The Importance of Accessibility in Tourism

This guide to the current state of accessibility in tourism around the world offers facts, figures, key insights, and hope for the future.

By Amanda Winstead

Everyone deserves the chance to relax and go on vacation. The good news is that many destinations are evolving as time goes on, becoming more sustainable and accessible to visitors from all walks of life. Accessibility in tourism is important because it allows all people to feel like they are truly appreciated and welcomed wherever they go. Of course, some destinations are more ahead of the curve than others, and that is what we will talk about today.

If you are an individual with a disability, be it physical, sensory, or otherwise, we are here to tell you that there is a place out there where you can truly feel relaxed and entertained. Let’s talk about what accessible travel destinations may look like and some great vacation spots around the world that you can look into today.

The World Is Changing And It Is Good

You may have noticed that there is a change in the world. People are becoming more accepting of each other around the globe, and the excitement is palpable. This is especially important when it comes to accepting those with disabilities.

The fact is that 15% of the world’s population lives with some sort of disability, so the idea that businesses and destinations around the world are becoming more accessible is a no-brainer. In addition to doing what is right for our fellow human beings, companies around the world realize that they should modify their establishment to be more welcoming to those with disabilities so they can earn more money. Although it isn’t the noblest reason, their actions still make the world a better place.

This is why you will see that in 2023, you now have more options for where you travel and vacation without worrying about a lack of accessibility. Let’s talk a bit more about the hottest tourist locations for various lifestyles.

Accessible boardwalk with wheelchair ramps.
Harris Beach State Park, Brookings, Oregon. Accessible boardwalk created with wheelchair ramps.
Credit: JoeDuck
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Considerations For Wheelchair-Friendly Destinations

Of that large number of individuals with disabilities in the world, almost 2% of them require a wheelchair or some other form of assistance to get from point A to B. If you need a wheelchair or scooter, then you need to think about where you want to go and research the d estination to ensure that it is wheelchair accessible.

When it comes to this requirement, you need to research by looking at the company website or calling ahead of time to ensure that you will be able to do everything you want to do without limitations. To truly enjoy yourself, you will need:

  • Wheelchair or ramp access at all buildings that you plan to visit.
  • Wide enough doorways to allow you and your chair to get through.
  • Even and level flooring throughout the destination.
  • Elevators in buildings with more than one floor, including museums.
  • Accessible restrooms with large stalls, grab bars, and non-slip tiles.

Ask about all of those options and anything else you may require. If the destination doesn’t offer everything that you need, then they may be able to make accommodations.

Fun Wheelchair-Friendly Vacations

As we mentioned, many tourist destinations are becoming much more accessible and welcoming to folks in wheelchairs. Some of the wheelchair-friendly destinations include:

Disney World and Disneyland – Both of these awesome destinations have evolved by leaps and bounds over the years. Every building has wheelchair access, and in many cases, you may be allowed to skip the line to make things easier. If you ever need help, a team member is always there in an instant to assist.

Sydney, Australia – If you want to go international, then consider Sydney, where they have gone out of their way to ensure full accessibility. Even the ferries and taxis are wheelchair accessible. There are also many notable attractions that are easy to access, including the royal botanical gardens and the famous Opera bar.

Barcelona, Spain – Barcelona is famous for being a relatively flat city, so you can easily get from place to place without having to worry about a sudden bump or decline. On top of that, all buses and metro stations are accessible, and many tourist destinations will allow those in wheelchairs to get in at a reduced cost.

Seattle, Washington – Seattle is a really amazing city with something new to see around every corner. Recently, they updated their city’s rail system to make it completely ADA-compliant so you can get on and off with ease while touring the entire downtown area. All of the famous locations, from the space needle to the Pike Place Market, are wheelchair accessible, so you won’t miss a thing.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado – To prove just how much the world is changing when it comes to accessibility, you can also go camping with ease, even if you have a wheelchair or scooter. At the Rocky Mountain National Park, you can enjoy nature at the wheelchair-accessible campgrounds, and you can even hike through some of the trails due to the flat boardwalks. Many other campgrounds and national parks around the country are becoming more accessible over time, so you are bound to enjoy your time at many of them.

