Millions of dollars in tourism revenue are being lost on a yearly basis simply because we fail to recognise the true spending capacity of disabled persons and by extension to provide the requisite access.

This assertion has come from President of the Barbados Council for the Disabled David "Joey" Harper, who has lauded the Management of the Harrison’s Cave for taking a step in that direction.

Speaking at a ceremony to mark the award of the Fully Accessible Barbados (FAB) accreditation to the St. Thomas-based tourist attraction this morning, Mr. Harper maintained that one of the most important things that could happen in a person’s life was to plan for a vacation, especially one overseas.

"This is exceedingly exciting – you want to see the sights and you want to be able to interact with the persons in the country that you are going to. It is unfortunate that we do not recognise the true potential, and the spending capacity, of the disabled community in our midst," he maintained.

Charging that many persons had the tendency to "overlook" the disabled, simply because they figured they don’t "need to worry about those people", Mr. Harper said as a result, a "significant part of the market", was being lost due to this insensitivity

"Do you know that the spend out of England by persons with disabilities is over ??1 Billion; the spend out of the United States is just over US $2.7 million and the spend out of Canada is just over CAN $2 billion?" Mr. Harper disclosed noting that this was partially because persons with disabilities often needed to have one, two or three persons in their travelling party to render assistance.

??"So if we can attract just 10 per cent of the potential market for the disabled, we would be doing an absolute remarkable job," he intimated.

Deeming Harrison’s Cave to be one of the greatest sights in Barbados, and a world attraction, the representative for the disabled maintained that this was why members of the disabled community would want to have the opportunity to fully access it.

On this score, while commending management of the facility for the work done to date, Mr. Harper stressed that there was more to be done. He highlighted, in particular, the need to have at least one person on staff who could do sign language, since disability did not only refer to blindness.

He also urged management to "listen" to members of the disabled community, by hosting focus groups to get the requisite feedback, as well as providing suggestion boxes specifically for disabled persons.

"We have to be sensitive, exceedingly sensitive?? in our community to those who are less fortunate or less able than ourselves…we must give the disabled community, not a chance or an opportunity, but a right – their right to be a part of the community they have emerged from."

Mr. Harper made it clear that the Council was on a mission to ensure that all persons with disabilities were given equal opportunities in the country of their birth.

In remarks read on his behalf by Chief Executive Officer of Harrison’s Cave, Joe-Ann Grant, Minister of the Environment, Dr. Denis Lowe said allowing access to the facilities by all persons was a "critical consideration in the design and layout of the newly redeveloped Harrison’s cave.

"From the?? provision of wheelchair tram units, through the use of many ramps to the easily accessible outdoor glass elevators; designated parking spots and washroom facilities for the disabled, all involved have sought to provide modern and accessible facilities," he said.

According to the Environment Minister, this has resulted in the Caves of Barbados Limited being recognised as accessible in the following categories – Wheelchair Assisted; Mobility Challenged; The Deaf and Blind and Visually Impaired (category 1).

He, however, cautioned: "Do not think that we are perfect, however, and indeed we appreciate the feedback you can give us as we seek to continue to improve on this wonderful treasure that is here for the enjoyment of all Barbadians and visitors."

Minister Lowe also pledged his Ministry’s commitment to work with the Council in an effort to make all of the Ministry’s facilities "fully accessible to persons with disabilities."

In delivering welcome remarks, the Cave’s Marketing Manager, Veronica Millington, maintained that throughout the planning and the development of the facilities, Caves of Barbados Limited remained committed to the provision of a facility that would be fully accessible to persons with a variety of disabilities.??

In this vein, its CEO Mrs. Grant stressed that while not all the necessary changes could be done at once, management would continue to work with the Council to incrementally implement all that was necessary to make the facility truly fully accessible in the near future.??

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