by Noorizati Meor Samsudin

People with disabilities have the same motivations to travel as the rest of the population   However  many tourists with disabilities face barriers to tourism participation  especially in the social, cultural and physical environments


Underlying social and cultural constraints

In contrast to the more conventional medical view of disability, there has been growing recognition that disability is a product of social relations rather than the fault of an individual’s physical characteristics.  (Oliver 1996; Barnes, Mercer, and Shakespeare 1999).  The social approach to disability recognises that it is the disabling environment and hostile social attitudes that creates disability rather than any underlying physical impairment.  Tourism is part of the wider social relations in each country, but also has its own set of sectoral responses to disability that must be understood in the country context, because only then can a strategy to provide barrier-free tourism be developed.

People with disabilities become travellers with disabilities once these underlying constraints to travel have been addressed.

One issue is the need for shared understanding of what constitutes access and disability by the stakeholders (people with impairments; operators; tourism sectors; intermediaries).

These include:

  • Recognise the different dimensions of access (physical; vision; hearing and cognitive);
  • Understand the complexity of operationalising these dimensions of access;
  • Provide accurate access information;
  • Provide the right level of detail about the access information;
  • Ensure the availability of information;
  • Have a proper format to provide the information;
  • Have appropriate presentation of the information;
  • Identify distribution channels (mainstream and disability specific);
  • Communicate the information to staff at all levels of the organization; and
  • Communicate the information to intermediaries.


Audio Description.

Audio description services currently have not been established widely in tourism aspects. Tourist with disabilities need to pay extra cost for having a tour guide who becomes and informer and guide partner during the trip. It is a way of making audiovisual tourism planning information for the blind and visually impaired. Audio descriptions are an additional narrative which describes significant scenery and surroundings to blind people and to visually impaired people.  Using  audio description methods, such as  a voice-over describing the key visual elements, tourists who are blind and low vision can visualise  such scenarios, thus further enhancing their enjoyment.


Transport barriers

Transport has been a major facilitator of social participation and leisure experience.  Within an individual’s community, day-to-day transport relies largely on pedestrian access, bus, train, light rail, ferry and paratransit taxi options.  In many instances, these public transport options are not available for easy use by people with disabilities.  Developed countries also face the accessibility of public transport as a major issue.  For example, the lack of accessible public transport has been identified as an inherent weakness of tourism for people with disabilities in Australia.

This may cover physical access, as well as cognitive or communication dimensions of access.  Universal designs and technological solutions  to barrier-free public transport have grown over the last decade in response to the well-documented public transport issues for people with disabilities.


major public  transport issues identified are:

  • Ground services to and from airports;
  • Convenient drop-off points near main entrances;
  • Adequate auxiliary services within airports (accessible toilets/change rooms, phones, autobanks, etc.);
  • Airline flight information dissemination to the hearing and vision impaired;
  • Airline information management of the needs of people with mobility disabilities;


Public transport, the environment, the streetscape, accommodation, attractions, day-trip availability and customer service attitudes all play important roles in the tourism experiences of people with disabilities.  People with disabilities have usually been devalued and treated poorly in many areas of service provision.  Tourism has been no exception in this discrimination against people with disabilities

Receiving tourists with disability cannot be seen as an optional extra but as part of mainstream tourism service provision.