These are just some of the common frustrations shared by people traveling with a disability, but according to Heng, traveling could be made a lot easier.
“It’s about ensuring all links in the tourism supply chain are made accessible, from airports and airlines to public transport to tourist attractions to shops and bars,” Heng told Pro Bono News.
“All too often there are gaps in the chain that makes traveling with a disability frustrating, to say the least.”
Heng – who suffered a damaged spinal cord and quadriplegia from a car collision while cycling – is chair of disability information service IDEAS and Lonely Planet’s accessible travel manager.
He is a strong advocate for inclusive tourism, which is about creating an environment where people of all abilities feel welcome and included when traveling.
Heng said this was not only about making things more accessible, but about providing clear information so people could plan ahead and make an informed choice.
He said it was incredibly irritating when he visited a venue’s website and couldn’t get information about the layout of facilities and bathrooms.
“It’s simply not good enough to hide this information away under FAQs and not to make photographs of bathrooms in accessible rooms freely available,” he said.
“What’s even worse is that hotel staff, when asked, usually have no idea what facilities their establishment has to offer. That’s a simple training issue that can be addressed quickly and cheaply.”
Heng said it was important to remember inclusive tourism was not all about wheelchairs, as less than 10 per cent of the disability community were wheelchair users.
Instead, the most important thing was for businesses to provide disability awareness training.
“When someone with a disability comes into your establishment all you need to do is ask, ‘how can I help?’ Even within different disability groups, such as multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injury, the range of abilities varies greatly,” he said.
“There is no one better qualified than the visitor to answer that question, because only they know what their needs and abilities are and how best to meet them.”
“Life could be made so much easier for people with disability with so little effort on the part of tourism operators and town planners, not to mention local, state and federal governments – and in all cases the local populations will also benefit.”
Given that people with disability account for almost 20 per cent of all tourism spending in Australia alone, Heng said inclusive tourism could help businesses maximize their reach and revenue.
“The importance of inclusive tourism, then, is not just a human rights issue, but also an economic imperative. Frankly, perhaps sadly, it’s the latter that’s more likely to shift the dial than the former,” he said.
By Luke Michael, Journalist at Pro Bono News