The way we travel is changing – just like tourism is. And this not only has to do with ecological sustainability but also with the needs of an ageing society: travel offers must be designed in line with the needs of people with impairments – say Thomas Corinth and Professor Dr. Felix M. Kempf, publishers of the book “Barrier-free Tourism” in this interview. The REHACARE 2023 trade fair will be showcasing the complete spectrum assistive technologies for people with disabilities from 13 to 16 September 2023 – also in terms of carefree travelling.
What challenges do people with impairments face when embarking on journeys?
Kempf: There is no single answer to this question because everyone has their specific requirements. It depends, for instance, on whether you suffer from a visual impairment, use a wheelchair or walker. Accessibility can only exist in relation to the individual.
Corinth: This is also why it’s practically impossible to certify tourist offerings for the disabled as intended by the Projekt “Reisen für Alle” (Travelling for All). This is not met with acceptance because hotels, for example, do not see the commercial benefit of such certifications. How are they to involve all groups? In reverse, what this basically means is the disabled have to take a close look at the hotel they want to spend their holidays at. How big are the toilet facilities, do the hotel bathrooms have walk-in showers? In some places accessibility also comes up against natural, in-built limitations: getting around an old town, for example, will by nature mean having to factor in bumpy cobblestone streets.
What is the alternative to symbols and certificates?
Corinth: Participation is made possible by the positive, open-minded interaction with the disabled. In Germany, we still have to practice this interaction with each other. This is the only way to learn what these guests really want and need. For tourism providers the following applies: they should ask what guests with an impairment really need for a carefree trip. In other countries such as Italy, Portugal, Israel, the Netherlands, or also the USA, these people are more visible than here. The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities is applied there differently to here, you could even say those countries are “disabled-friendly”. In the USA this also has to do with the country’s history, because there are more people who suffer from the consequences of war living there than in our country. Obese people probably also count among those with an impairment – according to statistics their number stands at 10% - 15% worldwide, whereas the in the USA the US Department for Health and Human Services counted over 25% in 2020.
How can people with impairments prepare for their trip?
Kempf: The best thing is to study whether the needs of residents with disabilities are understood in the country they wish to visit. Let’s take the tactile floor guiding system for people with visual impairments: it was invented in Japan, and therefore it can be assumed that this country is especially aware of this topic. We should never forget that we are all confronted with barriers when travelling: a foreign language and culture or unfamiliar food. Dealing with these, hence, is part of our recovery. There are studies saying that travelling is perceived as extension of time: we experience the world anew again, like a child. Speaking of children: parents who spend their holiday with children who need a stroller, also have to overcome obstacles – similar to persons in a wheelchair.
How should barrier-free travelling develop in future?
Corinth: It is society’s job to adapt to people with impairments. For one thing, 80-year-olds will make up the largest group in our population in a few years’ time. And for another, of course, taking people with impairments more into account already pays off today.
Kempf: Appropriate travel offerings that are as barrier-free as possible should be developed gradually in holiday regions. In the Lower Rhine, for instance, we have coordinated a project – whereby visitors are given service bells to ensure they are assisted when unable to enter retail stores by themselves.
The interview was conducted by Natascha Plankermann, journalist specialised in health and medical subjects
Info REHACARE 2023
“Self-determined Living” is the motto of the REHACARE 2023 trade fair: from 14 to 17 September 2023 a unique community of people with disabilities, their families, carers and supports as well as companies who have adapted to the needs of these persons will meet in Düsseldorf. REHACARE provides an international platform for networking with experts as well as like-minded people. There are numerous possibilities to make new contacts and learn about current developments and trends. These include both digital and analogue mobility solutions, aids and care and therapy offers but also sports and leisure activities.