The tourism industry is definitely on a rise thanks to the number of people taking more vacations every year. With the changing trend, youngsters are more keen to save up for a trip and see the world than save up for a house or car. The increase in spending capacity has surely benefited the tourism sector and it is only a while before it booms even more. World Tourism Day was essentially created to foster awareness in the international community of the importance of tourism and its social and economic impact. It is true that travel gives you certain life experiences that cannot be learnt on the job or in a classroom. However, not everyone is able to travel as much as they’d like to due to certain constraints. People who are disabled, senior citizens and even families with small children at times find it difficult to travel more often because there aren’t enough facilities for them. So, this year, the theme of World Tourism Day is: tourism for all, promoting universal accessibility. World Tourism Day is celebrated every year on September 27. Keeping in line with the theme, we have made a list of tourist destinations in the world that are disabled-friendly and most accessible for their convince.
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Why tourist places need to be more accessible
According to statistics, an estimated 650 million people in the world are disabled with females being a higher number than males. Some of the key problems that disabled people face on their travels include lack of accessible airport transfers, less or no wheelchair access, public restrooms that aren’t disabled-friendly, few bars and restaurants that are accessible for the disabled, hotel rooms that don’t have facilities for disabled people and lack of professional staff who can advise on matters related to accessibility. All these problems make it difficult for disabled people to have a good trip and explore a place to its fullest.
While many popular tourist destinations are making an effort to ensure that they have facilities that help make it easier for disabled people to travel, there is still a long way to go and awareness that there is a problem is one of the ways to ensure that things get fast-tracked at the earliest. If you are or know someone who is disabled, here are places that you can explore.
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One of the most visited cities in Spain is not just tourist-friendly but even disabled-friendly as it is one of the most accessible cities. The streets of Barcelona are not cobbled and pretty flat making it easy to move a wheelchair on them. The national tourism authority of Spain is all in for accessible tourism giving disabled people a chance to explore the city to their fullest. Many tourist places like the Sagrada Familia are free for the disabled and wheelchair users also get to jump queues. Not just the monuments, even beaches in Barcelona have wheelchair access and volunteers to help out disabled people. All the buses are wheelchair-accessible while 80 per cent of metro stations are disabled-friendly. Gran Hotel Torre Catalunya, H10 Barcelona Marina Hotel and Rafael Hotel Diagonal Port Barcelona are a few hotels that special rooms for the disabled. However, you book online, make sure you call them up and confirm that you want an accessible special room.
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If you’ve always wanted to visit Italy, plan a visit to Sicily as it is safe and disabled-friendly. The city offers everything Italy is known for such as its pizzas, pastas and other Italian delicacies as well as olive oil that they use in almost every dish from salads to mains. You can learn how to make olive oil too. The city is perfect for the blind and visually and motor-impaired as it has accessible tourism for them. If you love adventure, there is scuba diving and 4WD off-road driving and then there is Sicilian fishing too. Sicily holds the Guinness World Record for the first paraplegic to dive to 59m and the first blind woman to dive to 41m making it a fine place for disabled tourists. The city has Europe’s only sensorial botanic garden and a tactile museum too. Hotel Palazzo Zuppello, Eden Rivera and B&B Conte di Cavour are a few accommodation options where you can stay as they have disabled-friendly rooms.
While London maybe the hippest of destinations in the UK, Manchester is the cultural hub of Northern England. The city is not only known for Old Trafford and its football team but has other attractions to offer as well. Manchester’s public transport is accessible and its pavements are step-free, a boon for the disabled. The entry to shops, bars and restaurants are also step-free at most places which means you can enjoy its nightlife with ease. All these changes were made in the late ‘90s making Manchester a preferred tourist destination for disabled people. Visit the Museum of Science and Industry when here, shop at its high street and if you have more time on hand, drive down to Peak District National Park. It is only an hour away from Manchester and has facilities that are disabled-friendly. Stay Inn Hotel, Novotel Manchester Centre and Macdonald Manchester Luxury Hotel are a few of the options where you can stay as these have accessible rooms.
Singapore is one of the most tourist-friendly as well as accessible countries not just in Asia but the world. And the best part about this buzzing, global country is that it has been accessible since the past 20 years making travelling for visually and motor impaired people a breeze. Singapore is one of the most accessible countries for a reason: the public transport system is one of the best ways to move around town and has wheelchair access. Most of the buildings here have a stepless access or a kerb that makes it easier for the disabled. From zoos to monuments and high-rises, Singapore is simply perfect for all types of tourists with or without any disability. Some of its top attractions are the Universal Studios, Sentosa and Tiger Sky Tower. Shangri-La Hotel, Moevenpick Heritage Hotel Sentosa and Park Hotel Clarke Quay are some of the best properties in Singapore that also have disabled-friendly rooms.
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Another very accessible city in the world for disabled people is Melbourne in Australia. The city’s public transport is one of the best for the disabled and so is its city center. Melbourne is home to some of the best culinary experiences and many of its restaurants are wheelchair-friendly, making travel easier. The sightseeing attractions like the Great Ocean Road, Victoria Park and its zoos are also disabled-friendly. Most of the pubs, bars and eateries are along the Yarra River and for art lovers, there is the National Gallery of Victoria and the Arts Center Melbourne. Melbourne Cricket Ground is where both football and cricket matches are held. Olympics and the Commonwealth Games were also held here. Melbourne Marriott Hotel, The Westin Melbourne, Ibis Melbourne are few of the many hotels that offer rooms that are accessible for disabled people. Request for accessible rooms when you book your stay in any of these hotels.
