Travel and tourism is a powerful way to break down barriers, learn about different cultures, make new friends and challenge conceptions. Humans have an innate curiosity about our surroundings near and far. A tourist may be exploring a far away country home to a very different culture or another city only an hour away from home. Sometimes we can even be a tourist in our own city when trying something new or welcoming visitors.
Imagine you are a visitor to a new country, city or place away from home. What challenges are you likely to face? Language, culture, currency, different laws or norms, people who may look or act differently than you. These are all daunting things to absorb. If you travel often to new places this adjustment can become more commonplace however even veteran travellers face culture shock, stress and various other challenges.
Now imagine that you also face some form of physical, mental or psychological barrier. This may add an overwhelming or even impossible layer to you visiting a new place, aside from your adjustments upon arrival. Preparing for your trip may require much more planning and attention to detail. Thinking about how you will get around, your path of travel, what infrastructure and human support services may be in place or available on request.
Increasingly tourism agencies are more aware of accessibility needs and able to provide in formation. Public and private buildings are making information on accessibility for their spaces available online or by phone. Wayfinding apps can also be useful in navigating public streets and public transportation.
Conversely, being willing to travel will also need to come with a high level of comfort to adapt and figure things out on the go knowing that accessibility details may not be available beforehand. This will often need to include a willingness to ask for assistance, a task that is often not easy to do as it involves communicating personal challenges and vulnerabilities. Cultural sensitivity toward “disability” is also highly varied around the world.
As a tourist you are already in an unfamiliar place. Your surroundings will constantly be changing and new to you. From crossing borders, to navigating airports or checking-in to new accommodations. Even if you have visited a place previously, memory fades and recognition of landmarks, streets and destinations will remain challenging. You may be traveling with someone and thus have support available, even if on a limited basis as you need. Alternatively you may be solo, planning or navigating on your own. Both are rewarding experiences.
However you travel and wherever you choose to go know that it will be different from home and you are welcome to be there. People with physical, mental or emotional limitations have equal rights to travel as those who are barrier free. Right and reality however do not always align. Many cities around the world are working hard to make improvements to the infrastructure, wayfinding systems and social services to improve accessibility for all. These efforts are not entirely uniform and I have yet to find a city that has really nailed visual and physical accessibility in a persistent and systematic way.
If you have a passion for travel, big or small, or know someone or faces obstacles to exploring their dreams here are some techniques you can consider:
If you are a city planner, municipal leader, community advocate or other person looking to improve accessibility for visitors to your community here are some techniques you can consider:
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Trained in town planning, an avid traveler and legally blind myself I write on issues and opportunities is see along my travels that could improve our cities from a visual perspective.