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Accessible tourism



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ACCESSIBLE TOURISM

Accessible tourism is a rapidly growing industry, which allows people with specific needs to access tourist products and services independently, in a dignified way, regardless of the nature of their disability or impairment. The aim is to adjust the travelling experience, holidays, tours, sightseeings, etc. to fit the costumers’ needs and abilities. Accessible tourism applies to people with mobility impairments, sensory impairments, mental health disabilities and impairments either cognitive or psychological, travellers with baby strollers, the elderly and all those who find it difficult to travel due to various health related issues i.e. diabetes or allergies.
Accessible tourism today appears under different terms, there is no unified, widely accepted definition. However, it remains indisputable that accessible tourism provides services to people with specific access needs, due to mobility, sensory or psychological impairments “Everyone should have the opportunity to travel to any country, any place within a country, any venue or attraction they want to visit.” (Nordiska Hanidkapplitiska Radet, 2002)

Accessible tourism appears in scientific literature under various terms: ”tourism for all,” inclusive tourism, universal tourism”, ”barrier-free tourism”. (Takayama Declaration, 2009). Different definitions appear hand in hand with different concepts. In literature the most common definition is the one by Simon Darcy: “Accessible tourism enables people with access requirements, including mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive dimensions of access, to function independently and with equity and dignity through the delivery of universally designed tourist products, services and environments. This definition is inclusive of all people, i.e. parents with children in strollers, people with disabilities or seniors.” (Darcy & Dickson, 2009, p. 34)

BRIEFLY ON DEVELOPEMENT OF ACCESSIBLE TOURISM

The basic elements of accessability and accessible tourism can be found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted and proclaimed in 1948 by the United Nations. The first two articles of Declaration proclaim freedom and equality regardless of race, color, gender, language, religion, political or another belief, national or social affiliation, property, birth or any other circumstance. Also, freedom of movement, and the right to free time and holidays are proclaimed in this document. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the basis to many documents related to tourism and disability rights as such. The idea of accessible tourism first appeared in 1989, the Year of the Disabled Persons, when a group of British experts published a report and used the phrase “Tourism For All” as a title. The concept and the phrase ”tourism for all” rapidly expanded across Europe and significant changes in legislation, development and perception of accessibility in tourism and every-day life followed.

General attention to disability and the rights of the disabled in Europe and internationally has produced a number of documents, standards, conventions, etc. at various levels. Two simultaneous, yet separate developments took place in Slovenia during this period: the expansion of tourist industry on one hand, and gradual changes in equal participation of the disabled and the voulnerable in the society on the other. The two developements first came together in health resorts, which initially provided the rehabilitation to people with disabilities. Vacation facilities owned by associations and institutions for the disabled was another type of facilities which enabled the development of accessible tourism. Since 2006 and the implementation of the first project NETMEN – Development of tourist offer for people with specfic needs – the concept and practices of accessible tourism have been on the rise in Slovenia. (Kores, 2010)

The concept and practices of accessible tourism have been penetrating the Slovenian tourist industry for some time now. A lot of research and projects have been carried out by non-government organisations concerning the topic. The providers of tourist products and services are slowly recognising the economic potential of accessible tourism although a lot remains to be done. It is essential to: raise public awareness of the concept, introduce the concept to all levels of education system, plan and implement activities and programmes before the concept can fully develop into practices.

ACCESSIBILITY CRITERIA

The accessibility of tourist products and services should be regulated at different levels. Due to diversity of specific needs, there are no unified international standards at present. Usually, each country sets the criteria and the standards to regulate the accessability of tourist structures, products and services at different levels. In Slovenia the project NETMEN, which was carried out by a non-profit organisation, ŠENT – Slovenian association for mental health, defined the basic accessibility criteria for the first time. The criteria have been gradually upgraded and today they are known by the term ”Disability Friendly” certificate. (Sirše, Kores, 2009) Four major groups of criteria relate to physical accessibility, access to information, economic accessibility and psycho-social accessibility.

Physical accessibility refers primarily to built environment. It is not sufficient to ensure accessibility to individual structures and facilities, the connections between the elements, such as paths, routes, vertical connections are necessary as well so all the parts of the environment are connected to each other. Accessibility does not only apply to people with certain physical disabilities or impairments, among which the inability to move is the most commonly understood, it also applies to oher groups of people with specific needs. All of these have to be considered when designing the built environments.

Access to information is of key importance and today we can use different communication systems to exchange information. Regardless of the system we choose, it should always enable access to detailed, accurate and verified information. It is important that all communication noise between the user and the service provider be eliminated.

Economic accessibility General conviction that people with disabilities, therefore specific needs, have a lesser purchasing power might be false. They may have to cover extra costs and expenses related to transportation and accomodation as a result of the specific needs. These costs and expenses occur primarily because the tourist products and services are inaccessible.

