The Importance of Accessibility in Tourism

The dictionary definition of accessibility is the quality of being able to be reached or accessed. The term accessibility has been adopted by people with disabilities and the organizations that serve them because it helps bring attention to the quality of something’s reachability. This could range from modes of transport to building access to packaging design. 

You can imagine why accessibility is so important for people with disabilities. For example, a building without a ramp or graded entrance would be considered inaccessible because there is no way for people who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids to enter it.

This same importance of accessibility is true in the tourism industry. There are several benefits of travel to both your mental and physical health. This is why it’s important to steer the tourism industry toward accessible design so neither solo travelers nor groups including a person with a disability aren’t barred from enriching experiences. 

Travelers aren’t the only ones who benefit from traveling, either — tourism locations can draw more visitors by offering universal appeal and accessibility. Additionally, businesses may be eligible for a tax credit thanks to ADA-compliant upgrades. With across-the-board benefits for tourists and tourist attractions, there is no reason not to strive for accessibility.

What are the elements of accessibility?

There are specific elements to be considered when designing for accessibility. All disabilities are different, as are the people who live with them. While there is no such thing as perfection, by considering the physical, sensory, and communication aspects of accessibility, you can make a place much easier to get around. 

Physical access

Physical access encompasses the ability to enter, maneuver, use the facilities in, and exit safely any building or location. This includes design components within and around a space, like ramps and handrails that allow easier maneuverability. Other physical access features include:

  • Handicap restrooms; 
  • Elevators; 
  • Wide doorways; 
  • Even flooring. 

Physical access also includes emergency considerations, such as evacuation areas and considerations for those who may need assistance in an emergency situation. 

Sensory access

Sensory access includes accommodations for those who may have sensory impairments or specific needs in order to interact with the facility. This includes considerations that offer additional audio or visual access to those with visual or hearing impairments. For example, movie theaters are required to supply captioning, such as captioning smart glasses or stands, for viewers with hearing impairments. Other sensory access accommodations include:

  • Lights and sounds on emergency signals; 
  • Braille menus or pamphlets; 
  • Audio guides. 

Vision or hearing impairments aren’t the only reason why someone might need sensory access accommodations. People with autism or sensory processing disorders may also need these kinds of accommodations when they are in a new place or having a new experience. 

Communication access

Communication access describes the ease of being able to communicate in an environment. While we may take communicating at a restaurant or store for granted, there are many people who view this as a huge obstacle. This is why having access to communication accessibility tools is extremely important in all areas of tourism. 

For example, a tour group could have someone fluent in ASL on staff for guests who are hearing impaired, or a hotel cafe could have pictures or large text that can be pointed to as an option for people to order who are nonverbal. Considerations like this are huge for communication accessibility. Everyone deserves to feel like they can be understood and get the things that they need while traveling.

Areas where accessibility is vital

In areas where safety, comfort, and personal hygiene are concerned, accessibility is incredibly vital. These areas include but are not limited to:

  • Airports;
  • Hotels;
  • Public restrooms;
  • Restaurants;
  • Public transport.

Other attractions such as theme parks, museums, and sightseeing attractions should also take accessibility into consideration, especially when it concerns the safety of their guests. 

Additional accessibility considerations

Accommodations required by law are the bare minimum and by no means cover the full scope of accessibility considerations. Some other ways that tourism areas can offer more mobility and accessibility can include:

  • Providing rental scooters; 
  • Offering wireless headphones to augment tours;
  • Having staff members fluent in ASL; 
  • Displaying ample signage; 
  • Installing large-entrance bathroom stalls; 
  • Having lower sink and water fountain heights; 
  • Strategically placing benches and rest stops. 

Many of these will not only improve accessibility but can also improve the experience of guests who are not living with a disability. This is called universal design and is a pillar in accessible design communities.

Keeping accessibility in mind when traveling

It’s also important for travelers to do their part to make their own trips smooth and enjoyable. For example, if you or anyone in your party requires accommodations, it’s important to keep them in mind when choosing a hotel. This doesn’t have to be a complete sacrifice of function over form, however. Aesthetics shouldn’t be considered in the same bracket as having an accessible shower, but there are ways to find cool hotels to book that also happen to be accessibility friendly.

Determining your mode of transportation is another important factor when traveling. Most public modes of transportation, such as subways or buses, have specific spaces for wheelchairs or other mobility aids, but smaller vehicles like cabs or Ubers may not. Plan ahead for how you will get from place to place for a smoother travel experience.

Gearing industries like tourism towards accessible and universal design helps open up experiences for people from all walks of life. This is a benefit to both the tourist and the industry as a whole. 

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