Great Communication Makes Accessibility Possible

Great Communication Makes Accessibility Possible

A guide to ensuring your guests experience stellar accessible tourism

Creating an experience that only impresses at best 80 percent of your guests doesn't sound appealing, does it? Travellers with disabilities are a growing demographic so we spoke with Leesa-Marie White, a longtime friend of WOOF Media, an independent wheelchair user and frequent traveller. She gave us some of her insights into how you can make accessible tourism go beyond 'access' and into the impressive brand experience that you want all your guests to have.

Leesa-Marie White
Leesa-Marie White

For accommodation providers

Leesa's advice: Lots of photos

In the trip planning stage, a guest with a disability is seeking a lot of extra detail to make sure your property is suitable. For instance, Leesa describes booking an accessible room in Perth but on arrival, discovered there wasn't enough space beside the bed to transfer from her wheelchair into the bed. The answer?

"Lots of photos on your website," Leesa advises.

"For example, I check to see if there's at least one metre of space besides the bed."

As a safety precaution, Leesa also closely reviews any photos of the bathroom to ensure there are railings and a shower chair.

If you have a booking from a guest with disabilities, a phone call the day prior to check-in goes a long way.

"The Ibis Hotel in Adelaide always calls and asks for the time of arrival, will you need help with your bags?" Leesa said.

"They simply ask 'what can we do to make your stay better?'"

Once onsite, the hotel's prior planning pays off. For instance, an employee will be tasked with ensuring Leesa receives breakfast each morning from the buffet, which is slightly too high for her to reach.

No wonder Leesa returns to the Ibis at least once a year.

For restaurant managers

Leesa's advice: Signs really help

If you don't have an accessible restaurant entrance but do have a convenient side door, there is no easy way for someone in a wheelchair to figure out if they can actually venture inside.

"If there are steps at your front door, we can't even ask your staff if there's a side door," Leesa says.

"So little signs help - to the toilet, to the side entrance."

Signage and/or staff communication is also important once inside. If no signage exists, make sure employees know where the nearest accessible bathrooms are and are proactive in mentioning it.

Employees also need to be mindful about space around the table when they seat a guest in a wheelchair.

"If you're in a back corner, once everyone else sits down at the table, you can't leave," Leesa describes.

For experiences and attractions

Leesa's advice: Review each moment of the experience through the eyes of a guest with disabilities

Leesa recounts the memory of visiting a zoo where buses to another section of the park leave every 15 minutes. Convenient for everyone - except those who have to wait for the accessible bus, which only passes through once per hour.

"This means you can miss a lot of the experience," Leesa cautions.

"In this situation, there needs to be more communication from staff so you can plan your day."

Leesa also mentions the importance of regularly reviewing pathways and tracks for damage, especially after weather events. Uneven surfaces, hills, and puddles are crucial pieces of information before someone with a wheelchair or cane can use a path. Alert staff and/or use signage if a section of your property sustains damage that could impact them. Additionally, hills and gravel surfaces are pieces of information which could be published on your website to alert visitors during trip planning.

Proactive assistance rules the day

What's the best way to ensure a seamless guest experience? Take inspiration from Paris.

During a trip to the City of Love, Leesa was surprised to discover that she could expect to be proactively assisted by employees wherever she went - at hotels, restaurants and attractions.

"A man with a little sign would pick us out of the crowd and come and take us to the front," she describes.

"What people need to understand is that someone with a disability might only have four good hours of energy for the day."

"If I spent two hours waiting in line, that only leaves two and then I'm out of energy for the day."

"So Paris was impeccable compared to other places."

Have you updated your facilities or service offering to better serve guests with disabilities? Send us your advice and recommendations for other operators.

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