Scott Rains on Geotourism _ Disability by srains


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									IN FOCUS Disability and Human rights Questions for Geotourism Projects
By Scott Rains
Article 27 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that ‘Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits’ But is the tourism . industry taking all the necessary measures for disabled people to freely participate in its various activities, Scott Rains asks.


When I became paralyzed at age 17 I packed away dreams of being an Indiana Jones and set my sights on a less adventurous life. Little did I suspect at that time that I would get a call to be Featured Commentator for the 2009 Geotourism Challenge1 they sponsor with Ashoka’s Changemakers. (But then, little did I expect that I would end up living the adventurous life that caught their attention.) People differ. That is part of what makes the character of a place unique. People come in varying sizes and shapes, genders and ages, colors and languages. People have differing abilities one from the other -- and even from themselves over time as they transition from child to adult to senior. In programs designed to serve people it is rare that “one size fits all.” That is especially true when no thought at all has been given to trying to do so. Justice calls for questioning when a blanket application of uniformity threatens violence to the diversity of persons. Geotourism provides one such basis for questioning. Geotourism can be defined in various ways. One sees it as “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical characters of a place - its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.” Geotourism is a call to justice as equally for the earth as for its inhabitants. It dwells on the mandate of sustainability with an eye to balancing geological, biological, and social reality. In the process of describing our work publishing the Rolling Rains Report2 and facilitating the online innovation incubator the Tour Watch Forum we wrote: Who travels is as important as where. Human experience of the “power” of place depends on the quality of attention (mindful presence) and the character of interaction (engaged inclusion, both physical and social.)


s I grew up as a boy in the USA the stories in National Geographic magazine represented the height of exotic adventure travel and discovery.

Responsible Tourism sets out guidelines for the proper intention toward place. Geotourism sets out guidelines for the proper sustenance and enhancement of place. The Global Sustainability Criteria for Tourism sets out guidelines for the proper development of place. Inclusive Tourism sets out to alert all three that understanding “who” experiences place is essential to creating just and sustainable tourism. It does so by giving voice to the quality of tourist experience from a group which has historically been denied access to tourism - people with disabilities.

People come in varying sizes and shapes, genders and ages, colors and languages. People have differing abilities one from the other -- and even from themselves over time as they transition from child to adult to senior. In programs designed to serve people it is rare that “one size fits all.” That is especially true when no thought at all has been given to trying to do so. Justice calls for questioning when a blanket application of uniformity threatens violence to the diversity of persons. Geotourism provides one such basis for questioning.
The Rolling Rains Report uses best practices from Universal Design3 to improve the quality of tourism management (Inclusive Tourism) and its impact on the destination (Inclusive
See Scott Rains’ website can be found at 3 Universal design strives to be a broad-spectrum solution that produces buildings, products and environments that are usable and effective for everyone, not just people with disabilities. Moreover, it recognizes the importance of how things look. For example, while built up handles are a way to make utensils more usable for people with gripping limitations, some companies introduced larger, easy to grip and attractive handles as feature of mass produced utensils. They appeal to a wide range of consumers (Quoted from Wikipedia).
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Destination Development). We believe that Green Design embodies environmental sustainability; Universal Design closes the circle by providing the social sustainability of inclusion. The Geotourism project is a product of disability culture - a culture shaped by “ways of being in a body,” and thus ways of being in and experiencing a place. These often fall outside what is considered “normal.” It is a culture to be preserved and enhanced, existing in all destinations. It brings completely unique insights on place to share with the industry. Inclusive Tourism’s core tools (Universal Design and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities or “CRPD”) embody the political aspirations of disability culture. Universal Design was forged from the Disability Rights Movement. This project uses it to prioritize benefit to people with disabilities as travelers, potential travel industry professionals, and destination residents. Invited to serve as Featured Commentator, it has been my task to encourage entrants with a strong focus on those with disabilities to elaborate on the other elements that make up geotourism. Conversely it has been my task, in all three languages in which submissions are accepted - Spanish, English, and Portuguese – to strengthen their understanding and inclusion of disability culture and the community of people with disabilities as travelers, travel professionals, and residents of destinations. What follows is a reflection document designed to gently guide applicants toward the concepts, values, and resources that will extend justice for the disability community through tourism - one of the world’s largest, and certainly its most global, industries: travel. How are this market and this cultural phenomenon addressed by the tourism industry? To be considered ecologically sustainable a project must be socially sustainable. That is, it must be realistic in accounting for the human needs and cultural variation among those it impacts. The following questions are meant to stimulate your thinking about how successful you have been in accommodating the diversity of capacities of travelers in ways that make earth-sensitive tourism projects open to all. • Do you provide information in various formats so that it can be independently accessed by users who may or may not be sighted, hearing, English-speaking, literate? • Do you follow best online practices in Universal Design such as W3C WAI or Section 508 (a US web accessibility law) standards? • Does the information you provide include the sort of information that is essential for someone who, for example, uses a wheelchair, travels with a companion animal, or is short of stature, or needs sign language interpreters to participate in certain activities? If not, has that information been collected and made readily accessible for when a traveler requests it from you? • Does your knowledge of place and local culture include explicit knowledge of the local cultures of disability (i.e. Local sign language dialects, crafts or professional niches traditionally held by persons with disabilities, historical figures of note who had disabilities?)

