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Travelling with a disability: real difference or simply different needs?

Travelling with a disability: real difference or simply different needs?
Author: Emilie Gay
3 Commentries
Abstract: With the growing number of disabled travellers all over the world, a niche market has emerged. This paper seeks to explore in which ways travelling for the disabled can be made fairer and easier.

Key Words: disability, niche market, marketing opportunities, inclusive society.

Travel and tourism for the disabled are opportunities for the traveller and provider alike. While much public attention and many policy formulation efforts have been given to barrier-free architectural design and local public transportation access, few similar consistent efforts have been made in long-distance travel and tourism (Cavinato and Cuckovich, 1992). In this context, Shaw and Coles (2004) stress the size of the market, estimating that there are approximately 9.4m disabled adults, reaching 10m if children are included in the UK. This is based on a wide interpretation of disability and includes some 6.5m people of working age who have long-term disabilities or health problems, and 8.7m are deaf or hard of hearing. At the other end of the spectrum are some 1.8m who are blind or partially sighted and an estimated 0.5m people who are wheelchair users. It has also been argued that the tourism industry should be more considerate of disabled tourism, not only for business reasons, but also for corporate citizenship in helping to create a more inclusive society and, of course, the requirements of the law (1995 Disability Discrimination Act in the UK and 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act). Therefore, it is quite clear that tourism marketers should acknowledge tourism for the disabled. Indeed, not only can it be considered as an emerging niche market, it would also help in creating a more inclusive society (Shaw and Coles, 2004).

Though "disability" is generally approached in terms of removing architectural and facility barriers for wheel-chair mobility, many different approaches are called for in serving the wide range of disabled persons. Access is defined in law but each form of disability represents a different set of access requirements. Cavinato and Cuckovich (1992) list the following types of restriction: stress, mobility, diet, sound, sight and communication. The segments of disabilities often require subtle considerations. Stress involves a wide range of conditions and experiences. It is related to dietary needs as well as affecting the choice of destination. Mobility, usually defined as and narrowly provided for as a wheel-chair access, also includes the needs of persons requiring assistance with lifting, accessing doors, eating, and use of bath facilities. Sight is often limited to Braille elevator floor markers and menus. However, hotel and facility layout information is often lacking for persons with this disability. Access is also very limited with air and ground transportation and hotels for persons requiring communication by way of sign language (Cavinato and Cuckovich, 1992).

Daniels et al (2005) state that it remains essential to acknowledge that travellers with physical disabilities do face unique circumstances that must not be understated. For these individuals, every stage of the travel process requires significant planning time and careful attention to detail. Unfortunately, it is far too easy for travellers and service providers without disabilities to act in such a manner that undermines the pleasure travel experiences of persons with disabilities.
In addition, Mills et al (2008) found that few hospitality and travel industry websites were geared for the vision impaired. They added that user disabilities were not the first consideration when businesses select and develop multimedia and web-based materials. However, considering the growing population of persons with a disability, it is a requirement that should strongly be considered by businesses.

Daniels et al (2005) state that overcoming constraints to pleasure travel requires the co-ordination of individuals with disabilities, social networks and service providers. One way to ensure equal participation in pleasure travel decision-making is to consistently seek, consider and disseminate the experiences and opinions of individuals with disabilities.
Huh and Singh (2007) bring up the important point of finances. Indeed, they state that while travellers with disabilities and their families might be price-sensitive, they might also be time-insensitive when taking pleasure trips. Thus, discount deals might be an effective way to attract them. Their above-average length of stay could then financially compensate for lower prices, especially if entertainment and activities specifically designed to appeal to travellers with disabilities and their families can be provided.

When considering the growing population of disabled tourists, it is clear that there is a need for change in the way tourism suppliers market their products. It is all the more important for tourism providers to consider this segment of the population as there will be increasing scope for them to target such market.
Finally and more importantly, Huh and Singh (2007) believe that installing programs to help disabled travellers can distinguish an enterprise from its competitors by the extent to which it goes beyond legal requirements in meeting the needs of people with disabilities. In addition, while this lack of attention by marketers might provide possible opportunities for entrepreneurs, mainstream marketers are missing chances to attract a loyal and large market segment (and one, which will continue to grow).


