MY SON, Braeden, is one of the 4.4 million Australians who live with a disability. As joint ambassadors for IDPwD, we are keen to bring awareness and improvements to the travel industry. As a family we love to travel and although we experience challenges, the opportunities it offers Braeden are priceless. Shared travel experiences are a great connector with strangers. Braeden being non-verbal becomes less problematic for people when they are sharing an experience such as a whale watching cruise with him. Shared enjoyment is a great ice breaker. His world becomes infinitely more inclusive when people have a conversation- starter and travel offers many such opportunities.
Innovation & transformation in travel
The innovation and transformation we’ve experienced in the tourism industry over the last 20+years is what has helped our family travel. It’s also what we need to see more of in the coming years to ensure more people living with disability can travel.
Accessibility is an important component of a holiday for travellers with a mobility restriction and for wheelchair users, but we need to look beyond physical access. An inclusive mindset and sense of community can ensure that no-one misses out. One of our family’s best travel memories comes from a holiday in Fiji. The country lacks much of the accessible infrastructure we have in Australia, but the inclusive nature of the Fijian people ensured Braeden was included in everything.
Innovation is often associated with technology and design but at times a simple solution is just as innovative. Our visit to EcoTrax in Fiji is a great example. We wanted to do the electric assisted bike ride, but we were unsure if Braeden could manage to sit on the bike’s bench comfortably for 23km. We commented to the staff ahead of time that we were concerned that Braeden’s disability would mean it was uncomfortable to ride for that long, with his feet dangling. When we arrived for our tour, we found the bike all set up with a purpose-built stool for Braeden’s comfort. Braeden had the time of his life on the tour, and we’ve never stopped talking about the fabulous day we had with EcoTrax. Inclusion and innovation come in many forms but being open to welcoming people of all abilities and asking how you can make their experience better is a great start. (Plus, word-of-mouth about these experiences travels far and wide – our experience is a case in point.)
Future transformation of the travel industry
The announcement by Annastacia Palaszczuk that 2023 is the ‘year of accessible tourism’ shows a commitment by the Queensland Government to creating a more accessible and inclusive state. We need the tourism industry to step up and provide information on accessibility, create solutions to existing barriers, and be open to educating staff by engaging with people with lived experience to provide training.
While some aspire to travel to space on Virgin’s Galactic, many people with a disability would be content to travel on a commercial airline with the comfort and dignity that they need. It’s as simple as knowing that there is a bathroom onboard they can access, and that their wheelchair will arrive at their destination undamaged – that’s hardly reaching for the stars!
I’ve been encouraged by the advances I’ve seen in Braeden’s lifetime, so I have no doubt that society can band together and make the transformative changes needed for our future. Travel is such a privilege and joy, shouldn’t everyone enjoy it?
If you are a travel business that offers good access or inclusion, I urge you to share a post on socials in honour of International Day of People with Disability.