What Is Accessible Tourism?
Accessible tourism is defined as all-inclusive tourism and travel. This means that people with or without disabilities have equal access and enjoyment of touristic activities and travel in general.
According to Simon Darcy and Tracey J. Dickson, authors of the article A Whole-of-Life Approach to Tourism: The Case for Accessible Tourism Experiences, “Accessible tourism enables people with access requirements, including mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive dimensions of access, to function independently and with equity and dignity through the delivery of universally designed tourism products, services, and environments.” This also includes seniors and those traveling with children in strollers.
The three dimensions of accessibility are physical access, sensory access, and communication access.
- Physical access for those with physical disabilities that require wheelchairs, walking aids, or handrails
- Sensory access for those who have sight or hearing impairments
- Communication access for those who have impairments involving speech, vision, and hearing
Accommodation makes up a big part of tourism and travel. Therefore, as a vacation rental owner, you have a significant role in creating these equal opportunities. By providing the right services and design in your vacation home, you can be part of a positive shift in sustainable and responsible tourism while attracting new guests.
Examples of Accessible Vacation Rentals
So, how can the hospitality sector adapt to accessible tourism? What changes can we make as individuals to ensure an equal and inclusive experience for all?
While the first step in creating accessible tourism is a change in mindset, another extremely important factor is universal design. Stephen Cluskey, CEO of Mobility Mojo, a company that helps hotel groups improve their accessibility, defines this as “the design of products and environments that are usable by everyone to the greatest possible extent, without the need for adaptations.”
The ADA states that entrance doors should be at least 32 inches wide. If the path to the entrance door requires a stairway, a stable ramp (or a lift) should be built with a slope no greater than 1:12. A ramp longer than 6 feet should have railings between 34 and 38 inches high.
Regarding the entrance door, handles should be operable with a closed fist and not higher than 48 inches. If there is an alternative accessible entrance, there should be signs clearly indicating this to the guests.
Furniture behind the entryway should be cleared to ensure easy access.
For an accessible vacation rental bathroom, ensure that the doorway is at least 32 inches wide and that there is a 36-inch-wide path to the shower, sink, and toilet.
Toilet seats are recommended to be 17 to 19 inches high with grab bars behind and around them. The sink rim shouldn’t exceed 34 inches in height and the faucet should be operable with a closed fist. Ensure that soap dispensers, towels, and toiletries are within reach and also usable with a closed fist.
Walk-in showers should be equipped with handles, seating options, and a detachable showerhead.
Add a large mirror in the room that allows full visibility.
If possible, lower kitchen countertops for those who are not able to reach high surfaces. By removing floor cabinets, you can facilitate access to the counter. However, you can also consider investing in cabinets that allow toe kicks for people in wheelchairs.
Install an ADA approved wall oven that opens from side to side. This is useful for anyone with mobility issues. While adding enough space under the kitchen sink and cooking areas, it is also recommended to set up a tilted mirror above the stove to allow full visibility.
Take advantage of today’s advances in technology by researching new devices that can help improve the overall experience of your guests.
Like all other rooms in the vacation rental, the accessible bedroom entryway should be at least 36 inches wide. Start off by making the bed accessible and allowing enough space for pathways between all furniture.
To make it easier for people with disabilities to get in and out of bed, the recommended height is 20 to 23 inches from the floor to the top of the mattress. Add bed rails or grab bars for support and put any bedside light switches or lamps at an easy reach.
To minimize the risk of injury, avoid carpet flooring or materials that are slippery and remove unnecessary clutter. Double-check that all wires are attached to the wall as this can be a hazard for those using a wheelchair.
Windows should be placed 35 inches from the floor and equipped with lever handles. For the visually impaired, make sure that closets and cabinets are well-lit.
Other Examples of Amenities for Accessible Vacation Rentals
While the list is endless, here are some more examples of ways to provide accessible tourism as a vacation rental owner:
- Walking-stick holders for seniors and those who need support when walking
- Wheelchair access and barrier-free paths
- Elevators to all floors
- Special parking areas
- Improved communication and translators for those who are hearing or voice impaired
- Availability of assistive devices like wheelchairs, memory aids, and pill organizers
- Access to screen readers
- Having a trained staff that can help with accessibility issues
Why Is Accessible Tourism Important?
First and foremost, accessible tourism is crucial because it is a human right for everyone. As a society, it is our social responsibility to provide accessibility in tourism. The World Health Organization indicates that 15% of the global population has some disability. That’s 1 billion people who have experienced disadvantages when it comes to traveling.
Accessible tourism is also beneficial to the economy because it’s an exceptional business opportunity for destinations to expand their range of tourists. By catering to a much wider audience, business owners can attract new clientele.
While there’s still a long way to go before achieving universal accessibility in tourism, the advances and positive changes that have been made in the past few years show that society is going in the right direction. With the collaboration of tourism stakeholders (which includes governments, tourism organizations, businesses, and tourists), we can work towards becoming a more equal and inclusive sector.