Visitors with a disability should not be seen as “risk management” but as valued customers,

Image: Edinburgh International Conference Centre

Disabled visitors to Scotland should not be seen as “risk management” but as valued customers, according to the national tourism organisation.

Chris McCoy, Equality and Diversity Manager at VisitScotland, addressed delegates at the Rehabilitation International (RI) World Congress in Edinburgh on October 27, to highlight the importance of Scotland’s £1.3 billion accessible tourism market.

VisitScotland’s Accessible Tourism Programme aims to harness the growing, high-value accessible tourism market, and for Scotland to become internationally recognised as a leading destination for people with access needs.

Chris McCoy said: 

“Legislation in the UK has empowered disabled people, making it illegal for service providers to discriminate on the grounds of disability, but it has not enabled them. VisitScotland believes access is enshrined only as a compliance issue, not a market issue. Disabled people still have difficulty finding businesses to cater for their access requirements, and provide adequate information to help make informed choices.

“Disabled people are seen as “risk management”, requiring expensive adjustments, but not as valued customers, requiring new and innovative customer service.” 

Chris says that disabled people still have difficulty finding tourism businesses to cater for their access requirements, and to provide adequate information to help them to make informed choices.

She added: 

“Disabled people don’t want special products, they want to be part of the mainstream. They are seen by some as ‘risk management’, requiring expensive adjustments, but not as valued customers, requiring new and innovative customer service. 

“Changes have to be transformational and our aim is to move the mindset of the industry and the driver for accessible tourism from compliance into the competitive marketplace.”

Hosted by disability employment charity Shaw Trust Scotland, the RI Congress at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre is seeking to influence disability and inclusion policy at a global level and is being attended by more 1,000 people from over 60 countries.

For more information about VisitScotland’s Accessible Tourism Programme, go to


About TravAbility

TravAbility was founded in 2007 by Bill Forrester.

Our mission is to be agents of change; to inspire people who have never traveled before to do so, and to inspire others to do more. To encourage all cultures of the world to see disability as an integral part of life, and to provide the motivation and tools to the tourism industry to allow them to create accessible environments that enable inclusion in an economically sustainable way.

We offer a range of services to tourism operators and Destination Marketing Boards to enable them to take advantage of the growing Accessible Tourism market. Our core approach is program oriented focusing on the product and service needs of people with a disability an developing a culture of innovation to attract this highly profitable and rapidly growing market:

  • Development of Access Statements
  • Product, service and program development
  • Development of 'Soft Infrastructure' policies and procedures
  • Staff and Management Training
  • Marketing Services and Toolkits
  • Access information kits
  • Industry Presentations and Conference Keynotes and Capacity Building Workshops
  • Property Audits and Universal Design planning
  • Self Audit Tools
  • National/State/Regional Park Guides and Trail Maps
  • Diversity and Inclusion Strategy development
  • Disability Action Plans
  • New Project planning and Development
  • Stock Imagery through PhotoAbility
  • Accommodation listings through TravAbility Properties

For more information on how you can make your business more attractive to the traveler with a disability contact Bill.


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Network Rail launches Spaces and Places for Everyone Inclusion Strategy

Comedian Francesca Martinez challenges rail industry’s disability bolt-on’ culture


Renowned disabled comic, Francesca Martinez, has teamed up with Network Rail to launch a new campaign to improve disabled passengers’ experiences of travelling by rail after challenging its historic ‘bolt-on’ culture. With the number of railway passengers exceeding 1.6bn a year and two-thirds (67%) of disabled people saying they use the railway, Network Rail is launching its campaign, Spaces and Places for Everyone, to set out how it will make the railway more inclusive for every passenger.

Francesca, who has cerebral palsy but prefers to describe herself as “a bit wobbly”, often uses the train to travel around the country for her work as a stand-up comic. While she admits that she has seen a number of accessibility improvements to the railway in recent years, she says that at times she feels as though her needs are “invisible to the rest of society” and that accessibility has historically been a “bolt-on”.

According to research carried out by Populus and commissioned by Network Rail, it would seem that Francesca is not alone. Out of the two-thirds of disabled people who travel by train (67%), a quarter do not feel that their journey will be an easy one (24%), while a third (33%) said they would use the train more if it were more accessible to them.

Encouragingly though, two-thirds of people with a disability (63%) would feel confident using the rail network independently versus 79% of non-disabled people, while more than half of disabled people (58%) believe that accessibility across the rail network is improving despite there being more to do.

Commenting, Francesca Martinez said:

“As a disabled passenger, I often feel as though my needs are invisible to the rest of society and that sometimes people like me are seen as a burden rather than as valued passengers. Most people consider taking the train just a part of everyday life, but there are millions of people like me who need to carefully plan their journeys so they can get around without difficulty.

“This is why I am supporting Network Rail in its campaign to make the railway more suitable for the modern world and accommodating of every single passenger, regardless of their needs. It’s really reassuring that the millions of disabled people in Britain are being considered right from the very start before rail projects leave the drawing board rather than being bolted on as they have been in the past, which will make a huge difference to their rail experiences in the future.”

Mark Carne, chief executive at Network Rail said:

“Most of today’s railway was designed during the Victorian era when attitudes towards disability were very different. Since then, access for disabled people has been tagged on at a later stage, rather than being a part of the initial design strategy for our railway. We know it hasn’t been good enough in the past, and we need to make it easier for disabled people to plan journeys and travel by rail.

“We are committed to changing this, and doing what is necessary to make sure that inclusivity is deeply embedded in our culture. Only then will our railway be a place where everyone can travel equally, confidently and independently.”  

Network Rail, which is responsible for managing 20,000 miles of railway and some of Britain’s biggest and busiest stations, is committed to ‘inclusive design’ – which means putting all passengers at the heart of the design process rather than adding on provisions at a later stage . Inclusive design is already being delivered across its stations, including:

  • A dog ‘spending area’ at the recently rebuilt Birmingham New Street where guide dogs can ‘spend a penny’.
  • At Reading station, visually impaired people have the option of a special audio guide to help them navigate through the station and the town, thanks to a partnership with Microsoft.
  • Lifts and escalators to all platforms at the redeveloped London Bridge, the first half of which opens to passengers this summer.
  • Network Rail has set up the Built Environment Accessibility Panel which consists of disabled passengers who are also experts in inclusive design. The panel provides expert technical and strategic advice to our projects teams.

As part of the campaign, Network Rail invited Francesca to interview Mark Carne so she could find out first-hand what the company is doing to change the way it caters for disabled people.


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