Does the tourism industry lack support and information for people with disabilities? Kahla Preston investigates.
The first baby boomers reached retirement age in 2011, and for many of them travel is a top priority. The largest outbound sector in Australia, this is a generation of adventurers who don’t see age as an obstacle.
Yet research conducted in 2009 indicates that the boomers face a higher rate of disability than previous generations. It’s estimated up to 40% will retire with a disability.
In this story, Baby Zoomers reporter Kahla Preston meets two Australians – Peter Negri, director of Ozmates, and Simon Darcy, one of the creators of Sydney For All – who are passionate about making travel accessible for people with disabilities. They’re providing the kind of support and information they say is lacking in the tourism industry.
REPORTER: Sydney’s sunshine and harbour views are its most appealing features for many travellers. But for some, it’s all about the postcards.
(Peter Negri talking to tour member Liz about her postcards)
REPORTER: Liz is part of a tour from Melbourne to Port Stephens with OzMates, a specialist Company providing supported holidays for people with a range of disabilities. Today she’s joined by fellow travellers Steve and Veronica, along with OzMates carer Marlene, tour leader Lisa, and director Peter Negri.
PETER NEGRI (OZMATES DIRECTOR): OzMates was started by another guy, we’ve owned it for six years, my wife and I. In the last six years we’ve expanded significantly, we’ve gone from just having intellectual disabilities right through to now physical disabilities as well.
REPORTER: OzMates runs up to fifty trips per year, not including individual tours. Travellers can choose from a range of destinations in Australia and abroad.
PETER NEGRI: I wanted to take people away with a disability, didn’t matter what sort of disability, but to be able to offer them a holiday anywhere in Australia or overseas, at any time of the year. We’re a licensed travel agent and a fully registered, qualified tour company as well. So we can do anything, and go anywhere, that we want to do.
REPORTER: The last Bureau of Statistics survey indicated that almost one in five Australians have a disability. An increase is expected as the population grows and ages. Despite this figure, travelling with disability remains a challenge for many. The aim of OzMates is to provide disabled travellers with opportunities that may not be available to them otherwise.
PETER NEGRI: Our idea is that they should be able to do whatever you and I want to do. Just because they’ve got some kind of physical or intellectual disability doesn’t hold them back.
REPORTER: The effort is certainly appreciated by OzMates’ clients.
PETER NEGRI: We have repeat clients, they come back over and over again, because we’re one of the few companies that can just do it. We don’t say no. We might get off the phone and go, “How are we going to do this?”, but then we do our research. You can always do it.
REPORTER: The idea of a tour doesn’t appeal to all travellers, however. Many people who develop disabilities, particularly those related to ageing, don’t necessarily view themselves as having a disability. It’s an attitude likely to be carried by the adventurous baby boomers as they reach retirement and head abroad.
SIMON DARCY (DIRECTOR, COSMOPOLITAN CIVIL SOCIETIES RESEARCH CENTRE, UTS): If you think of your own family, that’s your uncle that’s had a knee replacement, the aunty that’s had the hip replacement, somebody you’re speaking a little louder to… They don’t associate with disability, they don’t see themselves as having a disability, but they’ve definitely got disabilities and they require different forms of inclusion to make travel that little bit easier for them.
REPORTER: Simon Darcy is a leading researcher in the field of accessible tourism based at the University of Technology, Sydney. Simon has been a power wheelchair user since incurring a spinal injury in 1983. He says a lot of preparation and research is required for disabled travellers to have confidence their trip will run smoothly.
SIMON DARCY: You really just can’t rely on somebody saying, “it’s accessible”, because what’s accessible to me is not accessible to the next person. And even amongst wheelchair users, different people’s abilities mean they look for different things in the hotel rooms, in transport and accommodation, and then open space areas like this one. So you look for a baseline of information and then check, check and double check.
REPORTER: Simon was part of a steering committee that created Sydney For All, an online portal designed to provide information on accessible locations and activities in Sydney.
SIMON DARCY: What we did was to take a different approach, an innovative approach that said, ‘What are those really cool things that anyone would want to do when they come to Sydney?’, identify those experiences that are accessible, and collaboratively market and promote those. Everything as basic as getting on a ferry and going to Manly through to some things like the building we’re at now, Hyde Park’s Barracks Museum.
REPORTER: The information is targeted at four disability groups – those with mobility or cognitive disabilities, people who are deaf or have hearing impairment, and people with vision impairment or who are blind.
SIMON DARCY: You don’t have to accessible for all those groups, they’ve just got to be accessible for one of the groups and we clearly label that on the website.
REPORTER: Although initiatives like Sydney For All and OzMates help to make travel accessible for people with disabilities, there’s still some way to go. Peter Negri and Simon Darcy agree that changes to industry education and attitudes are vital steps in moving forward.
PETER NEGRI: There needs to be more education from the normal, run-of-the-mill travel agents and tour companies, so they understand what the clientele needs. We’re working on that in a big way, so we’re making a lot of inroads – we’ve got a lot of mainstream tour events and things like that to try and educate people.
SIMON DARCY: Most people with disability recognise that things aren’t going to be perfect. But want they want is somebody that’ll go, “Okay, but I think we can get maintenance up and we can take the hinge off the door and that’ll allow you to fit through. Then you’ll be able to enjoy that experience.”