Questions for Geotourism Projects4
An estimated 10% of those traveling at any point in time have a disability. These include not only people with visible aids such as wheelchairs or white canes but also many people with disabilities that are not immediately obvious to the unaware observer. Yet “invisible” disabilities, too, can profoundly impact the travel behavior of people who experience them, for example disabilities that affect hearing, speaking, reading, reading social signals, or other communication. The United Nations estimates there are 500 million people with disabilities in the world while a study by Open Doors Organization in 2002 demonstrated that the 42+ million Americans with disabilities spent $13.6 billion annually on

• Does the marketing material you provide portray people with disabilities respectfully? (Does it portray them at all?) • Have you made an attempt to employ persons with disabilities? To seek them out as consultants in product development, marketing, and evaluation? Employ them on an ongoing basis? If so, are they only assigned tasks related to disability issues? Or do you also employ workers with disabilities in your mainstream initiatives as well?

4 Even though the following questions were addressed to the Geotourism challenge participants, they apply to the tourism industry as a whole.

• If you provide a service to someone without a disability have you designed that service so that it is accessible to all or created an alternate system to accomplish an equivalent result? • If such service requires additional or modified equipment have you attempted to limit the environmental impact of the accommodation (i.e. Does your wheelchair lift-equipped vehicle operate on biodiesel?) • Have you implemented the insight, adopted in the LEED (green building) Certification specifications, that building accessibility is a necessity and is an environmentally practice because it extends the functionality of a building for its occupants (i.e. aging-in-place, visitability, lifespan design)? Retrofitting to correct a space that excludes uses more resources and produces waste material.5 • Are you aware that the Responsible Tourism Movement specifies accessibility for all as central to its definition of responsible tourism? 6 • Did you know that participation in sports, leisure activities, and tourism is a right guaranteed in the UN Convention on the Rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD; see Article 30)? Do you know if the country or countries you operate in are signatories of the CRPD or have similar national legislation and what your legal obligations are under each?7 • If your project involves access to the water have you familiarized yourself with the Waypoint/Backstrom Principles on accessibility of maritime environments?8 • Have you reviewed your program using the seven principles of Universal Design9: 1. Equitable Use: The design does not disadvantage or stigmatize any group of users. 2. Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. 3. Simple, Intuitive Use: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level. 4. Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities. 5. Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. 6. Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably, and with a minimum of fatigue. 7. Size and Space for Approach & Use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility. • The Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria are part of the response of the tourism community to the global challenges of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. Interest in poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability are highlighted in the criteria. How might your work be enhanced by applying the criteria to travelers, employees, and destination residents with disabilities?10
5 Reading on LEED Certification and inclusion: 6 Readings on the Responsible Tourism Movement: http://www.rollingrains. com/archives/002134.html 7 Readings on CRPD Article 30: 8 Readings on the Waypoint/Backstrom Principles: htm 9 ( =25) 10 Readings on the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria: task=view&id=58&Itemid=188


Scott Rains, D. Min. is a Roman Catholic theologian who writes daily at The Rolling Rains Report on disability, tourism, and development ( As alumnus of the Graduate Theological Foundation, Dr. Rains serves as Faculty Fellow to the Foundation. Appointed as Resident Scholar in 2004 at the UC Santa Cruz Center for Cultural Studies he has also guest edited the Review of Disability Studies and serves as Senior Advisor to the startup television and IPTV channel [with] tv in the area of Travel Programs. He is a Zero Divide Fellow of the Community Technology Foundation of California. Dr. Rains travels and lectures extensively.

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