Cavinato, J. and Cuckovich, M. (1992) Tourism and Transportation for the Disabled: An Assessment, Transportation Journal, pp 46-53.

Daniels, M., Drogin, E. and Wiggins, B. (2005) "Travel Tales": an interpretive analysis constraints and negociations to pleasure travel as experiences by persons with physical disabilities, Tourism Management, 26, pp 919-930.

Shaw, G. and Coles, T. (2004) Disability, holiday making and the tourism industry in the UK: a preliminary survey, Tourism Management, 25, pp 397-403.
Disabled access issues and the business of disabled tourists
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 that by starting with statistics about disabled people in the UK was a useful way to 'set the scene' and shows how big the disability tourism market could potentially be. I thought it was interesting how you have focused on disability tourism from the business perspective more than on what disabled tourists require when traveling. However, you did list some important issues which all kinds of disabled tourists come across when traveling; "stress, mobility, diet, sound, sight and communication." In my own primary research into disability tourism I came to similar conclusions.

Highlighting the laws passed on disability; the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), was vital to the paper to show what is being done to help people with disabilities in every day life as well as in tourism activities. I discovered an unfortunate fact during my secondary research which was that many hotels in the UK and US are lobbying against their governments in order to reduce the requirements for disabled facilities as they feel they are not used enough to justify spending so much money on their upkeep (Yau et al 2004). In actual fact, I can see from your paper, especially the second paragraph, that there is a need for more rigorous regulations on disabled facilities.

You stated that disabled people often have less money, presumably because it is harder for them to work, and so may be constrained by this factor. I liked that you stated that despite the financial limitations that disabled people may be able to travel at a wider range of times to non-disabled people. In the interviews I conducted I found the same result as disabled people prefer to travel out of school holidays, at least in the UK, so as to avoid crowds. I think this is very important and off-peak seasons should be more widely advertised to disabled tourists.

I agree that tourism for disabled people needs to be more widely-advertised and also advertised more accurately, as this was a major problem that I found with my primary research. This should, in theory, make it easier for disabled people and their carers to research and plan holidays; although it is likely that they will continue to take out such thorough research because their needs are so specific. This again goes back to viewing the disability tourism from a business perspective. One thing I mentioned in my paper was that non-disabled people can often compensate one thing for another; e.g. paying less for a hotel if it is away from the main tourist area, or does not have certain facilities, but disabled tourists are unable to do this (Daniels et al 2004).


Daniels, M. J., Drogin Rodgers, E. B and Wiggins, B. P (2005) "Travel Tales: an interpretive analysis of constraints and negotiations to pleasure travel as experienced by persons with physical disabilities" Tourism Management, 26

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]

Is the society's attitude the biggest barrier people with disabilities face?
Author: Kristina Sloka
The reason for commenting on this conference paper is that it looks at similar issues as discussed in my study, according barriers faced by people with disabilities while participating in tourism activities. There is a growing population among the disabled people and nevertheless there are a number of unique barriers which people with disabilities face during tourism participation (Card, 2003). I will definitely agree with the barriers you mentioned in your paper as stress, mobility, diet, sound, sight, communication, information availability and affordability. However, you did not stress out the importance of the societies attitude as barrier towards tourism participation.

It is argued that after implementation of Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA 1995) not all service providers have adjusted their premises in order to be accessible for people with disabilities and SPARC (2000) confirms it, by stating that little action since then been taken within the tourism industry in order to address to the needs of people with disabilities. It was identified by Daniels, Rodgers and Wiggins (2005) that the lack of physical access can be compensated by pleasant attitudes from staff, other travellers or local residents.

You have mentioned that service provides and travellers without disabilities often act in such manner that undermines the pleasure of travel experience. According to Bedini (2000), attitudes can be the most powerful barriers which people with disability face to pursuit a leisure experience. While there can be done some progress in removing environmental barriers and adapting for the needs of people with different disabilities, it is not possible to control the negative attitudes of society towards people with disabilities. There is a general public misconception that people with disabilities do not require holiday (SPARC, 2000). Historically, people with disabilities have been subjected to negative attitudes from "able-bodied" members of their communities" (Bedini, 2000, p.56). Even nowadays, people without disabilities behave with disabled as not normal people, animals or children (Shaw, 2007). Disabled means different, therefore people with disabilities are often avoided or rejected by society (Bedini, 2000). It is important to change these perceptions, what possibly will lead to more accessible environment for people with disabilities.

