Did you know that globally one billion travellers have accessibility needs, with many being ignored until now?
Amadeus has launched a research study, ‘Voyage of discovery. Working towards inclusive and accessible travel for all’, to identify what’s missing in order to achieve accessible travel for all.
We chatted to Pam Taylor of Flamingo Tours and Disabled Ventures to get an understanding of the challenges and opportunities of accessible travel in Africa.
Have you seen an increase in demand for travel to Africa from people with disabilities?
Yes, absolutely! The reason for this is an increased awareness that they can travel in spite of having a disability. Venues have also become more user friendly over the past years and there is now more on offer, with the awareness that disabled people have money to travel, but their needs need to be specifically catered to as well.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions around Africa as an accessible travel destination?
The most common misconception is that we are extremely third world and don’t have the facilities guests need. The truth is that many places still don’t have the facilities once you leave the confines of the big cities, but a wonderful experience awaits those that dare to travel and explore.
What are still some of the major challenges Africa poses for people with disabilities?
It all depends on the disability.
For wheelchair users, the main challenge is access to accommodation. Each venue is set up differently and not every venue suits every person. Often, it is set up by a person who is disabled to suit themselves and not the broader spectrum of disabilities.
For deaf – the unseen disability – the challenge is that sign language is different in different areas. Many people who are deaf cannot sign and need the person to be aware that they lip read. This needs a close interaction with the person.
For the sight impaired, again not everyone does Braille, so attention to small details that makes life easier should be taken into account, like talking directly to the blind person so that they know where you are and can interact. Tell them if you are moving away so that they are not standing talking to thin air.
Which establishments do you feel stand out in their service towards people with disabilities?
These days, there are so many establishments that have gone to the trouble to make significant changes.
Commodore hotel Cape Town did a staff training exercise with me to ensure they are aware of how to deal with guests in a professional manner without anyone being uncomfortable and scared they do the wrong thing to embarrass the guest or themselves.
Cango Wildlife Ranch Oudtshoorn has made changes to ensure that guests in wheelchairs get an excellent experience.
Table Mountain Aerial Cableway try their best to arrange special parking so that guests can get out of our adapted vehicle easily and safely.
And so many other places are trying to improve their services and awareness.
What should travel agents keep in mind when they are booking travel for people with disabilities?
Do not dictate to the guests, let them tell you what they want and do not presume anything.
Listen carefully and ask lots of questions. And remember that the One Size Fits All approach does not work in this niche market as each person’s disability is different and their interests are too.
How would you like to see accessible travel evolve in the future in Africa?
More training is needed from school level upwards in making people with a disability feel that they are part of life, not an unusual different entity.
Even though they are differently challenged, integration into society is a must. People still stare at people in wheelchairs and treat them like they are “stupid”, so education from a young age is needed!
Having said that, the future is bright and awareness is growing. People like the late Christopher Reeve, who still made movies from his wheelchair, made people realise that being disabled is not an obstacle and that disabled people have a great deal to offer society.
Acceptance is growing and businesses are trying in many instances to make this continent a better option for those with special needs.