It’s Time To Move Beyond Access To Inclusion

Martin HengThere’s been a lot of talk about “accessible tourism” lately, but is this the right term to use? As a wheelchair user, if somewhere — a cool bar, a significant monument, a beautiful view — is accessible only via steps or rugged terrain, I can’t go there. Yet people with a vision, hearing or cognitive impairment, or those living with chronic illness, may be perfectly capable of visiting such places. I would argue that using the term “accessible tourism” limits not only the discussion, but also our chances of participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport.

While access is vital, it’s true inclusion we should be striving for. By emphasizing access, with its reliance on legislation, the stress is immediately put on compliance, not inclusion. To borrow an analogy from a thought-providing article by Lee Young called, “Understanding the key differences between Accessible Design and Inclusive Design,” imagine an established members-only men’s club that installs ramps, an accessible toilet, an elevator and hearing loops to meet legislative requirements. These renovations might make the facility more accessible, but by disallowing female members and requiring high fees or an invitation to join, the club remains exclusive rather than inclusive.

This is where — in both the built and online environments — inclusive design has rightly come to supersede accessible design and barrier-free design. In her article, “Inclusive Design and Accessibility,” Josephine Miller writes, “Accessibility is an attribute of Inclusive design, and while Inclusive design is about designing for diversity, it is more than meeting a set of standards.”

Microsoft’s definition of the two are: Accessibility: the qualities that make an experience open to all; Inclusive design: a design methodology that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity.

To paraphrase Young, inclusive design is less logical and objective, and more emotional and subjective: It requires much higher levels of understanding and empathy.

Martin Heng left England in 1987 and travelled for 10 years before migrating to Australia to start a family. He worked for Lonely Planet for 21 years in numerous roles, including seven as editorial manager and seven as accessible travel manager. Paralyzed in a 2010 road accident, he speaks on inclusive travel at conferences around the world

Martin Heng left England in 1987 and travelled for 10 years before migrating to Australia to start a family. He worked for Lonely Planet for 21 years in numerous roles, including seven as editorial manager and seven as accessible travel manager. Paralyzed in a 2010 road accident, he speaks on inclusive travel at conferences around the world.

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So why is this important in the context of “accessible tourism,” as it’s most commonly known? Yes, it’s great that accessible tourism has become an area of study to which researchers can contribute. Likewise, accessible tourism has become an area of policymaking and government funding that a few progressive destination management organizations are embracing. It also identifies a market segment that can be quantified and targeted. In a world driven by economic rather than social principles, this has been useful to convince policymakers and the tourism industry that accessible tourism offers an economic opportunity by tapping into a market that is neither niche nor small.
But the concept of “accessible tourism” has only gotten us so far: Change is slow and piecemeal. If this travel segment were described as “inclusive tourism,” it would put the focus on making sure travel experiences are able to be enjoyed by as many people as possible (inclusion) rather than on the costly business of installing elevators, ramps and accessible toilets (access). The message we need to get across is that disability — or rather a lack of functional ability — affects us all at some point in our lives.

We need to look beyond touting a market segment made up of people with disabilities and an aging but affluent demographic, and instead encourage the tourism industry to adopt an inclusive mindset that prioritizes customers who have infinitely diverse desires and needs. It’s not about creating tourism product that caters to a market segment, but about catering for the entirety of the market. That’s not only a compelling business case, but also simply the right thing to do.

Further Reading:
Article 30, United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities
“Understanding the Key Differences Between Accessible Design and Inclusive Design”
“Inclusive Design and Accessibility”