The Fully Accessible Barbados (FAB) programme, a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Tourism and the Barbados Council for the Disabled (BCD), has brought attention to an often forgotten niche of travellers – those with disabilities, who have proven that disability does not equal inability and that the activities of able-bodied persons, such as travel, are not off-limits.
Operations Manager with the BCD, Roseanna Tudor highlighted the fact that while there persons with disabilities face challenges while travelling, there are ways to simplify the process.
"A person who has limited or no mobility will definitely look at…minimum connecting flights…When they are on the island, [they will consider] accessible transport and hotel facilities; a blind visitor would check for facilities with unobstructed ease in the rooms…[and] Braille in the menus or on the rooms or at least raised numbers…
"[Deaf visitors would] inquire if the hotel has any interpreters or they would ask if the hotel has the telephone with the flashing light [to indicate a call]… When we go to assess a property, it is not only the access to enter the building, you have to make sure that the rooms are accessible, the restaurant and the public restrooms [too]," Ms. Tudor explained.
However, catering to those with special needs is not limited to physical provisions, as the service offered to the disabled guests by staff is just as vital.?? The BCD Operations Manager noted that even where a facility does not have ideal physical access, a welcoming attitude makes all the difference.??
This sentiment was supported by Administrative Officer with the BCD, Rose-Ann Foster-Vaughn, who knows firsthand about the challenges faced by disabled persons.?? However, the challenges she faces from cerebral palsy have not limited her achievements and her drive to be an advocate for the disabled.??
Supporting Ms. Tudor’s point, Mrs. Foster-Vaughn said that, when catering to disabled visitors and locals alike, mind set and the level of service were just as important as the physical plant.?? "When persons see a physical disability, [they assume] this has affected the person’s intellect… Another misconception is that we do not lead a normal life and do not aspire academically, or work wise, or in our personal lives – we do not want to get married, we do not want to have children, stuff like that.?? And, I am hoping that this [will become] a thing of the past," she said.
When asked about her most positive experience as a tourist, the Administrative Officer highlighted the Atlantis Hotel in the Bahamas, which she described as "out of this world".?? She explained that the hotel ensured that an accessible bus met her at the airport and she was also able to rent a motor scooter to travel throughout the hotel. The ease with which any of us could become disabled was reinforced during her stay, when one of the conference participants broke her leg and had to rent a scooter as well.?? "Temporary disability can befall us at any time," she warned.
Barbados features its own exemplars as well, Mrs. Foster Vaughn said, with facilities such as Accra Beach Hotel, Amaryllis Beach Resort, Hilton Barbados, Colony Club, Sheraton Mall, Grantley Adams International Airport, the Beach House restaurant and Brown Sugar Restaurant having achieved varying levels of access.???? This was not only a positive for disabled persons but for the properties as well, which could highlight their level of accessibility and apply it as a marketing tool.
"Most persons would get their information either on the internet or word of mouth," Ms. Tudor noted, adding that "persons with disabilities, when they have travelled and they had a good experience once, are going to spread the word throughout their community."
Stressing that creating an accessible environment was as easy as placing grab bars in the bathroom or providing ramp access, Ms. Tudor advised property owners who wished to make these amendments to seek guidance on how to change their plant, but also observed that some locations were unaware that they already offered some level of access.?? This, she believes, reinforced the need for awareness among industry stakeholders; an effort which the BCD continues to champion through collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism, the Barbados Tourism Authority and the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association.
Inclusive tourism, and catering to disabled persons, both locals and visitors, could be reduced to one simple question, Mrs. Foster-Vaughn said – can a disabled person access services and goods that are available to every citizen in Barbados or every able bodied visitor to these shores? The answer, she said, was no, which means there is still much work to be done.
She did add, however, that creating a better environment was also the job of the disabled community, noting that "people with disabilities have to take responsibility for certain things, as with anything in life… [they have to] help people to get past the ???cuh dear’ mentality and see you as a person that can be a productive citizen…That is the best part [of being an advocate], changing attitudes from a negative to a positive."