Tourism for All – Promoting Universal Accessibility | Darrin Henry
Tearing the cartilage in my knee a few months ago while playing football gave me my first real glimpse of appreciation for how daunting everyday mobility can be for people with disabilities.
A small flight of steps is not something that usually bothers the vast majority of us. Crossing the road, climbing in and out of a car or just bending down to tie shoe laces are tasks most of us do on auto-pilot.
But these things represent a challenging obstacle course for those with mobility difficulties in ways able bodied people may struggle to imagine.
This year’s World Tourism Day on 27 September, 2016, has adopted a theme of accessible tourism, entitled: Tourism for All – Promoting Universal Accessibility.
World Tourism Day has been driven for the last quarter-century by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.
One Billion People Left Behind
In his official message, United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, said:
Everyone has the right to access leisure and tourism services on an equal basis. Yet 1 billion people around the world living with disability, along with young children, seniors and persons with other access requirements, still face obstacles in accessing fundamentals of travel such as clear and reliable information, efficient transportation and public services, and a physical environment that is easy to navigate. Even with modern technologies, those with visual, hearing, mobility or cognitive impairments are being left behind in many tourism destinations.”
Wow, a billion people living with disabilities. That’s approximately one in seven people on the planet. (World Bank pop. stats)
Time To Hang Up The Boots
Recalling places I’ve been lucky enough to visit I realise now that most of that would have been 10 times more difficult if not impossible, had I not been fully mobile. Probably the most vulnerable I’ve felt as a tourist is not being able to speak the language, which still isn’t close to being physically restricted.
In a few locations, particularly big city centres, I’ve seen buildings and attractions clearly designed with accessibility in mind, but more often than not, these features often seem like a tacked on afterthought in a lot of other places. I’m ashamed to have not even given the whole issue much consideration previously.
More than three months on from (sadly) the end of my illustrious ‘football career’ (the knees have spoken) I am nearly back to normal-ish fitness and a post box walk should be possible soon. Perhaps not The Barn just yet but hiking Flagstaff should be ok.
The Cost Of Accessibility
I’m extremely grateful my time on crutches was brief and also for the marvel of keyhole surgery.
But I’m now just that little bit more aware of door steps, the edge of pavements and uneven surfaces and the hazard they represent to one in seven people. And it’s not just here on St Helena; when I consider my time as a tourist in other countries, much of what I’ve experienced was not designed with accessibility in mind.
It’s a monster mission facing tourism industries all over the world – accessibility. Especially the costs of modifying heritage sites built hundreds of years before accessibility ever raised its hand for attention. It is going to take time.
However, on an optimistic note, tourism facilities that cater for disabilities means access to a minority market of a billion people! That’s a lot of pound signs whichever way you look at it and hopefully incentive to help towards achieving the goal of universal accessibility.
World Tourism Day 2016 – official information
The UNWTO calls on tourism actors and stakeholders to spread the word of both the importance and immense benefits universal accessibility has and can bring to society at large.
Ever since its inception, World Tourism Day is celebrated on 27 September to foster awareness among the international community of the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political and economic value. As the official day set aside in the United Nations Calendar the celebration seeks to highlight tourisms potential to contribute to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), addressing some of the most pressing challenges society is faced with today.
The official World Tourism Day 2016 celebrations will be held in Bangkok, Thailand