Abstract: People with invisible disabilities such as Autism can often feel excluded when it comes to travelling and being a tourist, this paper talks about the challenges faced by people on the Autism Spectrum and what is in place to support them through travelling.
Everyone has the right and the desire to travel, to try new things or just relax and have fun whilst on their holidays. But this is unfortunately not the reality many people in the UK can have due to the effects of Autism with around 700,000 people being diagnosed with this disability. Autism is a lifelong, developmental disability affecting how a person communicates, socialises and relates to other people. This is a disability which comes in many forms so everyone who has autism is placed on the ‘Autism Spectrum’, some people with autism can have a very mild form of it but others can have severe autism which is not only hard for them but also for the people who surround them such as family and friends (Neo and Flaherty, 2018).
People with autism face challenges every day, starting with going to school and interacting with other children, up to adulthood when they can struggle to get a job or create and develop important relationships. Some of the things that can affect a person with Autism are changes to their normal schedules, loud or unusual sounds and even the different artificial lighting in places such as shopping centres or airports (Sedgley, Pritchard, Morgan and Hanna, 2017). Autistic people can be Hypersensitive or ‘Over sensitive’ to these or they can be Hypo-sensitive otherwise known as ‘Under sensitive’. Both can mean they struggle with being in new or different scenarios such as travelling, and these are challenges which need to be tackled by the tourism industry when developing the needs for Autistic people.
It is clear that things need to change within the tourism industry, however it can be difficult to implement policies in the industry as this particular topic is under researched. For positive developments to be made, more research needs to be conducted to create the best and most supportive actions for people affected by autism who are travelling. Developing new practices and introducing more information and infrastructure for those on the Autism Spectrum is an important step for the industry but many companies are hesitant due to the varying levels of autism. By investing a significant amount of money in these developments will they be used enough for the companies to warrant putting this money in (Neo and Flaherty, 2018).
In 2016, conversation surrounding hidden disabilities was picked up by the Civil Aviation Authority who introduced new guidelines to the airports in the UK. The CAA guidelines are trying to make travelling through the airport less stressful and disorientating for people with autism by providing quiet waiting areas and routes through the airport to reach the gates, they are doing this by bypassing the most busy and loud areas such as duty free. These guidelines set out important new policies for airports to follow to make it easier for people with autism and their families and friends to travel through airports. The policies include all staff having specific hidden disability awareness training, providing detailed information to people with autism and the people who are travelling with them, so they can know as much as possible before travelling as this is one of the many challenges people with Autism face, being unable to deal with change in routine or new places very well, these guidelines are trying to help support autistic people through these scenarios.
There are new companies being developed who cater specifically to people with hidden disabilities, they are trying to offer the same or similar products and experiences to people with autism and other disabilities as those without disabilities get to enjoy. An example of this is Sensory Traveller Holidays, this is a company which are breaking down barriers set out across the tourism industry to create equality amongst travellers. They are offering accessible holidays to all, providing elements from different types of expressive therapies including music, photography and drama-therapy, all of which are methods and therapies used by care givers and support centres to help people with autism. These experiences are offering not only tailor-made holidays with trained professionals but also, they are offering important respite to the family and friends of people with autism.
Families and friends are not to be forgotten when developing the tourism industry for people with disabilities as they often need the respite and relaxation that a holiday can bring, without the worry of how difficult it is going to be for the person they are supporting when there are not many provisions available to them (Buhalis, Darcy and Ambrose, 2012).
Buhalis, D., Darcy, S. and Ambrose, I. (2012). Best practice in accessible tourism. Bristol: Channel View Publications.0-403
Neo, W. and Flaherty, G. (2018). Autism Spectrum Disorder and International Travel. International Journal of Travel Medicine and Global Health, 7(1), pp.1-3
Sedgley, D., Pritchard, A., Morgan, N. and Hanna, P. (2017) Tourism and autism: Journeys of mixed emotions, Annals of Tourism Research, 66, 14-25