The Disabled Travelers Guide to the Galaxy

Frogs, Bicycles, Imo, UD = MC2 and the
Restaurant at the end of the Universe

Well not really but at least I have your attention!

It would be nice to think that travelers with a disability were free to travel the Universe with nothing more than their trusty towel. In reality, travel even to a local attraction, is far more difficult than it needs to be. Travel, recreation and leisure are all about about the “experience” which ideally should be seamless from planning, to arrival back home. Enjoyment comes from those experiences and the way they are shared with others. The experience lingers in the memories of those who participated. A truly remarkable travel experience leaves the visitor changed in some way.

The reason it is so difficult for people with a disability to travel freely is that industry as a whole has not yet recognized that fundamentally a traveler with a disability is no different from any other traveler in their aspirations for a remarkable experience.

Universal Design is NOT Design for the Disabled.

To the travel industry Accessible Travel is still about access and not the experience. There is a fundamental difference and it stems from a misunderstanding that Universal Design means design for the disabled and not human centered design.

Chapter One – The Universe in Chaos

Lets look at the Universe

To understand the slow evolution of the adoption of Accessible Tourism, we must first look at the evolution and structure of the tourism universe.

In defining a tourism experience, however, the universe gets more complex. The private sector industry players do not act alone, but are part of a greater destination management plan that stems from a national brand value proposition. The brand proposition and national branding is a strategic decision that comes from a National Tourism Authority. It is filtered down to State/Provincial Authorities. Underlaying those bodies there is normally a layer of Regional and then Local Tourism Authorities that develop their own identities, branding and destination management plans. The nexus with the national branding is broken at this point unless the particular region is a national icon and part of the international marketing plan, e.g. America’s Grand Canyon or Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. At a regional and local level the emphasis is on developing the key attributes of the destination for a more local market. The influence of the National and State Tourism Authorities becomes more advisory and a source of information on global tourism trends.

The various elements of the Universe can be depicted in the following diagram.

he pyramid of influence is important as it represents by color the ease with which cultural change can be affected depending on the level a strategy change is implemented. Tourism is structured in multiple layers and unless all embrace Accessible Tourism as a core pillar of their respective tourism strategies an “Inclusive Experience” will never result.

Who is Imo and what has he got to do with the Universe?

“Imo the monkey has become famous over the years, originally as a result of Robert Ardrey’s wonderful work of science popularisation, The Social Contract, first published in 1970. Ardrey had learned of the trail-blazing work of Japanese scientists in studying the behaviour in the wild of large, self-contained and highly structured monkey
societies. The scientists had established the practice of ‘provisioning’- providing some of the monkey population’s food needs but without distorting the natural pattern of foraging in their island habitat. This allowed the observers to study at first hand, and continuously, the patterns of social interaction amongst the monkeys and, above all, their learning-the way that intelligence diffused in the social systems. Imo excited their attention from the start. When sweet potatoes,which monkeys love, were placed on the beach of the tiny islet of Koshima, all the monkeys laboriously picked the grains of sand from the food in order to eat it. It was Imo, just 18 months old, who made the mental connection with the little stream that crossed the beach not far way. Imo carried the sweet potatoes to the stream and allowed its fresh waters quickly to wash away the sand. After a while another youngster copied this method of food preparation and then, after a further period, Imo’s mother did so. Very slowly the innovation diffused amongst the band, mainly amongst the young, and within families. The normal pattern was for the young to make the breakthrough, followed by their mothers, and then for new infants to copy their own mothers.

The point of the story, for observers of human behaviour in organisations, is that the clever new ideas never penetrated to the powerful males at the top of the social hierarchy. They never came into contact with the young. When caramels were introduced to another band, the pattern was repeated-it took a year and a half for the innovation to spread from the juniors to half the entire troop. But, in a parallel experiment, the ‘alpha’ (boss) monkey was induced to try another new and delicious food-wheat. The alpha female promptly copied him and the entire band of 700 monkeys took to the new food in just four hours. Why? Because everybody watches the leader. Nobody much attends to an Imo. By now a mature four-year old, Imo devised a method for ‘placer-mining’ the wheat too. Interestingly, the youngest monkeys had figured out that it made sense to get downstream of Imo, so as to catch any floating grains that escaped the panning process. Something similar occurs near the smartest operators in big corporations.”

