at me puzzled), I don’t really know what I feel like (chicken, beef, fish), but just order something that I know is on the menu because it easier to do that.

Am I the problem? Why would I go into a café when I can’t read the menu?

How could this be overcome? Two simple options: publish the menu online, and ensure printed menus are available (no, I don’t mean the laminated copies that are glued to the counter, I mean menus that can be taken back to the table).

This would help me (as I can use my reading glasses, or bring the page closer to my eyes), it would also help a person who experiences anxiety as they can read the menu and take their time to decide without staff glaring at them, or continuously asking if they are ready to order. It also means that people with invisible disabilities would not feel obliged to disclose their disability for the purpose of seeking assistance!

I could go on forever, but my key message is: consider and meet the needs of people with invisible disabilities before declaring you are an accessible event or location, and small businesses (even if you are not a high profile tourist attraction) are part of the tourism industry.

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