The observance of International Day of Disabled Persons – celebrated annually on December 3 – was first announced in 1992, by the United Nations General Assembly with two aims: Firstly – to promote an understanding of disability issues and gain support for the dignity, rights and well-being of people with disabilities. Secondly – to increase awareness of benefits that could be derived from the integration of disabled people in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.
Over a billion people, or around 15% of the world’s population, have some form of disability, a rate that is on the rise due to an increase in chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart diseases or mental health conditions which can influence the nature and prevalence of disability.
One institution making strides to recognise and address this very need is The IIE School of Hospitality and Service Management (IIE HSM) which include disability awareness and inclusion training in its curriculum.
Says Etresia Booysen, one of the senior lecturers at the school’s Johannesburg campus: “There is a dedicated chapter in our food and beverage management module that addresses how to interact with diverse individuals at a service level and includes guidance on accommodating people with disabilities. Training staff in the tourism industry to be aware of the needs of travellers with disabilities is crucial. This includes understanding how to assist, communicate, and provide necessary accommodations.”
But what is the local tourism industry currently doing to ensure its facilities and services are easily accessible for disabled guests?
Says Booysen: “Improving accessibility and making tourism more disability-friendly is a global trend and many destinations, including South Africa, are working towards creating inclusive environments for all travellers.
“Hotels, lodges, B&Bs and guest houses are continually working to provide rooms and facilities that include features such as ramps, wider doorways and accessible bathrooms, and efforts are also being undertaken to make transportation more disabled-friendly including vehicles for tours, airports with proper facilities and public transportation systems that accommodate people with mobility challenges.”
And it’s not only those that have mobility challenges that must be catered for says Booysen.
“Tourism boards and businesses are working to ensure that information about their services is available to everyone, including providing information in multiple formats, such as braille, large print, and online resources that are compatible with screen readers.”
While a significant amount of progress has been made in making hospitality more accessible, there are still several areas that require attention and improvement to ensure inclusivity for everyone.
“Many hospitality establishments, including hotels, restaurants and attractions need to invest in infrastructure changes to enhance accessibility, such as ramps, elevators and restrooms appropriately designed with the disabled in mind.
“In addition, staff members must be adequately trained to assist guests with diverse needs, understanding how to communicate effectively, aid when necessary, and be aware of various disabilities and their unique requirements. With the increasing reliance on digital platforms for reservations and information, it’s essential to ensure that websites, apps, and online booking systems are compatible with screen readers, easy to navigate and the available in alternative formats.”
Concludes Booysen: “Disabled-friendly accommodation and other tourist infrastructures staffed with a well-trained team will certainly make guests with disabilities feel more welcoming, more safe, more comfortable and more likely to return.”