Intelligent Leadership – Alistair Mant – Allen & Unwin, 1999

The story of Imo is used a lot in corporate management and leadership training to keep organizations continually fresh and new by encouraging a “think tank” process to capture the new and innovative ideas coming out of the youngest minds. The best organizations do that successfully and keep innovating and changing. The key to that change is to recognize, however, that to get organization wide adoption rapidly to take advantage of the associated competitive advantage, the idea has to be owned from the top down. Without that ownership most ideas will be slow to evolve or die all together.

The Social Model of Disability and its effect on the Universe

The Social model of Disability recognized that society had a responsibility to not exclude people with a disability. Around the world the Social Model spawned anti-discrimination acts which were ultimately codified into access requirements. The compliance approach to accessible tourism is aimed at the individual tourism businesses and specifically at physical infrastructure. It is the least influential part of the pyramid and an infrastructure approach is associated with cost with no relation to business, destinational, or product development. Some businesses may see the potential of the market or the social implications but often it is limited to those with a personal experience or association. It is a model of accommodation – not customer. Codification provides a safe haven and a minimum no risk solution to accessibility.

The Business Case – A Really Big and Expanding Universe, but too big to comprehend at a local level.

In recent years the economics of the Accessible Tourism sector have started to come to the fore. The ground breaking research of Dr. Simon Darcy in 2008 put a value on the market of 11% of the total tourism spend. Further work by McKinsey on the impact of the Baby Boomers put their proportion of the tourism market at 50% by 2020. When the extrapolation of the number of people in the Baby Boomer group who will have an age related disability is applied to their purchasing power then the percentage of the total tourism, market that will relate to people with a disability climbs to a staggering 25% by 2020.

While the business case is strong, it is not tangible to individual business owners and operators. Too often presentations concentrate on big numbers, percentages and 20 page checklists and access statements. What a business owner needs to know is what to do about it, not how big the Universe is. The size of the Universe arguments need to be directed at the strategic influencers who’s job it is to translate those trends into tangible action plans.

Without the national structure embracing Accessible Tourism the emerging trends and business case is never translated into regional, local and individual plans that can be effectively implemented. It becomes a Black Hole with some isolated and disconnected bright stars. Like Imo, they will each be getting their own satisfaction both financially and socially, but the impact on the overall destination will be small and slow.

You can’t shoot for the stars without a systems approach

“The essential difference between the frog and the bicycle, viewed as systems, lies in the relationship of the parts to the whole. You can take a bicycle completely to pieces on your garage floor, clean and oil every single part, and reassemble the lot, confident the the whole thing will work perfectly, as a bike, as before. The frog is different. Once you remove a single part, the entire system is affected instantaneously and unpredictably for the worse. What’s more, if you go on removing bits the frog will make a series of subtle, but still unpredictable, adjustments in order to survive. This sort of system, at the level beneath consciousness, wants to survive and will continue for an astonishing length of time to achieve a rough equilibrium as bits are excised – until it can do so no longer. At that point, again quite unpredictably, the whole system will tip over into collapse. The frog is dead and it won’t help to sew the parts back on.”

Intelligent Leadership – Alistair Mant – Allen & Unwin, 1999

Conversely, when there is a well established and sophisticated system, simply bolting on new pieces doesn’t change the fundamentals. Those additional pieces are never nourished and never form part of the overall system. They simply exist on the edge until, through lack of maintenance, they fade away into oblivion.

Tourism is an example of a well established and very intricate system aimed at delivering a multitude of different experiences to the traveler. Those experiences blend together to retain a feel for the destination and brand management. The complexity exists both within the destination management structure and within the industry that brings together an array of components to deliver its overall service. A successful tourism product incorporates, transport, accommodation, attractions, sightseeing, booking systems, information systems and customer service. Those products are bundled and further require the integration of service providers, consolidators, tour operators and an extensive retail network whether online or offline.

