How Far Have We Come?
Destinations For All World Summit, 19- 22 October 2014, Montreal,
Scott Rains, srains@ oco.net
This is the world’s first conference on destinations seen from the
perspective of travelers with disabilities.
At ITB in Germany you might hear Peter Neumann speaking on one
of his excellent studies like the, "Economic Impact and Travel
Patterns of Accessible Tourism in Europe" or Dimitrios Buhalis
evaluating the accessibility of online travel information and booking
systems. In Australia you might get to hear Simon Darcy
systematically expand our knowledge beyond his groundbreaking
1998 research on the travel behavior of people with disabilities, “From
Anxiety to Access.” If you drop in at King Mongkutt University in
Bangkok you could learn from SE Asia’s expert on Universal Design
in Historic Tourism Sites, Budasakayt Intarapassan. Earlier this
month you may even have been fortunate enough to attend the 5th
biennial Universal Access in Airports Conference by Chicago’s Open
Doors Organization where Eric Lipp and Laurel van Horn constantly
move Inclusive Tourism forward.
But here we have something new.
We have a summit structured to help us assemble all those puzzle
pieces around one concrete project: “universal accessibility and
inclusion in destinations.” Let’s lay out those pieces to see the
At the end of the Summit we will publish a Manifesto to guide the
industry. It will say things like:
Seize the business opportunity to widen the market base…
Develop products and services that are suitable for all
customers, including people with disabilities…
Apply the principles of Universal Design…
Build the capacity of managers and staff by providing training…
They all boil down to this, “Mainstream access and inclusion” in
tourism. Visualize us as part of the world of travelers. Establish
standards that make this possible. Hold yourselves accountable
wherever your place is in the business ecosystem be it as destination
manager, policymaker, hotelier, or NGO serving people with
Tourism offerings need to distill what we know about access and
inclusion so that a travel itinerary is "a continuous path of enjoyment."
Destinations are where all that we now know about accessibility and
inclusion must come together in a seamless travel experience if we
intend to reach the market that is seniors, people with disabilities and
those they travel with.
That market is huge! One billion people with disabilities now - with
possibly 4 billion when you consider travel companions. Estimates
expect the percentage of travelers with disabilities to reach 25% by
What stands in the way of our goal? Partly it is reliable information
available in accessible formats. Faulty information has cascaded into
our current reality: market failure.
Before I was paralyzed I was a Boy Scout. We went on lots of hikes.
Some lasted for 1 or 2 weeks at a time. Inevitably when we asked
one of the adult leaders, “How far is it to tonight’s campsite?” you got
a crisp, consistent answer – “Just over the next ridge.”
The take away?
As a traveler, if you don’t have reliable information about your
destination, there’s always somebody ready to give you useless
Why do I say that? Because the data prove it.
Earlier this year I translated into English Brazil’s first, and I will
editorialize here – long overdue – study on the travel behavior of
Brazilians with disabilities. One response was unanimous about the
country that just hosted a visit from the Pope, the 2014 FIFA World
Cup and will host the Paralympics. All disability sectors surveyed –
Deaf, Blind, Cognitive and Mobility-impaired unanimously reported
that the destination information available was reliably useless if not
outright false in relation to accessibility and inclusion.
With only 1 week to prepare Martin Heng, a tetraplegic from Lonely
Planet Travel Publications, arranged for an around-the-world tour.
How far have we come in making travel for people with disabilities
possible? Far enough that Martin is here in Montreal at this Summit.
That is, about halfway back home to Melbourne. Tomorrow morning
he will talk to us and give us his up-to-the-minute impressions on
destination and transportation accessibility. 
The need for information relevant to travelers with various limitations
keeps surfacing – but that information is still not provided in the
mainstream. A couple months ago Martin told me was that he had
located about 24 online destination accessibility sites. He was seeing
entrepreneurship in action.
I mentioned Martin’s findings to Ivor Ambrose. Ivor educated me
further. I quote:
“ENAT [the European Network for Accessible Tourism,] has
identified over 80 websites in Europe with Tourism Accessibility
Information but the geographical coverage is very fragmented.
Moreover, the information criteria and styles of presentation are
inconsistent across the many sites and the reliability can be
doubtful in some cases. We are also seeing the arrival of
mobile apps and “crowdsourcing" websites which may help
some travellers with access requirements but without clear
standards for what things need to be measured and described
there will continue to be weaknesses in information delivery.
Greater harmonisation or standardisation of information is
needed, otherwise the traveller cannot hope to find accurate
and reliable access information. “
So, we can truthfully say that the whole world is open to us – with a
lot of scouring the web for data -at least if we stick to the major
And yet… Even that is not a sure bet. After physical access what
remains is the human factor that makes inclusion possible.