Psycho-social accessibility Lack of knowledge and prejudice against tourism for all may discourage the adjustments and development towards accessible tourism. People with specific needs are often pitied by the staff, consequently services are of lesser quality compared to ordinary guests. Accessible tourism is frequently understood, or rather, misunderstood as a form of tourism especially designed for people with specific needs. In fact, the adjustments would improve the quality of products and services in general so all the guests, with or without any specific needs, will benefit.

ACCESSIBLE TOURISM TARGET GROUPS AND THE CORRESPONDING SPECIFIC NEEDS

Accessible tourism meets the specific needs of people with various disabilities or impairments such as mobility, visual, hearing, cognitive disabilities or impairments and mental health issues. General perception that accessible tourism equals tourism for people with specific needs is incorrect. Accessible tourism is all inclusive, it comprises the elderly, people with strollers, the ill, etc. (Kores, 2010)

There are four major types of disabilities or impairments:
• mobility and physical impairments,
• visual and hearing impairments,
• learning disability, mental health impairments,
• other impairments (e.g. allergies, diabetes).

There is no clear cut between the types, not everyone with an impairment can be assigned into one of these categories. In addition, various types of disabilities or impairments can overlap, some can even be invisible. It is important to understand the specific needs of the target groups in order to understand accessible tourism.

TYPES OF SPECIFIC NEEDS RESULTING FROM DISABILITIES

To identify the needs of each target group correctly is of paramount importance. The type of needs determines what adjustments of the existing tourist structures, products and services are necessary to make accessible tourism work. In addition, it is necessary to ensure the exchange of accurate information between tourist providers and customers.

Information has to be clearly stated, which involves the use of different communication systems for different types of specific needs. Information usually conveys the accessibility to structures of built environments and accessibility of products and services. Again, the way in which information is presented may vary according to specific needs.

Accessible tourism is based on three important values: independence, equality, and respect. Attitude to people with specific needs on the part of tourist employees requires special attention. The staff have to be trained and well versed in their knowledge how to approach people with specific needs.

Mobility impairments and inability to move describe people who have difficulty walking and moving or use wheelchairs. Aids, such as walking sticks or wheelchairs make this type of disability the most obvious of all. Usually, the most distressing difficulties occur in built environment, where numerous barriers may obstruct the movement. Unfortunately, the noticeable characteristics of this group are the reason why accessible tourism often starts and ends here.

Less obvious are the specific needs of people with sensory impairments of visual and hearing type. The needs of the blind, the partially sighted, the deaf and the people with hearing impairments are efficiently dealt with by the responsive, trained and adaptable tourist employees and certain technical aids. These needs are typical for the elderly, a large group, also representing a significant market share in accessible tourism.

People with mental and psychological conditions form another large group of individuals with specific needs, results of intelectual or psychological impairments. It is important to distinguish mental underdevelopment from mental ilnesses and disorders.

Mentally disabled people have a reduced intellectual ability. The intellectual age does not keep up with the actual, chronological age. According to the mental age we are dealing with children, but from the social perspective and the acquired experiences the mentally disabled are on the same level as adults. The needs of this group are met by establishing personal contact, providing clear and simple information, and the use of pictograms.

The needs of people with mental illnesses and disorders are almost impossible to recognise unless the signs are very distinctive. One must keep in mind that politeness, patience and appropriate attitude towards these guests are always the key to well-being.

Finally, keep in mind that specific needs, which have not been assigned to any of the cathegories above, exist, for example, chronic diseases and conditions such as asthma, epilepsy, diabetes, allergies. Due to miscellaneous nature of the needs, it is extremely important that exchanging information between the tourist providers and the guests take place. Quick and appropriate response on the part of the employees can make a difference.

ACCESSIBLE TOURISM – AN INDUSTRY ON THE RISE

Tourism is one of the most promissing industries in Europe. The global economic crisis was present in Slovenia as well and tourist providers were forced to seek new target groups due to increasingly harsher competition. An expansion of adjusted tourist products and services for people with specific needs has been noticed in the recent years. People with specific needs are ready to spend a certain amount or a ratio of their income for their holidays as any other person. Numerous measures for equal integration of the vulnerable groups into society, which have been implemented in Slovenia and other countries of the European union encourage the developments in accessible tourism. Finally, the tourist providers are becoming aware of miscelaneous types of specific needs and the economic potential they have.

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Accessibility

We provide accessible tourist services for people with specific needs. Accessible features are beneficial to everybody, therefore, we provide services ”for all”.

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If you decide to travel with Premiki, you make a socially responsible purchase. All the profits go back to the promotion and development of accessible tourism.

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Our tourist offer is a result of experiences gained in European projects on accessible tourism.

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