According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), 15% of the global population has a disability. Furthermore, the National Household Travel Survey indicates that 25.5 million Americans have disabilities that hinder their ability to travel.
Travel has numerous benefits, including stress relief, mental health, physical health, education, personal growth, creating memories, improving relationships, and career advancement.
Unfortunately, a lack of general accessibility for those with disabilities in the travel industry means these advantages are out of reach. So, what is being done, and what can be done to alleviate this situation?
What is the accessibility gap in the tourism industry?
The accessibility gap refers to the lack of accommodations and services for individuals with disabilities. These may include transportation, lodging, and accessibility at tourist destinations. Unfortunately, many travel companies and providers may not have the necessary infrastructure to support individuals with disabilities. This lack of appropriate frameworks make it difficult, and even impossible for some, to travel easily.
The gap refers to what is legally compliant and what’s needed for travelers with disabilities—especially wheelchair users who sometimes need to be detectives to ensure that their specific needs are met. At one National Association of ADA Coordinators conference, it was brought to light that the law had to be written for the median as every disability has a spectrum, which means, statistically, it only works for half the people.
Some ways the gap can be filled with specific information online as to what’s available, disability 101 training as part of normal guest services training programs, and awareness about the technology and adaptive innovations that are available.
What efforts are being made to combat this?
Governments are becoming increasingly involved in trying to bridge this gap through laws that protect individuals with disabilities. In the United States, there is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In the United Kingdom, the Equality Act requires public places and transportation to be accessible to those with disabilities.
The travel industry is making significant efforts to minimize the travel struggles of those with disabilities. These efforts include assistive devices and pre-boarding for individuals with disabilities by airlines, as well as accessible hotel rooms fitted with roll-in showers or visual fire alarms.
Both governments and private companies are investing in researching and developing new technologies and solutions that can help make travel more accessible.
Nonprofits are also getting involved in numerous ways to promote accessible travel and provide resources for individuals with disabilities. Examples of these organizations include Barrier Free Travels and The Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (SATH). On a global level, UNWTO has launched several initiatives to promote accessible tourism, including the Accessible Tourism for All initiative. This initiative is aimed not only at individuals with disabilities but also at older people and families with children.
At a far less official level, great strides are being made in accessible travel through travel blogs and social media groups where individuals who have disabilities and who love to travel give advice and share insight into their experiences in an effort to help others in their travel journeys.
How One Organization Aims To Close the Accessibility Gap in the Travel Industry
TravelAbility wants to improve the experiences of those with disabilities in their travel adventures. One way they do this is by providing travel organizations with the necessary information, expertise, and innovations to ensure that they can help their disabled clients to the best of their abilities.
The organization started when it became apparent that even though legislation was in place to protect those with disabilities in the travel industry, they were often inadequate and sometimes weren’t even enforced.
In light of this, the organization started building relationships with other organizations whose goals aligned with their own. They endeavored to provide the travel industry with the necessary tools to ensure a more leisurely journey for their disabled guests.
It’s reasonable to say that although there has been a significant advancement in making travel easier for individuals with disabilities, there is still much that can be done. This is not only necessary as an aspect of social responsibility, but also has potential financial impacts.
The more people travel, the more the travel industry may grow, creating more jobs and overall wealth. Through the appropriate research, innovation, and desire to develop sustainable options, the travel industry has the potential to be open to everyone with the desire to step outside of their comfort zones and see all that the world has to offer.