#TourismForAll: Exploring the accessibility challenge for aging and wheelchair passengers

2017-07-19 11:27 - Ishani Chetty
Post a comment 0

Cape Town - Travel accessibility is crucial to the travel sector as the number of individuals travelling has increased over the years and is set to keep increasing. 

While there have been recent movements towards improving accessibility in travel, it needs to be addressed on both a local and international level.

South Africa increased accessibility across the tourism sector for the lower income, youth, elderly and the disabled. The National Department of Tourism stated in 2016 that they would be focusing on making more of the South African tourists attractions more accessible. 

READ: 7 Ways Universal Accessibility will change in SA over the next 2 years 

CNN travel journalist, Richard Quest conducted a focus on whether travel is accessible for all. The focus was placed on elderly and wheelchair passengers.

Innovation in travel accessibility

In order to immerse himself within the realm of the elderly, Richard Quest 'travelled in time' and had a makeover in order to experience the life of the elderly.

Quest stated that we will reach a global population tipping point that requires more focus on accessibility for those that travel.

It is estimated that in 2050 both the US and China will have an elderly population – those being over the age of 60 years, at a total of one hundred million people. This drastic increase in the elderly population calls for a focus on accessibility catering to their needs when travelling.

(Photo: CNN)

International tourism companies such ‘Sea-Trip’ a Chinese based company that conducts tourism within the UK indicated that 20% of their tourist are the elderly.

The reason for an increase in travel among those over the age of 60 is due to their financial ability to afford travel. This is supported as Michael Hodin, a member of Global coalition on Aging states that, "70% of American income is held by people 60 and over".

Design meets experience 

Corgan Aviation Company has placed a focus on establishing architecture within aviation to cater to the demands of the elderly and universal accessibility in travelling – especially aviation. They are focusing on the building of airports with full inclusion of accessibility for all.

A new project has been started, focusing on providing architects with the experience of an elderly. A ‘gerontological–suit’ was designed in order to provide the wearer with the experience of an elderly person as it restricts movement and dexterity. This innovative movement provides designers with a real feel experience in order to aid with the design process. 

SEE: Lawsuit claims Uber discriminates against wheelchair riders

Jonathan Massey of Corgan Aviation states that airports that are currently being built need to last a minimum of 50 years.

Heathrow International airport has a mechanism to cater to people that require support by establishing a unit of 1000 individuals to provide help to travellers who require it. Their whole experience, from start to finish, is provided aid within the airport in order to ensure that their travel process is done smoothly. 

Wheelchair travel 

Wheelchair accessibility when travelling has been viewed as difficult by wheelchair users. Stefan Jason, a member of the Swedish wheelchair rugby team stated that travelling is difficult as management of the wheelchair is seen as "difficult" for aviation companies.

He elaborated that over a few occasions his wheelchair had taken a few days to arrive after flying or had come back damaged. It is clear that on an international front this needs to be addressed. 

SEE: Japan carrier forces wheelchair-bound man to crawl onto plane

There are also international regulations in place as each aviation company is regulated to carry only a specific number of wheelchairs, making the travel opportunities limited for those who use a wheelchair. 

Local management of travel accessibility

Local airlines such as South African Airways and Mango have put certain measures in place to provide travellers with mobility and wheelchair support when they travel. Although this support is provided there are certain restraints to the accessibility of travel for those who use wheelchairs. 

Prior to travel, Mango airlines requires that one inform the airline for the need of support and to state if you are a wheelchair user. Another restraint of accessibility is that Mango airlines is only allowed to carry 3 wheelchairs on board according to regulations.

ALSO SEE: uberASSIST to help Cape Town's special access needs riders get going

With regards to battery operated mechanisms in wheelchairs, they have to be checked in according to IATA airline regulation due to spillable batteries. If the wheelchair is more than 32kg’s Mango airlines may not transport it on the aircraft and users are advised to arrange shipping transport of their own.

SAA provides a clear protocol to provide aid with mobility, wheelchair users and the elderly. The provisions that are put in place are highly organised, making it easier for a wheelchair user to travel. There is an on-board wheelchair to help users to the bathroom and back to their seat. There are provisions that are put in place for blind and deaf travellers with the aid of braille information cards and on screen videos. 

Tour Companies increase accessibility

The Flaming Tours Company in South Africa has been a leading role player in the tourism market for the support and provisions for those that are disabled. They won the 2016 award for Best Tour Operator for individuals with disabilities in the Western Cape and nationally.

Flaming Tours Company specialise in accessibility for wheelchair users and those who have lost their sight, proving that strides are being made within the tourism market to ensure that everyone is able to experience and enjoy travel. 

The international world of travel is moving towards inclusivity for all, and with the National Department of Tourism's plans to increase accessibility, improving local travel for all is a requirement. 

There is also hope that international improvements with accessibility will transcend into the South African Tourism market in order to ensure that aviation transport and airports increase their accessibility for all travellers.

What to read next on Traveller24

- Rising Temperatures spell plane take- off woes

- Airbnb: The good and the bad 

Big cats worldwide threatened by SA lion bone trade