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The Overlooked Tourist: An Exploration of the Accessibility Barriers Experienced by Deafblind & Visually Impaired Travellers

The Overlooked Tourist: An Exploration of the Accessibility Barriers Experienced by Deafblind & Visually Impaired Travellers
Author: Charlotte Hicks
1 Commentries
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.

Key Words:
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 Lincoln’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.
Commentary - visually impaired and historical attractions.
Author: Kamila Puton
I chose this article to comment on, not only because it was in line with my own interests and research, but also because it was very educational and insightful, especially as the author has conducted her own primary research.

The author has pointed out that most of the people struggling with vision or hearing loss are older, which means that they were not taught Braille or sign language, and must rely on other means to communicate. There is a discrepancy between how many people can read it and how often it is used. Beside the recommendation made by the author to provide tactile maps, audio guides and large print versions of information, it could be also beneficial if the staff was properly trained. UNWTO (2013) recommended that a number of staff in a business should be trained on how to communicate with people with sensory disabilities, and how to provide better assistance and services for them.

However simple ‘as you go’ aids are not enough. To achieve the goal of fully accessible tourism, stakeholders (architects, designers, local council, policy makers etc.) communication is key. The stakeholders should be aware of the issues and the needs of disabled travelers, to be able to develop new accessible solutions (Michopoulou et al., 2015). Krakow is an example of a successful cooperation among different stakeholders that made the city’s attractions accessible. For example, the city has created ‘The Royal Tract for the Disabled Tourist’ which consists of touchable mock-ups (made of bronze) of 12 famous attractions within in the city. They not only act as a tactile map, but also include information about the place (in Braille and flat print), and are accessible by wheelchair (Popiel, 2014). Later, Krakow has also created ‘Guide of Krakow for a disabled tourist’, available both in print and as a mobile app. Maybe the city of Lincoln could follow the footsteps of Krakow? Lincoln Cathedral already has a model placed in the building, but unfortunately it is behind a tall glass, making it unhelpful to those with vision impairments.

One of the improvements that could benefit the author’s article would be explaining better the primary research. Personally, I would be very interested in more in-depth description of the research and the findings. It could also be an interesting idea for further research to find out why tactile maps are not popular – is it due to the lack of awareness, high costs, or possibly no need for them?

Michopoulou, E., Darcy, S., Ambrose, I. and Buhalis, D. (2015). Accessible tourism futures: the world we dream to live in and the opportunities we hope to have. Journal of Tourism Futures, 1(3), 179-188.

UNWTO (2013). Recommendations on Accessible Tourism. Available from: http://cf.cdn.unwto.org/sites/all/files/pdf/unwto_recommendations_on_accessible_tourism.pd f [Accessed 24 April 2018]

Popiel, M. (2014). PAVING THE WAY TO ACCESSIBLE TOURISM ON THE EXAMPLE OF KRAKOW. European Journal of Tourism, Hospitality and Recreation, [online] Special Issue, pp.55-71. Available at: http://www.ejthr.com/ficheiros/2014/SpecialIssue/EJTHR_Volume5_SE_Art3.pdf [Accessed 18 May 2018].