Accessibility in Tourism: Snow wheelchair with extra-wide inflated tires for travel on top of snow
Snow wheelchair with extra-wide inflated tires for travel on top of snow.
Credit: mediadeo
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Sensory Accessibility And Tourism

When you are on vacation, it is not always about what you do, but the sights and sounds that you experience when you are there. For that reason, it is also important that tourist destinations ensure that they make the necessary modifications to offer sensory accessibility. Around the globe, 2.2 billion people live with a sensory impairment. That can include blindness, low vision, deaf-blindness, sensory processing disorder, or anything in between.

If you know that you need to find an accessible vacation spot that you can visit without sacrificing your enjoyment, then call the location ahead of time. There can be a myriad of sensory accessibility features that you may need depending on your situation, including having access to audio guides, light and sound notifications, braille menus, pamphlets, and signage.

Accessibility for those with hearing loss may include having access to assisted listening devices, sign language interpreters, and captioning on phones and screens.

Sensory Considerations For Kids On The Autism Spectrum

Many families with children on the autism spectrum will face slightly different issues when it comes to the senses. It is not uncommon for those with autism to experience sensitivity when it comes to sounds, smells, sights, balance, as well as awareness of body position, movement, and internal body cues. Children with autism may also be hypo-sensitive, where they have difficulty recognizing sensations like pain and hunger.

A child who has sensory conditions may increase their movement, cover their eyes and ears, experience difficulty communicating, and more. Needless to say, it is important to research vacation spots ahead of time to ensure that they are accessible for you and your children if they have autism. Look for destinations that provide:

  • Special quiet spaces where people can go if they are feeling overloaded.
  • Extra security in case a child gets lost.
  • Employees that have extra training with autistic children.
  • Plenty of water activities
  • Transportation options that make it easy to get from place to place.
Wooden boardwalk leading up to accommodation in the forest
Accessible yurt in Pinery Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada.
Credit: cletch
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Awesome Destinations That Accommodate For Sensory Disabilities

Whether you have a child with autism or you require some sensory accessibility options to fully enjoy your time on vacation, you can find what you need at these autism-friendly destinations:

Great America Theme Parks – There are many Great America parks around the country, and the owners pride themselves on making these locations as accommodating as possible. The parks offer front-of-line passes to those who need them and tracking wristbands in case a child was to get lost.

HersheyPark in Hershey, Pennsylvania – If you love chocolate and thrilling rides, then you should stop by HersheyPark. It is great for those with sensory sensitivities because as you enter the park, you can fill out an accessibility questionnaire. Once you provide the answers, you will be supplied with a list of the attractions and rides that will cause the least amount of stress while still providing plenty of fun.

Legoland Florida – Kids love legos and using their imagination, and they can do both in the safest way possible when they visit Legoland. The owners of the park have partnered up with the group Autism Speaks to ensure that the entire park is autism-friendly. They have several quiet rooms, sensory-stimulating activities, and front-of-line passes for those that need them.

City of Madison, Wisconsin – The mayor and city council of Madison really care about being an autism-friendly location, and they proved it by hiring an autism expert. Because of their efforts, the city is home to many safe activities, including museums, parks, and art exhibits. It is a nice town, and you can get around without a lot of commotion or distractions.

City of Mesa, AZ – Similar to Madison, the awesome city of Mesa, AZ, also prides itself on being a safe haven for those who may have certain sensitivities. The area is home to several water parks, recreational areas, yoga studios, escape rooms, and more, and they all are sensitive to each visitor’s needs. If necessary, you can also visit some of the local Certified Autism Centers to find the peace you need.

Key Takeaways around Accessibility in Tourism

The world is becoming more accessible day by day, and that means that you can expand your list of possible tourist spots for your next big vacation. Remember to do your research and consider some of these great destinations and make it a year to remember.

For further reading, please visit: https://www.unwto.org/accessibility


About the Author

Amanda Winstead is a writer focusing on many topics including technology and digital marketing. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.