In the presence of a significant lack of academic research into the accessibility issues encountered by disabled travellers, this study aims to explore these restrictions with reference to Deafblind and visually impaired tourists at visitor attractions in the Cultural Quarter of Lincoln, UK.
Accessibility; Barriers to Travel; Deafblind; Visually Impaired; Tactile Models.
It is highly likely that disability will affect all of us at some point in our lives, albeit a temporary sports injury or a permanent impairment as a result of growing older such as sight and hearing loss. Yet, whilst health conditions which result in physical and mental impairments are so widespread in our society, academic research on accessibility issues and barriers to travel for people with disabilities has barely scratched the surface of these problems (Richards et al., 2010, 1097). When examining current literature, it is evident that there has been considerably greater academic interest in accessibility issues for wheelchair bound travellers as opposed to those with other disabling impairments, including the visually impaired and Deafblind travellers. The objective of the present study is to explore accessibility issues and barriers to undertaking independent tourism activities for Deafblind and visually impaired travellers at tourist attractions in the Cultural Quarter of Lincoln, UK.
It is estimated that there are over one billion people worldwide that are classified as having a disability, and over 253 million of these people suffer visual impairments. There are a range of different conditions which cause sight loss such as cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. However, a clear connection between age and disability can be made here, as over 80% of people with visual impairments are over the age of 50. In addition, over one third of people over the age of 65 are affected by disabling, age related hearing loss. Therefore, it is likely that developed countries, including the United Kingdom, will experience an increase in the number of tourists suffering from sight and hearing loss in the future due to an ageing population.
Visually impaired and Deafblind travellers are often discussed as a homogenous group whose needs are identical, however this is not the case. A number of factors such as age, history, type and extent of impairment or whether the traveller has multiple impairments, impacts upon the specific needs of that person. For example, Deafblind travellers that have been visually impaired from a young age are much more likely to be able to read braille (a tactile reading and writing system), than their elderly counterparts that have recently developed visual impairments, as it is difficult to learn these new skills at an older age. It is estimated that only around 4% of Deafblind and visually impaired travellers have the ability to read braille (Richards et al., 2010, 1109), which is why it is essential that information is provided in a range of alternative formats including audio guides, tactile maps and large print text. However, various studies (see Richards et al., 2010; Small et al., 2012) have found that information at tourist attractions and service sector spaces is rarely available in a range of alternative formats, and when this is unavailable the information is denied. Wayfinding was identified by Small and colleagues (2012) as a crucial factor of the overall tourist experience of visually impaired travellers. It was suggested by participants of this study that tactile models of tourist attractions reduced anxiety and fear which is associated with unfamiliar environments for these travellers. Thus, when wayfinding information in alternative formats is unavailable this induces anxiety and reduces the enjoyment of tourism activities for Deafblind and visually impaired visitors.
To explore the availability of information in alternative formats and the general accessibility of visitor attraction sites in the Cultural Quarter of Lincoln, the author used an existing framework developed by Mesquita and Carneiro (2016) to determine whether accessible strategies for Deafblind visitors had been implemented at each of the five sites. Attractions visited included The Collection, Usher Art Gallery, Lincoln Castle, Lincoln Cathedral and the Museum of Lincolnshire Life.
As anticipated, based on previous literature (Small et al., 2012; Mesquita and Carneiro, 2016), the results from this study indicate that none of the attractions visited in Lincolnâ€™s Cultural Quarter were found to be fully accessible for Deafblind and visually impaired travellers. Whilst each attraction had implemented at least one strategy to improve accessibility for these tourists, only Lincoln Cathedral provided its guests with access to a tactile model of the venue. As previous literature has identified wayfinding as a critical factor of visitor satisfaction amongst these tourists, it is recommended that all visitor attractions in the city of Lincoln introduce tactile models of their venues to improve accessibility and tourist experience.
Mesquita, S. and Carneiro, M. (2016) Accessibility of European Museums to Visitors with Visual Impairments. Disability and Society, 31 (3) 373-388.
Richards, V., Pritchard, A. and Morgan, N. (2010) (Re)Envisioning Tourism and Visual Impairments. Annals of Tourism Research, 34 (4) 1097-1116.
Small, J., Darcy, S. and Packer, T. (2012) The Embodied Tourist Experiences of People with Vision Impairment: Management Implications Beyond the Visual Gaze. Tourism Management, 33 (4) 941-950.