Is the tourism industry prepared to accommodate blind tourists properly?
Writed by Joana Soares
Last year I was challenged to find a subject to present for my individual English IV assignment (subject lectured by professor Cândida Cadavez). Suddenly I found myself immersed in this passionate issue, which I never was aware of. So for my first post, here’s my beloved-assignment.
“To introduce this subject I would like to ask you a question: When thinking about tourism promotion material and its images, how close are the ones you picture from the standards of slim, young and able-bodied people or even paradise? Do those people have, for instance, any disability? Are they blind?
These sentences were quoted from a case study, published in Tourism Management journal, about embodied tourist experiences of people with visual impairment and its management implications.
Blind Tourism can be defined as a type of tourism practiced by PwVI (People with Visual Impairment) or completely blind who have non-sighted perspectives about their travels and use mainly other senses, specially audition and touch.
During my research, I actually noticed current case studies underlined the need to explore this matter hoping that more information could lead to a better understanding.
Therefore, I selected five motives that highlight why more attention should be given to this matter, based on an article published in Accessible Tourism Research blog, written by Simon Darcy.
Firstly, the amount of blind people is increasing. Secondly, some blind people travel accompanied. Thirdly, accessibility should be provided to all members of society, according to legislation. Then, we shall not neglect that travelling is a social right of all members of society. Last but not least, travelling can develop senses of accomplishment and self confidence in people with disabilities.
Emma Tracey was born blind. She is a producer for BBC and also wrote the article “Sightseeing you can’t see”. She loves to experience new cultures and prefers to travel accompanied. She discovered in a travel to Machu Pichu that she needed multisensory destinations.
Robbie Sandberg usually travels on his own, and he states that blind travelers are able to picture a place by using other senses. On a trip to India, locals warned Robbie about obstacles and those who spoke English helped him.
Amar Latif, who owns the tour operator Traveleyes, said he wouldn’t go on a safari. Instead, he went to Zimbabwe where tourist experiences allowed him to touch lions and even feel their faces.
Peter White, one of the voices of BBC Radio, shared his experiences on an interview to The Independent journal called Sightseeing by Sound. According to Peter “the first thing that sounds different are the voices.” For him, blind tourists have the chance to experience the world in a way sighted people don’t. That’s why he came up with the idea of making a radio programme in which he tries to give people the experience of what it would be like to come to a place for the first time as a blind person.
So far, these tourist experiences seemed to reconcile one’s disability with the remaining desire to travel. Nevertheless, is the tourism industry prepared to accommodate blind tourists properly?
No it isn’t. The main reason for nonparticipation lays on structural constraints, specifically environment and attitudes encountered. Tourists’ complaints about service providers include being given a wheelchair at the arrival, being prevented to do tourist activities like riding a horse or to enter in hotels and taxis with a guide dog.
Actually, a woman had to justify how much she couldn’t see when boarding a plane because the flight attendant thought she was faking a disability.
Crucial steps to provide a quality experience must be taken in consideration such as providing accessible information, improving education in the industry and in the community, including the other four senses in tourist experiences, developing well-structured and designed buildings including space for guide dogs and creating tourism products and attractions for PwVI.
Concluding, tourism can no longer perpetuate with social exclusion.
Key players and service providers must be aware about how to implement the necessary changes not only to improve Blind Tourists’ travel quality but also to assure a future in which tourists experiences can reflect an embodied understanding.”