The study, “Mapping Skills and Training Needs to Improve
Accessibility in Tourism Services” carefully examines 20 training
programs. This study is essential reading, by the way, for any
destination that hopes to mainstream access and inclusion through
professional development. It says in part::
“The maturity of a tourism destination does not seem to have
any bearing on the availability of [training] courses [for travel
professionals on travelers with disabilities] or [on] the uptake of
The knowledge to create relevant product and cultivate inclusive
destinations is not being transferred into the industry through quality
training. The industry is also not hiring disabled individuals. Their life
experience gives them specialized knowledge and a self-interested
motivation toward instinctively monitoring for access and inclusion. In
other words, fully preparing travel industry workers for this rapidly
expanding market is not part of the business culture.
I am often surprised where the attitudinal innovation required to
achieve inclusion pops up.
Frequently, smaller isolated destinations are quickest to recognize
the value of the disabled traveler spend and to mainstream access
and inclusion into their products and practices. Perhaps that is
because they can form a culture of hospitality borrowing from
traditional roots like the Pacific Island “Aloha Spirit or “Atithi devo
bhava” from India’s Upanishads which in Sanskrit means “The guest
This afternoon in Parallel Session 10 - Accessible Destinations #2
you will hear from three such destinations that I have had the good
fortune to watch succeed over the years.
· Roseanna Tudor will speak on the public-private-civil sector
partnership model of the past 10 years that is known as Fully
Accessible Barbados or FAB.
· Eli Meri will talk about how Israel4All has educated its suppliers
and shaped the industry locally to mainstream tourism for Deaf,
Blind and Mobility-impaired travelers.
· Judith Cardenas is owner of Cancun Accessible. She not only
dominates the Yucatan Peninsula in inbound tourism for those
with disabilities but she also mentors the next generation of
Mexican travel professionals in the college courses she
teaches. Talk to Judith about preparing travel industry workers
beyond the basics.
And yet… each of these destinations is held back from their full
potential. They can’t reach scale. Their success is not easily
replicable because a puzzle piece is missing. We have not yet
created “a set of international norms and standards with regards to
accessible tourism and transportation.” That phrase, you may have
recognized, is verbatim the first aim of this Summit as listed under the
D4ALL Summit Goals.
So, let’s throw ourselves behind the ISO standards for accessibility
but always as supplemental to the humanizing force of local
standards of hospitality that take the crucial step from mere
compliance to our real goal which is heartfelt and seamless social
How did we get this far where simple accessibility in many places is
now a given allowing culturally-sustained seamless social inclusion to
become the current priority on people’s minds?
It took decades of work. It has taken visionaries working together -
not just individual pioneers. It has required those groups of
visionaries to work together on groups of problems that function as
systems. It has taken political will and business skill.
These groups labored to make legal and policy environments
disabled-friendly. They waded through tangles of norms,
certifications, incentives and disincentives. They worked to transform
entire systems: transportation, lodging, leisure activities, information
and communication systems.
We are here at this Summit as a first global attempt to study and
adapt destinations as systems that are sustainable from the
perspective of travelers with disabilities.
We can measure, standardize, legislate and audit but never forget
that after analysis or enforcement all this must be synthesized to
come together in a seamless travel experience for real human beings
operating under the broadest range of conditions with their unique
abilities and limitations.
You see, even the best systems we have today are patchwork. They
were retrofitted from systems where disability was an unquestioned
disqualifier to participation. Because, face it, nobody had ever done it
right in the past. Nobody. We’re here to change that. Today’s
improvements are the raw material for creating local supply chains
that make inclusive tourism sustainable in a business sense and the
social consensus for inclusion that makes it sustainable in a cultural
Our next strategic success will be by agreeing to shared international
norms that mainstream tourism accessibility and the service skills that
finally make possible real inclusion.
Shared norms can be developed into globally standardized audits,
training, certification and self-monitoring of our professional behavior.
Promoted in marketing destinations, these standardized professional
systems promise predictability of quality to travelers with their
differing levels of ability and function.
Our next practical breakthrough will be to implement this consensus
in several key destinations simultaneously.
First, comes an inversion of thinking from putting together the Social
Model of Disability with the definition of disability as an interaction
between human functionality and environment. Destinations need to
come to the painful self-knowledge that a destination itself may be
disabled. From there the destination can be free to assume their full
responsibility to avoid preventable destination disabilities.
You have just witnessed the birth of a new acronym: “PDD” en
Anglais - “Preventable Destination Disabilities.” Those sorts of policy,
product, architectural and attitudinal barriers that get repeated over
and over because destinations get managed in a way that travelers
with disabilities are not welcomed by their first name: “Customer”!
The simple fact is that never in history have so many lived so long
with such wealth and freedom to travel as this aging and disabled
bulge in the world’s population. That means that never in history has
any destination gotten it right. Travelers with disabilities know that “all
travel with a disability is adventure travel.” They also tell us through
surveys and travel behavior that destinations who work to get it right
will get their business.