Over time the system evolves as products change and the tastes of the market changes. New products and experiences become available and get incorporated into the local and then destination wide management. In some cases the destination plan and value proposition evolve over time as a destination sees a competitive advantage in a line travel type. Adventure and sustainable tourism are two recent examples.

Bicycle thinking, where a new product is bolted onto the system invariable fails if it doesn’t fit into the destination management plan or isn’t powerful enough to change the plan.

The approach to Accessible Tourism, has to date, largely been Bicycle thinking. Adding accessibility requirements doesn’t fundamentally change a product offering or affect cultural change within a destination.

Defining the Disabled Traveler.

The Encyclopedia Galactica defines disability as:

An arbitrary line drawn to differentiate a segment of the population whose ability the majority don’t understand.

While that definition may be tongue in cheek, it goes a long to explain why Accessible Tourism has not become a mainstream part of the tourism product. As we have said earlier tourism is all about creating an experience and a memory of a place. It is about engaging people and taking them into a new realm. The ability to transport someone to a new sensory level requires an understanding of the person for whom that experience is designed and a knowledge of their capabilities to enjoy and appreciate what is going on around them.

People with a disability are present in all sectors in roughly the same proportion as the general population. They are not like the backpackers, adventure tourists, or luxury travelers that can be conveniently put into unique product boxes with targeted marketing campaigns. The common misconception is that the needs of all people with a disability are the same. In one sense that misconception has been reinforced by the social model of disability which, in defining the social barriers, has concentrated on a narrow sub set of physical access requirements largely limited to car parks, toilets, building access and hotel rooms. By concentrating on the narrow access requirements the industry has effectively created an artificial sector of people with a disability that ignored their actual aspirations.

A disability, in reality is just a different level of ability. We are not all equal in a number of ways. Physical ability is just one element in the total capability set of the human being.

Disability is the only minority group anyone can join in an instant

If we do take physical ability as the cornerstone of the push for greater accessibility then we need to put it into context. Looking at the travel industry as a case in point. Travelers vary enormously in their physical capabilities and their holiday patterns reflect that diversity. Whether that holiday is climbing a Himalayan peak, walking New Zealand’s, Milford Track, visiting the wine region of the Napa Valley or relaxing on a Caribbean Island that is a personal choice. The tourism industry is adept at discerning and catering for those wide ranges of choices, however, we have categorized a disability, through the medical and now social models as something different and around that built a set of preconceptions that shields it from a market view.
Disability is often regarded as a homogeneous concept. The opposite is true. As with the general population ability is on a continuum.

The arbitrary line defining disability is exactly that, an arbitrary line. The advent of modern alloys and design has opened up a vast range of activities including some at the extreme adventure end of the spectrum. People with a disability can be found across the full range of sporting and leisure activities. Their tastes and budgets, likewise, spread from economy to five star and include the conference and meetings market. The key to developing tourism product is to look at the aspirations of potential visitors, the opportunities that exist within a destination and the technology available to allow participation by people of all abilities. Customer expectations should drive the product development.

From a tourism industry point of view, higher levels of assistance and support are common in the higher adventure type tourism activities and in the group tour segments. The industry has a proven capacity to support people to achieve stretch goals and aspirations. Accessible Tourism needs to capatalise on that pre-existing skill set by clearly defining the customer needs.

New technology is opening adventure to all

Chapter Two – Bringing Order to the Universe with the Force of Universal Design

UD = MC2

The Encyclopedia Galactica defines Universal Design as:

Universal Design is the design of products, services and environments to be USABLE by ALL people

Universal Design is at the very core of an inclusive society. In the context of tourism UD must be able to produce an experience that meets and exceeds the expectations of all people. Further, as we have said, tourism experiences are SHARED experiences hence the design of tourism products is about bringing together people of all abilities, not designing specific activities for people with a disability.

What if the first question we asked was, “What is so unique about this situation that it justifies exclusion?” instead of, “How much does it cost to make it accessible?”

Dr. Scott Rains

The key element in developing tourism product is the incorporation of Universal Design from the first inception of the product concept.

