I’ve just returned from five days on the Gold Coast, Queensland, speaking and listening at AITCAP (Accessible and Inclusive Tourism Conference Asia Pacific). It was wonderful to be in a room full of people who were either passionate about accessible tourism or keen to learn about it. The previous two conferences were held as online events so this was the first time everyone was together in person, and it certainly felt good. Since Braeden was born my knowledge of access needs for people with a range of disabilities has grown, and each day I learn more, more often than not, from our Have Wheelchair Will Travel community. When our readers and Facebook community tell me of a struggle or a need, it gets added to the list of things I talk about to hotels, destinations and attractions. Once I know there is a need, it’s impossible for me not to try to advocate for change. So, you can imagine, I felt both heartened and at home at AITCAP. I thought I’d share a few of the key messages that were discussed and some of the great things I learnt.
AITCAP – Accessible & Inclusive Tourism Conference Asia Pacific
I once attended an accessible tourism conference overseas and a speaker, who was a wheelchair user, couldn’t access the stage as there wasn’t enough room for the other panelists and her wheelchair. It was embarrassing for everyone concerned and it was an example of how people with a disability are often not considered. I was therefore extremely pleased to see that accessibility for everyone was a top priority at AITCAP – as it should be! Captioning, Auslan interpreters, ramp access to the stage, all gender bathrooms, dietary considerations and hidden disability training was all included within the event. It was also suggested that instead of hand clapping that we could do Auslan clapping (both hands in the air with rotating wrists) to better cater for anyone in the room with sensory needs. It was well adopted and by the end of the day only a couple of audible claps could be heard. That simple gesture resulted in everyone being more aware that loud sounds can be difficult for some people with a disability.
Topics at AITCAP
At the event we heard from destinations who have focused on access and inclusion, access consultants (many who are wheelchair users which was particularly pleasing), employers hiring people with a disability, travellers with lived experience and academics (some with lived experience). There were many common messages throughout the day including – information is power, destinations and businesses need to provide detailed information and photos that allow a person with a disability to decide if access will suit their accessibility needs before a visit. Have information on the home page so it is easy to find. Involve people with a disability in the process of making a business more accessible and inclusive. Businesses should just start somewhere and not wait for perfection. Small steps will result in progress. One of my particular favourites of the day was the message by one attraction’s representative that “apprehension leads to inaction”. There was talk about visible disabilities and education around hidden disabilities.
ATEC Panel – “It’s worth it!”
I had the privilege of being a speaker on a panel put together by ATEC (Australian Tourism Export Council). Our topic was “It’s worth it! Being accessible and inclusive is a win for your customers and business”. If you’ve followed along for a while you’ll know that this is an area that I can talk about for hours. I’ve always found there are many misconceptions about the accessible and inclusive market and one is that people with a disability don’t have money to travel. My answer to that is that people with a disability are no different to any other group of people when it comes to tourism, budgets vary from hostel to five-star travel and interests range from adventure tourism to drop and flop relaxation holidays. We are all the same in the fact that there is no one size fits all approach to travel. The main difference is that people with access needs currently face a lack of information and often consideration. Our panel spoke about providing information, involving people with a disability in design, we chatted about destinations who are doing it well and what that looks like. We also spoke about the difference between access and inclusion. As many of you will know, I like these two terms to be used together. While we need physical access we also need staff and businesses to have an inclusive attitude. There was talk about the benefits to businesses for being inclusive too, both the financial and social gains.
I left the conference on a high. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to share my thoughts, to learn from others and feel the enthusiasm and energy in the room. Destinations, businesses and individuals leaving the event were armed with small and big actionable steps and a greater understanding of the needs of people with a disability, whether they are travelling within their local community or further afield. One of my messages that I will continue to put forward is that if people with a disability are prepared to put in the effort to travel despite all the challenges they face and the effort it entails, then the tourism industry needs to step up.
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