When planning a vacation, do you ever take into consideration the width of the doorways or how many steps lead to your hotel of choice? Do you ever give thought to whether the elevator has audio announcements for each floor or if the fire alarm is both an audio and visual device?

Chances are, the most you consider when planning that long-awaited break from work is the weather at your destination and the cost of getting there; but for many others, a yearly vacation takes much more preparation.

However, despite the preconceptions, persons with disabilities – whether they are mobility challenged, visual or hearing impaired – are independent contributors to society and many travel, even solo.?? Realising the importance of catering to this niche sector, the Ministry of Tourism and the Barbados Council for the Disabled (BCD) partnered to?? implement Fully Accessible Barbados (FAB), a programme which encourages tourism-focused properties, whether accommodation, attraction or restaurant, to cater to the needs of this thriving group. The site http://www.fullyaccessiblebarbados.com/, offers information on FAB accredited hotels, restaurants and sites on the island and serves as a valuable resource to persons with disabilities, both locally and abroad.

Maureen Bridgeman??

Tourism Development Officer, Maureen Bridgeman, explained: "Over the years, the Council for the Disabled has noticed that, more and more, they have been getting queries from the overseas visitors, in terms of accessibility… it got to be too much for the Council and they came to us for assistance."??

Speaking about FAB’s raison d’??tre, Ms. Bridgeman explained that "Fully Accessible Barbados is a programme developed by the Barbados Council for the Disabled and its main purpose is to raise the quantity and the quality of the services available to persons with disabilities… It encourages a barrier-free environment for all…including the aged, persons with disabilities, and mature customers," she observed.

The FAB programme, which encourages inclusive tourism, offers six levels of accreditation: Independent Wheelchair User; Wheelchair Assisted; Mobility Challenged; Blind and Visually Impaired (Category 1 and 2, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, NULL, NULL, 0); and Deaf or Hearing Impaired.?? While it would be ideal for properties to meet the standards for all, the Tourism Development Officer said, making the grade for any of the standards was a step in the right direction. She added that the Ministry, through the hosting of an inclusive tourism symposium in 2011, and sensitisation workshops for employees this year, continued its efforts to create an environment which was welcoming for all and encouraged visitors to return.

Highlighting how crucial it was for tourism’s various stakeholders to buy into the concept, Ms. Bridgeman further explained that property owners needed to acknowledge that accessible sites benefit everyone, not just disabled persons.?? She added: "I really would like them to see the importance of [accessibility] because globally there are over 650 million persons with disabilities…At least 55 million Americans are disabled and they earn annually in excess of one trillion dollars and at least 85 per cent of them have the economic and the physical ability to travel… We would like the matter to be taken seriously here in Barbados," she stressed.

Rose-Anna Tudor

Although the FAB collaboration between the Ministry and the BCD began in 2009, with the accreditation of the first 16 properties, the latter agency officially started the endeavour years before.?? Operations Manager with the Council, Rose-Anna Tudor, explained that FAB, now a BCD team project, "was launched in 2005…What was conceptualised is a programme to accredit those properties and facilities that provide accessible services for all persons…," she said.??Ms. Tudor explained that the BCD, as the major organisation representing disability issues, was a key resource for disabled travellers, and it was through this contact that the decision was taken to combine the goals of the BCD with the needs of visitors to our shores.

Elaborating on the development of the project, Ms. Tudor stated that a tourism-driven economy such as ours had to "catch up with what was taking place internationally".?? She revealed that the road thus far had not been easy and convincing tourism stakeholders to make changes to their properties was not a simple task.?? However, she remarked, tourists with disabilities could not be ignored.

"We recognised that we were dealing with a tourism plant that was surrounded by a built environment…which does not lead to easy access…[and] we knew the cultural environment we faced, it is similar to many countries in the world,???? [where it is felt that] persons with disabilities do not have the same needs as the rest of society.?? This is being proven as a big misconception," she commented.

"In today’s globalised market, Barbados has to continue to seek to offer our guests the same quality service they are accustomed to in competitive countries.?? In order to keep abreast, [the tourism plant] must constantly upgrade their properties and services as well," she observed.

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