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Tourism and people with disabilities: a change in focus on tourism development?

Tourism and people with disabilities: a change in focus on tourism development?
Author: Juha Alho
1 Commentries
This paper aims to review and critically analyse the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act relationship with tourism for the disabled, in hope to inspire new discussion and evaluation of tourism development for individuals living with disabilities, which can enable a more equal and effective targeted approach. It adopts a definition of disability deriving from previous work of Hughes (1999) who states that disability is a loss or limitation of opportunities to function normal in society and community on an equal level with others, due to physical and social barriers.

The English Tourism Council (ETC) has estimated that there are around 10 million disabled people living in Britain with a diverse range of physical and sensory impairments, learning disabilities and mental health issues. In the United states the number of people with disabilities (PwD's) is estimated to be as high as 50 million, approximately around 19.5% of the total population of individuals over the age of five. These numbers illustrate clearly that this marginal group of people is actually relatively high in terms of population, and it is expected to increase as a result of increasing life-span. Therefore, it is suggested that tourism managers and researchers 'must learn to consistently and effectively assess and address these specialised travel needs of individuals with disabilities'.

Maybe the most significant policy development in this area was made in 1995 by Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). More specifically this meant that after the act became law in the UK in 1996, it is illegal for service providers, including attractions and accommodation establishments, to discriminate against people with disabilities removing responsibility from voluntary basis of PwD tourism to the tourism industry. Therefore, in order to meet the requirements of the legislation on practical levels and to provide circumstances for 'equality' in treatment in terms of hospitality, all types of tourism destinations need to make their attractions accessible.

The development for better accessibility has however produced some reluctance among tourism agencies as well as among destination managers due to the physical difficulties and expenses of these accommodations and it is recognised that there is also a lack of understanding in how to address the needs of customers with disabilities among tourism managers, and that there is a gap in given service between PwDs and other travellers in terms of quality and access. Furthermore, it is identified that there is a lack of provision for disabled people in accessing the outdoors, creating frustration and producing disabled people to feel that the countryside and wilderness is not for them. This set-up raises an issue with divided views held within the tourism industry and disabled people, where others are supporting the legislation (DDA) pleading the rights of PwDs' arguing that tourism industry should be more considerate of disabled tourism yet the industry seems 'unenthusiastic' to fulfil their responsibilities.

Despite the legislations and the development during the last decades it is still true that people with disabilities face more barriers to travel and to experience tourism compared to able-bodied people, and as stated above there is a strong pressure on industry, partly because of the law, to remove the physical barriers which are setting limitations to disabled people's tourism participation. However, these barriers are not the only factor affecting on disabled people's tourism behaviour. The constraints to leisure are embedded in three categories: intrapersonal, interpersonal and structural. Intrapersonal constraints are associated with a person itself including areas like psychological state, physical functioning or cognitive abilities, personality and health problems. Interpersonal constraints are the barriers or limitations regarding a person's social context and interaction with other people.

Where the main debate and discussion in literature is focused on physical barriers what people with disabilities are facing in their leisure time or travel, some of the literature states that tourists with disabilities experience greater role of intrapersonal and interpersonal constraints compared to tourists without disabilities, and due to these their tourism experience might be influenced negatively which reduces their participation. However these constraints have had left with clearly less focus in disabled people's tourism development and therefore it should be taken under consideration to adopt a more effective and fair approach for reducing discrimination and exclusion of disabled people that goes beyond the tourism industries responsibility, a core approach that emphasis not only anti-discrimination policy, but also Human Rights and creating equal capabilities for people with disabilities.


Daniels, M. J. et al. (2005), '"Travel Tales": an interpretive analysis of constraints and negotiations to pleasure travel as experienced by persons with physical disabilities', Tourism Management, Vol. 26, pp 919-930

Freudenberg, P. & Arlinghaus, R. (2009), 'Benefits and Constraints of Outdoor Recreation for People with Physical Disabilities: Inferences from Recreational Fishing', Leisure Sciences, Vol. 32 (1), 55-71

Lovelock, B. A. (2009), 'Planes, trains and wheelchairs in the bush: Attitudes of people with mobility-disabilities to enhanced motorised access in remote natural settings', Tourism Management, Vol. 31 (2010), pp 357-366
Is the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 enough?
Author: Elizabeth Rodgers
I have chosen to comment on your paper because whilst doing my own research into a similar theme I found the issues of wheelchair-mobility particularly interesting.

I thought the focus on the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 was interesting and took a different view of the situation to some of the literature. You mentioned that there are 10 million PwDs (People with Disabilities) living in the UK, which has also been stated by another author in this conference, (see Emilie Gay, 2010). The fact that you both had the same statistic confirms its validity and also shows the size of the potential market for tourism planners. Unfortunately PwDs are often overlooked in tourism development and the DDA should ensure that disabled people are catered for in every public place.

You state that "development for better accessibility has however produced some reluctance among tourism agencies". I found similar information to this during my own research, but more specifically for the hotel industries in both the UK and US (Yau et al 2004). I think one of the main causes of this reluctance is the cost of building and maintaining disabled facilities, which tourism planners may belive are not used often enough to justify their cost. The aim of the DDA is to lessen this kind of discrimination (Directgov), but tourism planners do not want to comply. If they considered the size of the potential PwD tourism market, 10 million, they may think differently and alter their product for PwDs.

An important section oft his paper highlighted the issue of countryside and rural accessibility. Many disabled people are being excluded from outdoor activities and even though tourism planners know this, they are still unwilling to fulfill the needs of PwDs.

The point about the three levels of barriers (intrapersonal, interpersonal and structural) I found interesting because I found in my primary research that intrapersonal barriers are particularly important. Communication between PwDs and tourism employees can often be very hard for the PwD, especially if the member of staff has not had relevant training in working with PwDs (multiliftparts.com). If a PwD had a negative experience which involved any of these three types of barriers it could certainly reduce future participation in tourism activities.

You last idea was that the DDA does not go far enough on its own at protecting against discrimination. Your suggestion of a human rights policy is extremely relevant and something along these lines should go further at defending PwDs from anymore discrimination.

Directgov (no date) "The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)", www.direct.gov.uk, [16.03.2010]

Multiliftparts.com, (no date) "Disability Discrimination Act 1995", available at: www.multiliftparts.com/AccessToBuildings.doc, [04.04.2010]

Yau, M. K., Mckercher, B and Packer, T. L (2004) "Travelling with a Disability - More Than an Access Issue", Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 31, no. 4, pp 946 - 960, www.sciencedirect.com [03.032.2010]