Multiple benefits of accessible tourism
by Peter Tan. Posted on October 5, 2013, Saturday
TRAVELLING is a passion I reacquired after realising that it is an activity wheelchair users can still do, albeit with difficulty. For the past few years, I have been fortunate to be able to visit almost all the states in Malaysia either for work or leisure.
I like how my senses are stimulated by the rich potpourri of sights, sounds and savouries of the places that I visit. Each city and each town has its own unique character. Indeed, ours is a country blessed with attractions that cannot be found anywhere else.
The charms aside, a majority of these attractions are beset with physical obstacles that diminished the enjoyment of my adventures. I had to grapple with one barrier after another while moving from one place to the next. It is obvious that the authorities and managers of tourist locations are ignorant of the needs of disabled travellers.
Accessible tourism is a term that describes transportation, accommodation and tourist destinations that support the access and mobility needs of disabled persons, senior citizens and families travelling with children in strollers. In Malaysia, this form of tourism is not even at its infancy stage and a reflection of the sad state of accessible infrastructure in the country.
One of the main concerns when I travel is the availability of facilities that I can use safely and conveniently, especially at hotels where I will be putting up for the night. According to the minimum requirements for star rating of hotels issued by the Ministry of Tourism, all hotels with star ratings should have at least one room with facilities for disabled persons and an accessible public toilet in the common area.
Imagine how flabbergasted I was when I found out that the four-star rated hotel that I stayed in recently neither had an accessible room, although I had specifically requested for it, nor a public toilet in the premises that I could use. As my wife was with me, the non-accessible room that we had did not pose a major issue.
The entrance to the coffee house only had steps and no ramp. The manager kindly suggested that they could carry me up the three steps which I politely declined as wheelchairs are not built to be carried like a sedan chair. In the end, we settled on setting up a table for me at the lounge beside the coffee house. It was an odd sight but I wanted to make a point with regards to the lack of facilities for disabled guests at the hotel.
However, the lack of an accessible toilet in the public area was a potential problem. I was there to conduct a one-day Disability Equality Training workshop and had to request for extended check-out so that I could have a place with some privacy while emptying my bladder in between sessions. The hotel management is definitely going to hear from me, which I see as a great opportunity to get them to improve their facilities. These are common issues that I face at other hotels too.
Every now and then, I receive emails from overseas enquiring about ground arrangements and places of interest for wheelchair users. Most of the time, I would share with them that, based on my own experience, they will face significant challenges moving around even in the major cities but a doable endeavour nonetheless. There is so much Malaysia as a tourist destination can offer but it is so frustrating for me to be the harbinger of negative news to potential visitors.
Tourism is the second largest source of foreign currency earnings and the seventh largest contributor to the national economy. Tourism Malaysia reported that there were 25.03 million tourist arrivals generating receipts of RM60.6 billion last year.
As Malaysia looks to expand the industry in the coming years, accessible tourism should be developed and capitalised on. As it is still relatively a niche market in this region, there is great potential in getting a head start in making our destinations barrier-free.
This will certainly attract tourists from developed countries where this segment of tourism is in demand, evident from the increasing number of organisations providing information and services of this nature.
The multiplier effect from accessible tourism can dramatically improve the lives of disabled persons in the local communities. The provision of more accessible facilities for tourism purposes will also benefit them and allow them to realise active participation in society.
At the same time, this development will spur the domestic tourism industry as well. Disabled persons and senior citizens usually travel with companions or family members. We do not travel as much as we would like due to the many problems that we face from accommodation to mobility. If these issues can be significantly reduced, we will undeniably travel more often to enjoy the best our country has to offer.
Accessible tourism is a win-win situation for all parties concerned. The economy profits from the influx of foreign currency. The tourism and hospitality industry has another segment to tap into. Disabled persons benefit from the greatly improved infrastructure. This is food for thought for the government and industry players.
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I broke my neck twenty nine years ago today. Life is looking bright on one aspect yet dim on another. After eight years working to make society inclusive, I have finally pulled it all together to establish a company that provides Disability Equality Training (DET). This is to give what I do an official and organised semblance. Peter Tan Training was registered with the Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM) on 30th August.
On the other hand, my serum creatinine has breached the 300 umol/L level at the beginning of the year and has been steadily creeping up the scale since. This is an indication the declining health of my kidneys. The nephrologists that I have been seeing at University of Malaya Medical Centre since the beginning of the year have encouraged me to go for a dialysis orientation to prepare me for the eventuality. There is not much I can do on my part except to continue with my low-protein diet and intermittent catheterisation.
Life must go on nonetheless. I foresee conducting more travelling around the country to conduct DET workshops. There is a great need to sensitise the Malaysian public on the need to break attitudinal and environmental barriers and ensure that everyone can achieve equal participation in society. And I must say that I am enjoying it, especially when the participants realise that the problems faced by disabled persons are manmade and that there are multiple solutions to solving it.
