This paper discusses the structural and social barriers faced by many visually impaired tourists. By examining barriers which are often detrimental to these travellers quality of life, insight has been gained into how some of these issues are being overcome to enhance well-being.
Keywords: Accessible tourism, Visual impairment, well-being, structural barriers, social barriers.
For many years travel and tourism has been perceived as an activity performed by the able-bodied, with misconceptions being made that people with disabilities do not desire to travel (Small et al., 2012). As such, the market for travellers with various forms of disabilities is often underappreciated. Increasingly more people are starting to view tourism as a right rather than a luxury. This right should be given and enjoyed equally by all, regardless of physical condition (Kong and Loi, 2017).
Within accessible tourism literature the focus has mainly centred around tourists with mobility disabilities, whilst blind and visually impaired tourists have remained somewhat overlooked (Small et al., 2012). According to the World Health Organisation, there are over 253 million people living with some form of visual impairment. Many structural and social barriers exist which effect the experience and well-being of visually impaired travellers (VITs).
Structural barriers are often a source of stress to VITs before a holiday even begins. For many people travelling with disabilities the pre-travel stage is crucial as it determines whether their holiday plans are feasible or not. Without sufficient detail being provided VITs are more likely to refrain from travelling due to anxiety. Many physical barriers exist for VITs which deter them from travelling. For instance, certain tourist attractions are relatively inaccessible or of little interest due to their highly visual nature.
Further developments are being made to encourage individual experiences to help VITs gain more self-confidence. By utilising augmented reality, tourists are able to explore some 3D replications using a sensor ring which automatically triggers audio to play through their mobile relating to the areas they touch. By continuing to make advancements in these areas, structural barriers can gradually be reduced, which helps to improve the quality of life for many VITs as new sensations become available to them.
The attitudes of staff on holiday can be a source of stress for VITs and represent a strong social barrier which deters many people. Studies focusing on the experiences of VITs have shown a trend in frustration caused by the lack of understanding of staff who are untrained in providing support (Small et al., 2012). Some VITs felt treated as ‘second class citizens’ whilst another recalled an incident of humiliation being made to sit in a wheelchair to be guided around an airport due to their low vision (Richards et al., 2010).
Despite the importance of visual awareness training many tourism organisations still do not engage in this practice (Kong and Loi, 2017). This issue needs to be addressed further in the future as it still presents a significant social barrier which deters people with visual disabilities from travelling.
There are relatively simple measures which can be taken to greatly enhance the experience of VITs (Richards et al., 2010). This is an essential step in creating a sensitive environment which encourages VITs to travel more. This has been shown to positively affect well-being by helping travellers to gain more confidence and feel less constrained (Richards et al., 2010).
In most cases family can provide VITs with a substantial amount of support through awareness which enables VITs to feel relaxed on holiday and gain rich experiences of new cultures. However, acting as the main source of support can sometimes put strain on these members as over-reliance leads to stress (Kong and Loi, 2017). Previous research has shown that many people with visual impairments choose not to engage with travel and tourism due to anxiety caused by lack of empathy as well as guilt due to the burden of care on their family and friends (Richards et al., 2010).
In an attempt to try and overcome some of these social barriers, some very specialised small independent travel companies now exist which pair a VIT with a sighted companion who will go on the same journey together. By travelling with a sighted companion, they have just met, VITs are able to meet new people and gain enriching experiences and self-confidence through social interaction.
Overall, whilst tourism has shown to be a significant opportunity to regards to improving the well-being of VITs, the benefits are dependent on barriers. Considerable effort is being made to tackle structural barriers, whilst many socials barriers are overlooked. Looking forward, more focus needs to be made on social barriers and how they can be overcome to reduce anxiety and enhance well-being.
Kong, W.H., and Loi, K.L. (2017) The barriers to holiday-taking for visually impaired tourists and their families. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, 32, 99-107.
Richards, V., Pritchard, A., and Morgan, N. (2010) (Re)Envisioning tourism and visual impairment. Annals of Tourism Research, 37(4), 1097-1116.
Small, J., Darcy, D., and Packer, T. (2012) The embodied tourist experiences of people with vision impairment: Management implications beyond the visual gaze. Journal of Tourism Management, 33(4), 941-950.