Accessible Tourism and the 2030 Development Agenda

Posted by Candace Cable in Life After Paralysis on June 20, 2016

I had the opportunity to address an audience at the United Nations during the conference of the states parties on the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. My topic was how accessible tourism can impact the new sustainable development goals for 2030. This is what I had to say. “People mistakenly don’t look to travel and tourism as a strong catalyst of social change, access and inclusion, But it is.Travel and tourism is often viewed as aimless, irrelevant, and a luxury when it comes to the providing the necessities for our lives to be lived. But studies show that leisure activities are just as important to well round lives as work and service.

I think of the Sustainable Development Goals, SDG’s as this dense and heavy cake full of all the ingredients to create a sustainable life and it’s quite satisfying just the way it is, but it’s not complete. Travel and tourism are the frosting that’s necessary for the SDG cake to create delicious lives.

I grew up as a non-disabled kid in family that enjoyed traveling to explore local landmarks; my parents said were going on adventures! These adventures were fun, they expanded my perceptions of life, I met new people, ate new food, played in new environments, I was truly filled with wonder from these adventures. I returned home excited full of possibility, energized, changed, ready to share and apply my new knowledge to my life, I looked forward to the next adventure.

I then acquired a SCI in 1975 and began riding a wheelchair for mobility. I imagined my adventure days were gone, but I was mistaken, they were truly just beginning. The world around me didn’t want my wheelchair to go anywhere. Just out my door scaling curbs to reach a sidewalk required the skills of a mountain climber. I was so scared of these adventures I became frightened that I would spend my life isolated indoors. Until I became involved in adapted sports and we traveled for competitions.

I realized that traveling in my wheelchair would create the access and inclusion I desired because people would SEE ME and that would demand that they think about my needs, if ever so briefly and they would see the problems people with disabilities have just being in the world. People with disabilities have to be seen for access to happen and I view tourism as the ultimate inclusion quit spread over the applications of the SDG’s.

I see four areas that must be addressed for the ultimate, all people included, no one left behind constructs of the SDG’s. All of these enhance accessible tourism.

We, people with disabilities have a responsibility to teach non-disable people what they need to know about what we need. People don’t know what they don’t know. This is why Understanding Disability courses that cover all aspects of all disabilities, proper etiquette, language and best practices when connecting with people with disabilities are the critical step toward inclusion. These trainings create empathy, break down stigma, unconscious bias, myths and fears. I teach these training and every single time, and I don’t often use definitive statements, every single time the participants are changed in such a way they understand that the access and changes they are making are not just for people with disabilities, the changes are for themselves too.

The second must is, Universal Design principles must be the only way we build, redesign or remodel anything. Universal Design principles are equitable, Simple and Intuitive, they communicates necessary information effectively, easily, they require low physical effort to navigate and they offer appropriate size and space for real person use. I would add it should be made pleasing to the eye and body.

I experienced a beautiful remodel on 400-year-old set of granite steps that transformed into a lift upon demand. 1000’s of passers by would never know these stairs could transform this way; they just looked like granite steps. It’s possible to remodel ancient architecture with out changing the integrity of the original structure by using innovation, creativity and adaptation, something people with disabilities must employ every hour of every day and night.

Third we must create data that shows people with disabilities are real travelers, they spend money and need services. I work with the Open Doors Organization whose mission is to create unbiased and equitable travel experiences for people with disabilities. They saw the gap in disabled and aging travelers marketing studies and now 3 studies, the most recent in 2015 Open Doors study states, In 2013-14 26 million travelers with disabilities have taken a total of 73 million trips and spent 34.6 billion dollars.

And finally, the most important people with disabilities must be included in all aspects of the fulfillment of the SDG’s, Nothing with Out Us is the direction, so that we all can truly enjoy this delicious adventure of living.”

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.