Here is a toast to surviving spinal cord injury for twenty nine years. I had never expected to live this long and do the things that I am doing now. It had not been an easy journey but I made it anyway. I am thankful for all the good things that have been coming my way. The bad ones taught me to be wiser and stronger. What more can I say? Life has been good of late and I am truly grateful to be still alive and able to do what I love.
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Air travel tips for wheelchair users
by Peter Tan. Posted on September 28, 2013, Saturday
SPECIFIC FUNCTION: Aircraft boarding chairs enable persons with mobility impairments to get in and out of an aeroplane.
AIR travel has made the world smaller. Journeys between continents in the present day can be accomplished in a matter of hours instead of days or weeks. Now more than ever, we travel for a variety of purposes, from leisure and business to education and medical treatment. This mode of transport is no longer a luxury but a necessity that is convenient and saves time.
Despite the advances of modern air travel, it can still be a daunting experience for wheelchair users, especially when there are horror stories of passengers with mobility impairments being barred from boarding or wheelchairs coming out from the cargo hold damaged beyond repair. These traumatising incidences can be reduced by observing some simple guidelines.
As a general rule of thumb, full-service airlines are better at supporting passengers requiring assistance. Nonetheless, low cost airlines are bound to provide a basic level of service to accommodate disabled passengers as well.
The airlines must be informed of assistance and equipment required at the time of making reservations and whether one can transfer to the aircraft seat independently or require additional support. Most aisle seats except for the front row have lift-up armrests. These allow for easier transfer to the seat and can be reserved at the time of booking.
Some airlines have strict policies that require disabled passengers to occupy window seats only in single aisle aircraft. This is apparently to ensure that they are not in the way to allow for the quick evacuation of other passengers in the event of an emergency.
For long distance flights of more than four hours, it is advisable to request for an aisle chair to be available in the cabin to get to the toilet. Certain larger aircraft have privacy curtains beside the aft toilet for this purpose if the toilet itself is not accessible. This request should be made known at the time of reservation and noted down in the system so that the service staff are aware of the needs and make the necessary arrangements accordingly.
It is recommended to arrive early at the airport. Passengers must check-in two hours before departure for international flights and one hour for domestic flights. During busy periods, it may take longer to check-in and go through immigration. Time allowance should be made for using the toilet before getting into the aircraft. Wheelchair users are always first to board and this should also be taken into account.
There are counters that passengers can approach for additional support after checking in. The staff at these counters provide wheelchair loans and complimentary ground assistance right up to the aircraft seat. Wheelchair users can request to remain in their own manual wheelchairs up to the aircraft door and then transfer to an aircraft boarding chair to get into the cabin rather than transfer to an airline wheelchair when checking in.
All detachable and removable parts like armrests and the cushion must be fastened or detached and taken into the cabin if possible. The wheelchair should be affixed with a ‘Deliver At Aircraft’ and ‘Fragile – Handle with Care’ tags to caution the baggage handlers to practise utmost care when stowing the equipment and deliver it to the aircraft door upon arrival. Otherwise, the wheelchair can only be collected at the baggage claim area.
All motorised wheelchairs must be checked-in together with the luggage although they are not included as part of the luggage weight allowance. As a matter of safety, airlines may require liquid-filled batteries to be disassembled and stowed separately to prevent leakages. It will be helpful to have the proper tools and disassembly instructions handy for this task.
The aircraft of full service airlines are usually docked to boarding bridges for seamless embarkation and disembarkation. On the other hand, low cost carriers require passengers to go across the tarmac and climb up boarding stairs to get into the aircraft.
Passengers who are unable to climb up the stairs may request for a boarding lift (also known as an ambulift) if the facility is available. Where it is not, passengers have to be carried up to the aircraft by the ground crew. In such cases, passengers must be aware of the risks of accidents no matter how well-trained the crew members are.
After settling down in the seat and before other passengers begin to board, a cabin crew member will usually inform disabled passengers that they will be the last to disembark upon arrival of the destination. At the same time, the cabin crew can be gently reminded of the possible need for assistance to get to the toilet at specific times during the flight. It must be noted that the cabin crew will not assist disabled passengers with personal tasks other than the passage to the toilet and back.
At the destination, the ground crew will bring an aircraft boarding chair and assist disabled passengers after the other passengers have disembarked. The wheelchair should be waiting right outside the aircraft door or on the tarmac by the boarding stairs.
That is a good time to check for damage. Ensure that the wheelchair tracks straight when being pushed. Any damage should be reported immediately to the ground crew and the airline. If there is any major damage resulting in the wheelchair being unusable, insist that the airline provide a loan wheelchair for temporary use pending repair or replacement.
A broken wheelchair will definitely be a bad start to a journey in a foreign land but this is something wheelchair users must anticipate and be prepared to face when travelling. A little bit of planning beforehand and awareness of the procedures practised by the various airlines can reduce anxiety and make a difference in making the journey more pleasant.
Comments can reach the writer via firstname.lastname@example.org.