How to … ensure you are accessible for disabled travellers

SAM_0173Carrie-Ann Lightley has been running Tourism for All’s information service, based in Kendal, since October 2005. She loves travel and working for Tourism for All UK is her dream job. TFA is an independent charity supporting leisure and tourism opportunities for all, operating an information service for older and disabled people - which is her main responsibility - and working with the industry and government to raise the standards of welcome to all guests. As a wheelchair user with a fondness for travel, she has empathy with others who may have experienced difficulty in finding suitable facilities and services.

It is now proved that the market for accessible tourism is a sizeable one. There are around 11 million disabled people in the UK with a combined spending power of £50 billion; there are also 10 million people over 65 in the UK. Since the Equality Act (which in October 2010 replaced the Disability Discrimination Acts of 1995 and 2005) has come into effect, it is no longer acceptable for a business to do nothing to make itself accessible to its customers. Being accessible is not about protection against the law, or even how to avoid problems, but about an opportunity to raise standards and to grow. Accessible and inclusive tourism is about making tourism possible for everyone – whether you are young, old, a mum pushing a buggy, a wheelchair user, a visually or hearing impaired person, a carer or someone recovering from an accident or an illness.

The following is a step-by-step guide to becoming an inclusive and accessible business.

1) An Access Statement

What is an Access Statement?

An Access Statement is a written, clear, accurate and above all honest description of your current facilities and the services you offer, to enable a potential visitor to make an informed decision as to whether your business meets their particular access needs.

From April 2007 it has been a requirement to prepare an Access Statement as part of your quality grading assessment. You will need to present an Access Statement annually to your quality assessor at the time of your quality assurance visit. During your assessment, the assessor will ask if you have prepared an Access Statement/information. If you haven't prepared anything, the assessor will highlight this in the deficiencies part of your report. The fact that you have this information to hand (available at reception and over
the telephone) can be advertised and means it will be available if requested by a disabled customer or their representative.

2) Make a self-assessment

We suggest that you might find a self-assessment a useful starting point.

Information can be found on the VisitEngland website about the National Accessible Scheme. Here you will find useful guidance about assessments, so that you are able to inform guests about what access is like at your establishment.

3) Get professional advice

An access audit, assessment or an advisory visit will help you decide what adjustments you need to make. Tourism for All offers an advisory visit. We also offer our members some free advice over the phone or by email. Joining Tourism for All is an inexpensive and effective way to get access to our advice, and to get the information out about your facilities to potential customers.

4) Have some training

There are a number of training courses available, including Welcome All, who has a network of trainers around the country, People First, and Tourism for All, whose online training course is available on their website, and is free to members.

5) Check if there is any funding available

It is possible that there may be a local source of funding for access improvements in certain areas of Britain.

6) Implement changes to policies, practices and adjustments to buildings

Create your own action plan, covering your planned changes to the physical environment, and to your policies and practices, including your information giving. Detail the costs incurred. You may like to consider the changes on different timescales, i.e. short term/immediate changes, second stage/medium term and long term/full realisation. Keeping a record could be crucial if you were ever challenged over the reasonableness of your response to the Equality Act 2010 (which replaced the Disability Discrimination Act).

7) Acquiring an access standard

Once your plans are in place, you can apply for a grading in the National Accessible Scheme. Originating as the Tourism for All standards, the scheme was overhauled and relaunched in 2002 and is now administered by VisitEngland. The scheme has a rating system which can show at a glance to would-be holidaymakers what accessible facilities to expect. Independent assessment means that there is a consistent standard, which is a useful way of giving a level of assurance to the customer.

8) Marketing your accessible business

  • Once you have spent time, effort and resources on improving your accessibility, make sure that your potential guests get to know about it!
  • Make sure that your marketing materials and websites are themselves accessible

Here are some recommended steps:

  • Prepare an Access Statement and include this on your website, together with helpful images of the accessible facilities – in particular the accessible bathroom or shower room and WC.
  • Join Tourism for All. You can use the logo to advertise your support for the aims of accessibility and your information can be passed to potential disabled visitors through the Tourism for All information service, which is setting out to be a comprehensive source of accessible holiday information in the country. As a TFA member, you will get news of events, awards, activities and any changes in the law, and be able to share experiences and information with other members in the industry.
  • Take out a listing on Tourism for All’s OpenBritain website - easy to use, search and book and it includes all quality assessed tourism businesses providing up-to-date accessibility information.
  • Join the National Accessible Scheme. The recognisable NAS logo makes it easier to search for appropriate accommodation, and independent assessment gives a level of assurance not available in any other way. The self-assessment tool recommended by us is the first step in an NAS grading.
  • Use conventional means of publicising your business in the media, through the internet, and tourism associations. Creating accessible facilities is a good news story.
  • You can also enter the Visit England Awards for Excellence Access for All awards to highlight your facilities (regional heats are held by the Regional Tourism organisations).

9) Joining with others

As well as joining TFA and the NAS, you can get involved with others in your area by finding out what policies your local authority or destination management is promoting.

10) Employment

Employing disabled people can be a major help in gaining disability awareness within a business, as well as opening up new sources of recruitment.

11) Getting feedback from visitors

Evaluate your efforts by getting feedback from your visitors. Make sure you keep a record of their comments, and where appropriate build suggestions in to the next phase of your action plan.

Nothing ever stays still, and expectations are constantly changing, so try hard to stay ahead of the game.

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