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The need for accessible tourism focusing on the challenges of travellers with invisible disabilities

The need for accessible tourism focusing on the challenges of travellers with invisible disabilities
Author: Iulia Poama-Covaci
3 Commentries

This research focuses specifically on accessible tourism, as a part of social tourism, and advocates for inclusivity, while exploring various issues imposed on tourists with hidden disabilities. The rationale for choosing this topic is based on the desire to raise awareness about different types of disabilities and highlight the need for further research and education on this topic.

Keywords: accessible tourism, hidden disabilities, marginalisation, social inclusion.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 15% of the total world’s population currently live with some type of disability, and almost everyone is likely to experience either a temporary or permanent disability at some point during their lifetime. The WHO (2020) estimated that over 1 billion people have at least one disability and this number is dramatically increasing, mainly due to demographic trends and a rise in chronic health conditions. Studies showed that people with disabilities were even more affected than other groups during the COVID-19 pandemic, because of healthcare barriers caused usually by poor quality health services (WHO, 2020). This information highlights the urgent need for all industries and institutions to adapt to times of uncertainty and become more inclusive, and the tourism industry can achieve this by implementing accessible tourism.

The European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT) believes that this is not a new kind of tourism. It advocates for accessibility to be integrated into every kind of travel experience indicating that it should be seen more like a ‘golden opportunity’, rather than as an issue. A solution that would help with addressing invisible accessibility needs in tourism is the ‘chain of accessibility’ suggested by the ENAT (2011). This refers to providing accessible information, transport, infrastructure and high-quality services delivered by trained staff, in order to create barrier-free destinations.

In fact, the majority of people with disabilities have an ‘invisible’ condition and since these are not immediately apparent, the people affected are more exposed to misconceptions and stereotypes, with people questioning their needs and legitimacy of their disability (ENAT, 2011). This is why this research focused on the challenges of people with invisible conditions. These can include learning or psychiatric disabilities, attention deficit disorders, traumatic brain injury, diabetes, HIV, chronic medical conditions and chronic pain, asthma, allergies, visual and hearing impairments, or other mental health illnesses.

Furthermore, not only do people with hidden disabilities need to deal with issues like ableism, projected through marginalisation and social exclusion, but their carers and family members are also impacted, particularly when it comes to travelling (Sedgley et al., 2017). Studies showed that especially mothers who care for one or more children with hidden disabilities are subjected to great amounts of emotional labour when planning a family trip. Sedgley et al. (2017) realised that these trips are a mix of emotions and although they can improve the family’s well-being, they can be very stressful and risky. The researchers discovered that the benefits of taking a holiday for people with hidden disabilities and their family are sometimes outnumbered by issues like stigma, negative public reactions, dangerous situations, complex responsibilities, and exposure to sensory-stimulating environments. As well as this, other travellers would expect discipline and if the family would not be able to conform to certain behaviour norms, the parents would also receive negative comments about the way they raised or managed their children with hidden conditions (Sedgley et al., 2017). All of these challenges can turn tourism activities into disappointing and isolating experiences, which can discourage the people affected from going on trips far away or to unfamiliar places.

Even though people with hidden disabilities were proved to be one of the most marginalised groups in the world, they are not only disabled by their bodies but mostly by the barriers created by society (WHO, 2020). However, this market segment has significant growth potential, since tourists with hidden disabilities usually prefer travelling off-season accompanied by family or friends, spending more time and money on trips, and being likely to return to destinations where they created positive memories and experiences (ENAT, 2011).

Therefore, these barriers can be overcome if governments and destination management organisations collaborate in order to achieve social inclusion and offer tourism activities and memorable experiences for everyone. Ultimately, this research aimed to highlight the fact that if tourism stakeholders would implement accessible tourism, it could bring many social benefits for all travellers, regardless of their size, age or disability, but also for the economy and businesses involved.


ENAT (2011) Let’s Make Europe an Accessible Tourist Destination for All! European Network for Accessible Tourism. Available from https://www.accessibletourism.org/?i=enat.en.forums.1201 [Accessed 5 June 2021].

Sedgley, D., Pritchard, A., Morgan, N. and Hanna, P. (2017) Tourism and autism: Journeys of mixed emotions. Annals of Tourism Research, 66 14-25.

WHO (2020) Disability and health. World Health Organisation. Available from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/disability-and-health [Accessed 5 June 2021].

The need for accessible tourism focusing on the challenges of travellers with invisible disabilities
Author: Katie Moncaster
Even though a physical disability is associated with a person having mobility issues, which impacts their day-to-day life, invisible disabilities can also have a significant impact on everyday life. This is because an invisible disability affects a person in different ways and can be challenging at times. Therefore, the sunflower lanyard scheme is an encouraging method for people with an invisible disability and their families, carers and friends to wear to demonstrate to outsiders that they need to be more considerate and selfless to the person wearing the lanyard (Hidden Disability Store, 2021). Additionally, it indicates to the staff within the tourism industry that the individual may need additional assistance or more time to embrace their unfamiliar surroundings when travelling (Hidden Disability Store, 2021).

The sunflower lanyard is a scheme that has provided individuals with an inclusive and reassuring environment as it has supported people who may not have the ability to take in specific settings. A reoccurring challenge is the judgemental looks and body language of other tourists when travelling (Jimenez, 2020). For example, a parent travelling with a child with autism may become anxious and stressed if their child has a meltdown. Furthermore, they may receive displeased looks and feel judged by others. However, this behaviour from others can be mitigated if the sunflower lanyard scheme is alleviated and advertised more efficiently worldwide as it highlights that person has a hidden disability, so they need others to be more considerate and patient (Headway, 2019). Unfortunately, the sunflower lanyard scheme is only recognised within the UK. Therefore, there needs to be more awareness in other countries to provide people with invisible disabilities reassurance and encouragement to travel more (Headway, 2019). Instead of distancing themselves from the tourism industry due to other tourists and staff members within airports, hotels, restaurants etc., disapproving behaviour towards the person with the hidden disabilities.


