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How does the lack of awareness surrounding disability in tourism affect families living with a disability?

How does the lack of awareness surrounding disability in tourism affect families living with a disability?
Author: Alysha Hetherington
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Social tourism can be and is used to include persons from around the world and make the world a better place (Minnaert, 2011). Travel is an aspect of life where the population can escape their realities, however families living with a disabled family member have difficulty accessing and being included in tourism. Tourists of all abilities should be able to enjoy their holiday without any worry of the inability of accessing product and services. This paper aims to highlight how the lack of awareness surrounding disability in tourism can affect families living with a disability, in both primary and secondary research.

Globally, it is estimated that over one billion people (15% of the population) live with a disability, physically or mentally (Benjamin et al., 2021). Although 15% of the population are living with a disability, the tourism industry views this percentage of the population as a niche market. The niche market in which the disabled population are categorised under is ‘accessible tourism’ which is explained as the process of ensuring accommodation, transport, attractions and the destination are appropriately equipped to cater to all customer types (Dominguez et al., 2015). As well as the disabled population being viewed as a niche market, the definition of disability changes depending on the geographical location the person with the disability is, meaning inclusion levels differ geographically which in turn can affect families travelling with a disability in the short and long-term (Lehto, 2013). Literature also highlights the lack of representation of people with disabilities in promotional materials, thus meaning inclusion levels are lower for people with disabilities as there are fewer advertised opportunities for tourism experiences (Benjamin et al., 2021). Despite there being hundreds of thousands of people living with disabilities for decades, there is little literature surrounding how the lack of awareness surrounding disability affects the families, inferring there is a theoretical gap for this research project to be conducted.

Primary data was collected using a semi-structured interview method in order to obtain first-hand accounts, stories and feelings from a family living with a disability and how it has affected their tourism experiences (Walliman, 2018). When the able-bodied population travel, the generic emotions are excitement, joy and a sense of freedom, however for the disabled population even the thought of travel provokes negative emotions such as anxiety, stress and overwhelming pressure (Participant A, 2021; Sedgley et al, 2017). Even the emotional stance on travel is different for the disabled population in comparison to the able-bodied population. A core reasoning for the increase of negative emotion relating to tourism from disabled families is the lack of social justice education and knowledge from the able-bodied population, both members of the public and tourism organisations. Due to the lack of awareness and knowledge surrounding disability the inclusion and equality levels differ vastly as those living with a disability are viewed as “flawed” and “unfinished” (McLaughlin and Coleman-Fountain, 2014). By being viewed as “flawed” and “unfinished” affects the tourism experiences that disabled families obtain as people “…will stare at him…” affecting the normality, and increasing the negative emotions, of the experience the family has (Participant A, 2021). Both primary and secondary data showed that the lack of awareness surrounding disability is not subject to a single disability but a variety such as; autism, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy and the lack of knowledge surrounding the disabilities affects the mental and physical states of families living with disability such as well-being and financing (Noakes, 2019; Participant A, 2021).

It is clear through primary and secondary data that continual research needs to be conducted surrounding the topic to highlight the portion of the population who do not have equal opportunities due to physical and mental barriers, further research would also aid in decreasing the negative emotions families living with a disability attach to tourism. Overall, tourism is different for all members of the population, but is significantly different for those harbouring a disability, creating short and long-term mental and physical effects.

Key Words: Accessible Tourism, Disability, Equality.

Benjamin, S. (2021) Beyond accessibility: exploring the representation of people with disabilities in tourism promotional materials. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 29(2-3) 295-313. Available from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09669582.2020.1755295 [accessed April 30, 2021]

McLaughlin, J. and Coleman-Fountain, E. (2014) The unfinished body: The medical and social reshaping of disabled young bodies. Social Science and Medicine, 120, 76-84. Available from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953614005796 [accessed June 2, 2021]

Sedgley, D., Pritchard, A., Morgan, N. and Hanna, P. (2017) Tourism and autism: Journey of mixed emotions. Annuals of Tourism Research, 66, 14-25. Available from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160738317300701?via%3Dihub#b0130 [accessed May 26, 2021]