Almost exactly ten years ago in Rio de Janeiro we proposed that a
user-centered design process was the right approach toward
eliminating what we can now call the global public health pandemic
“Preventable Destination Disabilities” – PDD. We said that to
mainstream access and inclusion is to adopt Universal Design, or as
it is called in Europe, Inclusive Design. That provides the security of a
design process evolved for systematically applying a way of
experiencing the world with everybody in mind. Stated formally
Universal Design is
… a framework for the design of places, things, information,
communication and policy to be usable by the widest range of
people operating in the widest range of situations without
special or separate design.”
Now wait why are we talking about design? Didn’t I just say that the
ISO Standards would solve all our problems?
Absolutely not! Not everything can be standardized.
The evidence from countries, like my own the USA, with watertight
building accessibility standards, is that a reactive attitude forms
toward them. On a pure profit calculation accessibility becomes a
numbers game. Compliance with building codes to avoid fines and
lawsuits sets up an internal logic where customers with disabilities
are a potential risk rather than a profit center.
Our way out of that is a design approach that requires interaction with
real people and their real abilities and limitations. An open iterative
human-centered design process can build that humanized
atmosphere that standards can only partially insure.
I know several people here were also there ten years at the
International Conference on Universal Design in Rio de Janeiro –
“Designing for the 21st Century”. Make a little noise so people can
· Jani Nayar – Jani is from SATH. She will talk in Tuesday’s
Parallel Session 20 about Games and Accessible Stadia
· Laurel van Horn is from the Open Doors organization. She will
talk in Parallel Session 16 on Markets and Marketing
revealing her organization’s newest authoritative study on
American travelers with disabilities and how to reach them.
· Although it was Betty Dion and Marie Peters who represented
GAATES at that first international workshop on Inclusive
Tourism in Rio, we have here from GAATES Mukthar Al-
Shibani, Bob Topping, and Anne Frye. They will talk in
Monday’s Parallel Session 2 on Case Studies opening up a
topic we rarely explore - accessibility in religious tourism.
· Regina Cohen – Regina is from the Federal University of Rio
de Janeiro. She will give three presentations at this Summit.
Particularly relevant to my point is the fascinating Emotional
Design concept of atmospheres which she will introduce in her
talk in Session 19 on Museums for All.
If you would like to look more deeply into the history of our field I
recommend the article by Laurel van Horn and Jose Isola, “Toward a
History of Inclusive Tourism.” If you want to dig deeper into best
practices pick up a copy of “Best Practice in Accessible Tourism”
edited by Dimitrios Buhalis and Simon Darcy. I suggest that you read
it alongside the 2003 Keroul study. Did you know that in 2003 Keroul
completed the study, “Best Practices in Tourism Accessibility for
Travellers with Restricted Physical Ability?” They wrote it for APEC
the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group which set accessibility
in tourism as one of its goals back in 2000.
The puzzle pieces are being laid out here at this Summit. We have
chosen topics and selected presenters so that careful analysis is
available to us. What we need is a future project to bring that analysis
full circle back to synthesis and action in specific destinations.
The European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT) is being
asked to prepare and coordinate an international body that will act
globally for the promotion of Accessible, Inclusive Tourism and
Destinations for All. Among its responsibilities will be as a
professional association for “registered practitioners” in inclusive
tourism. That approach will encompass and surpass the current
certificated access auditing profession to show the way beyond the
There is no question that the time has come for this. The unrelenting
market failure in regard to seniors and travellers with disabilities
What I want to know is who will be the half dozen destinations around
the globe who leave here taking on their responsibility to make
themselves a seamless travel experience for all regardless of age or
They will need to:
· Study the gaps in their national tourism policies and practices
as the Canadians on the planning team of this Summit have
· Study the market potential and travel behaviour of their citizens
with disabilities as Open Doors Organization has done on three
separate occasions for the USA.
· Develop a consensus plan involving business, government, the
civil sector and academics on how to move ahead as Australia
has done under the leadership of Simon Darcy.
· Help develop and then implement standards for accessibility
audits, professional training, and performance monitoring
through the body that ENAT will form following this summit.
· Market their accessibility and inclusion philosophy and offerings
comprehensively as Flanders is doing in their project,
“The Great War Centenary - accessible to everyone.”
· Report back on successes, failures and yet-to-be completed
goals as the framers of the “Takayama Declaration on
Development of Community for All” has done to aid the
organizers of this Summit.
How far do we have to go before we reach our next resting place?
I could tell you, “Oh, just over the next ridge” but I think you’d see
through that line by now.
So let me just end with this offer.
How about a group of us head out, together, under six of the 30 or so
different flags represented here at the Summit, to see for ourselves
what is “just over the next ridge?”
- 30 –
Destinations For All World Summit, 19- 22 October 2014, Montreal,