Opening doors to the disabled



I HAVE BEEN wary of tackling the subject of disability for some time. I admit it, I was afraid of getting it wrong, using politically incorrect terminology or causing offence, and so, to my shame, I am only now starting to try and understand some of the real issues.

It would appear, however, that I am not alone, with many others working in tourism nervous of getting it wrong. And with over 100,000 people employed in accommodation and food services in Ireland, that’s a lot of people who are afraid to say, “Can I help you?”

There are a lot of myths around disabilities and tourism, according to a panel of speakers at last week’s World Travel Market in London. The panel made me realise that the tourism industry has not only failed millions of disabled people, but that it is also missing out on a potentially huge market. There are 12 million disabled people in the UK, over five million of whom are over state pension age.

Most accommodation websites offer information to families, walkers, cyclists, anglers and so on. If, however, you are blind, autistic, deaf, have arthritis or are a wheelchair user, then you’ll be surfing from dawn till dusk to find an Irish cottage online with all the details you need.

If you have a disability and go to, you have to go to the tab Plan your Visit, click on Facts for Visitors and then open a section marked Disabled Travellers. At this point you are told to write to the National Rehabilitation Board for a fact sheet.

According to Jenifer Littman, chief executive of Tourism for All (tourismforall., a UK charity dedicated to accessible tourism, “120 million people in Europe say they would travel more if they had facilities”. The problem is not the lack of facilities, says Craig Grimes, founder of Experience Community ( which makes accessibility videos of popular destinations in the UK, but in the lack of information available before booking.

For example, can you get there by public transport? How far is it from the car park to reception? Are there menus in Braille? Do you have full measurements of doorways? Is there a bath and/or shower? Are there single beds for carers? A proper fridge instead of minibar for storing medication?

Ross Calladine, accessibility manager at VisitEngland, says that the potential market for tourists with disabilities coming to England has been quantified at £2 billion (€2.3 billion).

The reality is that money often creates change, but some act because they see it as good customer service, such as leading hotel chains Scandic in Scandinavia ( and Thistle in the UK (, which have detailed descriptions/photos of their accessible facilities.

It is up to all of us working in tourism to provide the information people need to make their holidays memorable and accessible. Take a peek at VisitEngland (, a site which not only has good accessibility information for tourists, but also has excellent guidelines on how to create an access statement. Put “access” into its search box for a library full of resources.

I will start to get my own act together by putting this article on my blog, and link to any Irish tourism business doing more than the statutory minimum, such as Saoirse-ar-an-uisce, a fully accessible boat trip on the Grand Canal ( community/easysiteswp/saoirse-ar-an-uisce); Wheelyboats (, an accessible fishing boat in Waterford; the Galway Dive School (, which teaches diving to people with disabilities; or Loughrea Riding Centre in Co Galway, which offers riding breaks for disabled people (

Bet I can put the info on the web quicker than you can write, “Dear Sir, Please can you post me a factsheet . . .”