Knowing what the customer, not only wants, but is capable of doing is the foundation for the capacity review. The capacity review must look at all of the existing infrastructure and what needs to be altered to accommodate the proposed new product. Too often the path of travel is ignored or the simple and inexpensive alterations overlooked because a helicopter view is not taken out the outset.

Product design must be all-encompassing and actively seek out new product innovations. Today venues have a great range of new equipment at their disposal from the freewheel wheelchair extension, off road handcycles, road handcycles, all abilities sailboats, adaptive fishing equipment, paddle boards designed for wheelchairs, adaptive canoes and canoe launchers, in addition to the tradition hearing loops, tactile markers etc.

In creating built infrastructure it is important to look to the future and the impact the aging population will have on anything built today. The Baby Boomer generation will dominate the travel market over the next 20 years. That is a big enough tome horizon to justify any capital expenditure. The vision and application should be broad. Why fit a toilet seat with a 30% luminosity contrast to just the accessible toilet. The contrast is needed by anyone with low vision whether or not they have any mobility issues requiring and accessible toilet. The small things like maximizing the accessible paths of travel through garden and bar areas should be part of any infrastructure upgrade.

In creating a tourism offering the Soft Infrastructure is just as important as the built environment. Accessibility information should be plentiful, easily found within the main context of the attraction description and written in the same style as any other information. It is, after all, a sales document, not an audit report. Booking systems should reflect the experience a visitor wants or expects to have. If there is space for only one companion, then the booking information and system needs to talk about where the rest of the party is located, or better still reserve the row in front of the accessible seating to accommodate family and friends. Create interactive maps and signage to allow easy wayfinding through a venue without the need to search for a step route. Create large print registration forms or mobile apps to simplify the process for people of all abilities. In other words every action should be enhancing the customer experience and it should blend in with existing forms and presentations and systems. Customers want an inviting experience, not one that makes them feel different or puts under pressure.

In implementing any Accessible Tourism product, it has to be made seamless to the overall visitor experience. Transport, arrivals, check-in, dining, drinking, city transfers, sightseeing tours, local accessibility maps all should reflect the same level of inclusiveness as the particular product being developed. Rarely does a tourism offering exist in isolation to the destination. Partnerships and packaging are critical is staff training, not just in the particular product, but all other things a traveler with a disability may want to do.

Finally there is the marketing. Imagery plays a critical role in saying to a customer from the outset that we want your business. It is about positioning potential clients as valued and welcome guests and nothing says that more strongly than people with a disability enjoying a venue or activity on offer. That imagery should not just encompass the particular product but more generally reflect the destination as whole.

Universal design is not design for the disabled. It is an all encompassing philosophy to create a culture of inclusion. Get the vision right and all else follows with creative and innovative solutions that will attract one of the fastest growing markets of any industry.

Everyone Belongs Outside – Vision Statement of Parks Alberta

The Galactic Road Map to the Accessible Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

Tourism is complex from its management structure, industry structure and destination and product development. It is a system designed and intertwined to create an “experience” for the traveler.

The industry, and disability advocates have been slow to adopt Accessible Tourism as a valid tourism market mainly because the industry as a whole does not understand people with a disability as travelers.

The Social Model of disability created a community recognition that society as a whole has a collective responsibility for people with a disability. The UN CRPD, and in relation to tourism Article 30, goes further with a doctrine of equality. The emphasis for the past 25 years has been on physical access and while a great many of those barriers have been removed the cultural divide and misunderstandings still prevail.

The Final Frontier is all about cultural change that will be largely driven by an aging population and increasing economics around Accessible Tourism.

The Business Case alone will not change those attitudes without a rethink by Accessible Tourism advocates on how that message is translated to every level of the Tourism Industry. The focus has to now shift to one of education about a “new” customer and redefining the misconceptions held by the industry about people with a disability. The arbitrary line has to be removed from the continuum to allow for the development of truly inclusive experiences to be enjoyed and shared by everyone.

Someday soon the restaurant at the end of the universe will be accessible to all

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