Vienna has so many historical sites to offer, making it a charming European destination to explore. But Vienna is also perfect for the disabled thanks to its roads and streets that are not cobble-stoned and flat making it a smooth ride for people in wheelchairs. Vienna is also the musical heart of Europe and is home a number of museums and architectural marvels that should not be missed. Some of the most prominent ones are the Schonbrunn Palace, Leopold Museum and Austrian Parliament Building. These buildings are accessible so you don’t have to worry about getting around. Vienna also has elevators at metro stations and low-running trams that are easier to get into. Hotel Courtyard by Marriott, Hotel Grand Ferdinand and Hilton Vienna are a few accommodation options that are accessible with special rooms not just for wheelchair tourists but for others with special needs as well. The country is making serious efforts to make it as accessible as possible for such tourists. Most of its shops and cafes are completely accessible too.
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While many states in the US are accessible thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act that was passed 26 years ago, San Diego is a preferred choice for the disabled for its flat roads and completely accessible tram system. San Diego also boasts of a warm weather all year round so you don’t have to worry about carrying too many winter clothes along. One of the best destinations for beach lovers, San Diego boasts of beaches that are completely accessible, have beach wheelchairs including motorized ones. Do visit Mission Beach which is one of the best for the disabled. The beachfront promenade is also home to many cafes and pubs where you can grab a bite with a view of the ocean. Other sightseeing attractions include the Gaslamp Quarter and Balboa Park. Courtyard by Marriott San Diego, Roadway Inn and Best Western Seven Seas are some of the accommodation options that you can explore here.
Montreal in Canada is also a good option to explore and its accessibility makes it easier to do so. It has seven wheelchair accessible railway stations and wheelchair-friendly attractions as well including cathedrals, botanical gardens and a fine arts museum. Montreal Casino is the largest one in the whole of Canada where you can try your luck. If you prefer to be in sync with nature, visit La Fontaine Park which has lush greenery and two ponds. Montreal Planetarium is another attraction that should not be missed. For shopping, head to Montreal Eaton Centre where you will find a number of stores. Le Westin Montreal, InterContinental Montreal, Fairmount Queen Elizabeth and Hotel Brossard are a few hotels that offer accessible rooms.
One tourist destination that is a must-visit for any traveler with a disability is Sydney as it is one of the most accessible cities in the world. Right from its public transport to restaurants and major tourist attractions, Sydney has made most of them disabled-friendly. Even the ferries in Sydney offer a loading ramp and the taxis too are accessible. Sydney Opera House, Sydney Tower, Sydney Aquarium are its top tourist attractions and all are accessible. Also visit Port Jackson and Taronga Zoo when here. For a slice of Sydney’s culinary experience, head to any popular restaurant as most of them here are wheelchair-friendly. Even shops and several hotels have wheelchair facility. This makes travelling as a disabled person extremely easy in Sydney. BreakFree on George, Four Points by Sheraton, Amora Hotel Jamison and Hilton Hotel are a few of the many accommodation options you can consider for a stay when here.
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Dublin in Ireland with its castles and imposing cathedral is a destination on many tourists’ bucket list. The city is also easily accessible and so are most of its tourist attractions. Dublin is also flat in most parts making it easy for those using a wheelchair. Even shopping area and entertainment zones in the city are accessible in a wheelchair. Another point that makes it disabled-friendly is that the traffic lights are delayed and there is easy access transport. For a dose of Irish culture and heritage, head to the National Museum of Ireland and don’t miss the Dublin Zoo if you love animals. The Dublin Castle and St Patrick’s Cathedral are other sightseeing attractions that should not be missed. Parkland Hotel, the Regency Hotel and the Dublin City Center Hotel are good accommodation options that have disabled-friendly rooms. Request for assistance if required with pick-up and drop service from the airport.
Tips to keep in mind when traveling to a new place
Even though these destinations are accessible and disabled-friendly, it always helps to be prepared for any kind of emergency that can arise when you travel to a new place, especially if it is a foreign country. Here are a few tips that can come in handy:
Make sure you take travel insurance when going to a foreign country as medical cost is usually high and you wouldn’t want to spend your trip money in paying hospital bills. It is always better to carry your medication along with your doctor’s prescription. A first-aid kit can also come in handy in emergency situations.
It is also helpful if you know a few words of the local language spoken in the country you are visiting. Note down or learn phrases like ‘where to find wheelchair access’, your disability, how to ask for help, etc. These will help fasten the process. You can also carry a bilingual pocket dictionary along to help you communicate in their local language.
Before you visit the place, make a list of emergency numbers or disability organizations that can be contacted when in need. You can also ask your hotel staff for numbers of professionals or doctors they have on board who can come to your rescue if required. The numbers may change from one area or the other so make sure you note down at least one in each place you visit.
You may grab more attention being in a wheelchair in some countries so be mentally prepared of how you will react and handle such a situation. Since you are a visitor in their country, it is best to comply with their culture. However, if you feel you are being harassed, you can always lodge a complaint with the local police.
If your wheelchair gets damaged, look for bicycle shop that can fix it temporarily if not permanently. And if you use an electric wheelchair, carry a adapter and a converter as per the country you are visiting to plug it in.
Always make sure the hotel you are staying in knows you need a special room beforehand to avoid disappointment once you get there. Most hotels only have limited rooms that are accessible so make sure you book in advance as during peak season rooms get full pretty soon. Asking if they have a ramp in their premises is also advisable.
Even when booking your flight, request for wheelchair access so that you can jump queues and are given a comfortable seat on the plane. Request for assistance whenever required. Usually airlines provide staff assistance to take you from the terminal to the flight and back unless you request otherwise.
Always carry multiple copies of important documents along with you. While one can be in your suitcase, make sure you always have one set of copies wherever you go. If you are on medication, carry that along too. Always consult your doctor before your trip to be ready for any emergency situation.
Traveling to a new place is always exciting and if you plan it out well, there is no reason why you cannot have a memorable trip despite your disability.
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