As regards to the staff working in tourism industry, they lack an awareness of disability and usually cannot meet the needs of this market segment. According to SPARC (2000) "Staff often feel uncomfortable and "awkward" in service situations; sometimes appear patronizing; have no real knowledge of specific needs and requirements …. - and at worst display discriminatory attitudes which are often borne out of ignorance".

I also would like to comment about the website accessibility for the vision impaired. People with disabilities rely on information a lot. Informal information sources, especially recommendations of friends, family and other disabled people who previously visited the destination, hotel or site are most influential for people with disabilities (EnjoyEngland, 2008). Indeed, Internet is the second most important information source, however it mostly used as ground work and is supplemented by phone calls and other checks (EnjoyEngland, 2008).

In conclusion, your work outlines important barriers and it shows how people with disabilities are discriminated in society. DDA 1995 was a good step towards a creation of a more inclusive society, however there is a big need for society to accept and adapt to people with disabilities in order to provide them an accessible tourism.

Bedini, L.A. (2000) "Just sit down so we can talk": Perceived stigma and community recreation pursuits of people with disabilities. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 34(1), pp. 55 - 68.

EnjoyEngland (2008) Access consumer research [online]. [cited 16th April 2010]. Available at: < http://www.enjoyengland.com/Images/National%20Accessible%20Scheme%20-%20Consumer%20Research_tcm21-174161.pdf>.

SPARC (2000) Meeting tourism needs for people with disabilities in South Pembrokeshire - a market overview [online]. [cited 15th April 2010]. Available at: < http://www.planed.org.uk/Download/tourism/Tourism%20Needs%20for%20People%20with%20Disabilities%20-%20Campbell%20Ass%202000.pdf>.

Travelling with a disability: real difference or simply different needs?: Response
Author: Juha Alho
I have chosen to comment on your paper because I am fascinated by the conclusion you have made, which highlights the importance of this niche market taking a business related approach with the topic.

The first section of the paper provides a comprehensive overview with the statistics. Just by observing the number of disabled people it already supports the suggestion that indeed, this group of tourists should be seen as an opportunity for tourism industry. There has been some development over the last 20 years where the main progress has been made in making tourism more accessible for disabled people and after Disability Discrimination Act came into force it has been the industry's 'duty' to provide equality in tourism. However, you point out clearly in your text that there are still a number of issues to overcome in order to meet the needs of disabled tourists.

While doing my research I found an interesting fact that 'managers of remote and wilderness environments have been among the last to accommodate the needs of tourists with mobility-disabilities - partly because of the physical difficulties and expense of doing so' (Lovelock, 2009 pp 357). This might be also one of the reasons behind the fact that there is gab in the quality of the services offered to individuals with disabilities in comparison to other travellers, not to mention your note that each form of disability represents different requirements to meet which lays the industry's side to face even greater challenges.

Your text provides a pithy overview with the factors affecting on disabled tourists pointing out that this tourist group differs from tourists without disabilities. In this, I find really interesting how you have suggested that their special needs could be actually seen as an opportunity for tourism industry. I agree that this segment is becoming increasingly important for the industry and to comment more on your paper; all in all it offers a great overview that there still is a lot to develop in this area of tourism.

However if this development produces a market specialised only for disabled people, which could indeed be the case as drawn from your discussion, it would certainly provide more opportunities for disabled people but at the same time I think it might also expand the gap between society and disabled people. Shaw and Coles (2004) implicates that some destinations could be seen as only catering for the disabled due to destinations accommodations. In other words the specialised market for disabled people could result assembling disabled tourists in one place and "able-bodied" tourists in other. In this I find it hard to imagine if this is what DDA and disabled people are seeking for.

Burns, N. et al. (2009), 'An inclusive outdoors? Disabled people's experiences of countryside leisure services', Leisure Studies, Vol. 28 (4), pp 403-417

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

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

Yau, M. K-s et al. (2004), 'Traveling with disability, More than an Access Issue', Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 31 (4), pp 946-960