Picture this, a visually impaired visitor having the ???nightmarish??? experience of trying to navigate her way around a hotel in an elevator that does not have braille. How about room access keys without an indication as to which direction to insert them into the locks, or getting out on the wrong floor for breakfast.
Such was the experience of President of the Senate and the Barbados Council for the Disabled (BCD), Senator Kerry-ann Ifill, who recounted her nine-day stay at a hotel overseas, during the Ministry of Tourism???s and the BCD???s Fully Accessible Barbados Sensitivity and Sign Language Workshop. It was held at Radisson Aquatica Resort recently.
She said: ???It was a blind person???s nightmare. Accessibility was a far cry beyond what you can imagine. It wasn???t that there were no ramps??? there were [some]. It wasn???t that there were no elevators???there were. It wasn???t even that there was nothing to help you get around; none of the above was the problem. The problems were in executing the design of the building [which] was truly a marvel to behold. However, elevators had no braille. Actually there were all touch button. So, there was nothing to press to let you know that you had selected the right floor.???
Senator Ifill further stated: ???Little plastic keys were given to you with nothing to differentiate which direction to put them in. Corridors had no braille next to rooms, so frequently you could find yourself trying to get into the gentleman???s room next door. Frequently, I arrived on one floor hoping to get breakfast only to realise that breakfast was still another distant dream, as I was on the wrong floor.???
Inspite of these challenges, what made her stay tolerable, she said, was the attitude of hotel staff that readily assisted when necessary.
???When I called downstairs and asked for breakfast to be brought to the room there were no problems. When I asked what was on the menu today, no one said, ???There is a menu in your room, take a look.??? When I exited the elevator someone came out and said, ???Ma???am can I assist you???? When I arrived in the restaurant, the waitresses would say, ???Your knife and fork are right here???Your glass is to the right. It???s in the 9 o???clock position. At the front desk, the staff there would ask, ???Is there is anything that we can do madam to make your stay more comfortable??????? Senator Ifill recalled.
The BCD President also praised housekeeping staff for leaving her personal effects the way they had been laid out when cleaning the room.
She said this demonstrated that the hotel staff understood the importance of inclusive tourism and making her stay more tolerable by displaying the right attitude.
???Attitude will always be the biggest barrier to the successful integration of persons with disabilities. It would have been nice to have the braille in the elevators. ???It would have been lovely to have the room keys more accessible. I walk with stickers to put on mine so I always know where to go. It would have been great if the rooms had numbers in braille???I listened and l learnt the cues, so that the first and second time I missed my breakfast floors were the last times I missed my breakfast,??? Senator Ifill underlined.
She urged the participants attending the workshop to recognise that it was their responsibility to paint the visual picture about an attraction and allow people with disabilities to touch, feel and create their own pictures of its appearance.
???Those are the experiences that would make Harrison???s Cave and other things memorable for your visitor. They are not begging you for a favour??? they are asking you to help them to reach their right, their hope, their opportunity to have the dream, the vision, [and] the vacation that is just beyond their imagination,??? Senator Ifill emphasised.
Meanwhile, Acting Tourism Development Officer, Maureen Bridgeman, who gave an overview of the programme, said that disabled adults travelling across the world, spent US $13.6 billion annually on their vacation.
Although Barbados received a small portion of this visitor population, Ms. Bridgeman said the FAB Programme, was a collaborative effort between the Ministry and the BCD, to ensure that the needs of the disabled were adequately met.
She said 15 hotels currently had FAB plaques displayed on their properties and work was ongoing to include attractions and other tourism entities in the programme.
Ms. Bridgeman added: ???In our further efforts to accommodate our disabled visitors, I appeal to those hotels with beach-front access, to invest in beach wheelchairs which would allow disabled visitors to experience their first real sea bath.???
While tourism remains the island???s main engine of economic growth, persons with disabilities represent a large and growing tourist market worldwide ??? a market which the island must to tap into by offering improved access for this group of travelers.