Jimenez, L. (2020) Easy to read for an inclusive tourism: A guide to Seville [pre-print]. Available from https://idus.us.es/bitstream/handle/11441/102776/1/FRANCO_JIMENEZ_LAURA%28179%29.pdf?sequence=1 [accessed 9 June 2021].

Headway (2019) Sunflower lanyards take off for passengers with hidden disabilities. Headway. Available from https://www.headway.org.uk/news-and-campaigns/news/2019/sunflower-lanyards-take-off-for-passengers-with-hidden-disabilities/ [accessed 9 June 2021].

Hidden Disabilities Store (2021) What does wearing the Sunflower mean?. Hidden Disabilities Store. Available from https://hiddendisabilitiesstore.com/blog/post/what-wearing-the-sunflower-means [accessed 9 June 2021].

A commentary on the challenges of travellers with invisible disabilities
Author: Lydia Clarke
This paper interests me since disability is often neglected within many areas of society, and hidden disabilities are even more so since they are often unrecognised and misunderstood (Small et al., 2012).

There is recognition that disability is becoming more prevalent in society and that disabilities studies have shifted from the ‘medical model’ to the ‘social model’ (Small et al., 2012), which sees disability as a problem related to the barriers within society, however it is interesting that there are still major barriers individuals with disabilities are facing within everyday life. Furthermore, there are many difficulties faced by the carers of those with hidden disabilities and there is a high degree of stress involved (Lehto et al., 2018), which could hae been prevented.

As mentioned in the paper, it is society which contributes significantly to disability (WHO, 2020) Richards et al (2010) points out how individuals with hidden disabilities can sometimes ‘feel a fraud’ in social contexts without having any social signifiers or evidence that they have a disability, and this saddens me that there are stereotypical expectations for people with disabilities when this is evidently not always the case.

It is important to mention that in many cases, a disability may be as a result of the lack of access and availability of health care services in some low- and middle-income countries (WHO, 2021), and therefore individuals may suffer from health-related illnesses/conditions which may become worsened due to the lack of access to them and therefore this presents a significant inequality in some places.

It is mentioned in the paper that accessibility can be seen as a new market opportunity (Naidu, 2017), yet this will require significant training in awareness (Richards et al., 2010) and in terms of dealing with specific needs.

Fortunately, there are tourism bodies and organisations which are providing information and access to individuals with disabilities (RNIB, 2021). Museums for example are excellent with providing accessible tourism facilities and places like the Louvre Museum in Paris provide features such as braille, audio guides, ground surface indicators and hands-on, tactile devices (NLS, 2020).

A very interesting read, however as highlighted in the paper, collaboration between governments and destination management organisations are still required within society.

References -
Lehto, X., Luo, W., Miaco, L. and Ghiselli, F. R. (2018) Shared tourism experience for individuals with disabilities and their caregivers. Journal of Destination Marketing and Management, 8 185-193.

NLS (2020) Travel and Recreation for the Visually Impaired and Physically Disabled. NLS.

Small, J., Darcy, S. and Packer, T. (2012) The embodied tourist experiences of people with vision impairment: Management implications beyond the visual gaze. Tourism Management, 33 (4) 941-950.
The need for accessible tourism focusing on the challenges of travellers with invisible disabilities
Author: Yahao Guo
The inclusion of disability in tourism is an important topic and needs to be addressed as people with disability face the issue of not being accepted in tourist places. People with disability are often not considered the part of the ‘normal’ society. I personally like the focus on hidden disability as it is left out of the scope when someone is discussing about the issue. According to US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (2020), any condition effecting the body or mind which makes creates limitations for a person to carry out tasks or restricts participation is called disability. However, when people generally think of disability, they only think of disability that is visible to them. Moreover, it is also true that people with hidden disability encounter marginalisation and social exclusion. The side-lining of people with hidden disability occurs due to the fact that people don’t consider them the part of the majority population. Additionally, authorities are also unable to take measures that make the social environment more inclusive for people with disabilities. The paper provides an overview of what hidden disability is and the barriers faced by people with hidden disability. The paper looks promising as it focuses on the emotion problems faced by not only individuals with disability but also their family members and care takers who try to plan trips and vacation for disabled individuals. This emotional distress is generally related to the stigma and negative behaviour that they may come across when travelling to places that are hostile towards people with disability. However, it seems that the paper has not focused on how people with hidden disability often try hiding their disguise their disabilities and also the economic problems that people with disability may face at times. For instance, Yau, McKercher & Packer (2004) indicate that a visually impaired participant in their study stated that he does not inform or disclose his impairment making bookings as it may cause him unnecessary troubles. Also, paying higher prices for the same service that a non-disabled person such as a hotel rooms (Yau, McKercher & Packer, 2004).
In addition to this, the paper lacks to shed any light on the methodology that has been used to conduct the study and ethical considerations involved in the study. I believe a hint towards the manner in which the research has been conducted may be beneficial for the reader to better understand the paper.

Yau, M. K. S., McKercher, B., & Packer, T. L. (2004). Traveling with a disability: More than an access issue. Annals of tourism research, 31(4), 946-960.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, September 15). Disability and Health Overview. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/disability.html