imageWomen’s travel needs often overlooked, writes Eleanor Lisney, disabled activist.

As part of my work, I was lucky enough to catch  ‘The Future of Tourism is Barrier Free’ presentation hosted by the German Tourist Board at the London World Travel Market in November.

I listened to a great presentation on the ‘Barrier Free’ destinations in Germany and a business case reason for accessible tourism due to the growing market of the numbers of older travellers, ‘disabled by age’ – a much overlooked audience.

However, the event raised some questions for me as a disabled female traveller.

While I am lucky in that I have travelled widely, having lived in four countries in three continents with as many languages and cultures, it didn’t take me long to realise that most people who work in the ‘accessible’ travel field are men. This means that they seldom take the consideration the extra barriers that disabled women have as travellers.

As with the non-disabled, I travel not just for holidays, but for business trips. And so, as well as checking for accessibility and safety, I need to find out if hotels are mainly for business travellers. On one trip, I remember staying in an accessible hotel near a conference centre in Dublin, but the area was somewhat dodgy and the restaurant/bar area was full of non-residents there for the pool table, some of whom were obviously high.

If it is mainly for business travellers, will it be full of men in business suits which might prove to be intimidating for a woman dining alone? Also, how will the staff treat you?  I have had experiences where the staff have been patronising towards me, and wondering why I do not have a carer with me.

As well as accessibility, how safe is the area around the hotel?

During a recent trip to Geneva, I realised that it might not be a good idea to wander about the streets on my own so I managed to persuade a friend to come as a personal assistant with me.

In addition, on the same trip, to which I added on a few days for sightseeing, I was not able to stay with the other members of the group because they had booked in at a non-accessible hotel.

Then there is toileting: the physiological differences between men and women make it easier for men on the toileting issue.

This struck me hard when I went with a man friend to Texas. All he needed was a blanket, and his personal assistant took his bottle for him to the toilet, but I did not have that choice.

This difference impacts on my choice of travel destinations and I am reluctant to take a flight which lasts more than 5 hours.

‘Barrier free’ travel is an aspiration for us all. It is good that the travel industry is starting to take note and that many of us do not want to be herded into special tours. Having inclusive public transport would be a start – I would like to take the Eurostar and wander across Europe with a rail pass as other, non-disabled, people do.

I went away from the World Trade Market thinking that we need to build awareness of the role of universal design – and it can inform accessible public transport.

Hopefully the recent Connect Culture’s Moving On: Accessible Transport – past, present and the future - event will highlight some of the continuing barriers for disabled people and suggest some solutions.

Accessible public transport is so important to independent living, but the tricky part is how to signal that gender matters too and any solutions we put into place need to factor this in.

Eleanor Lisney, who is on the Disability News Service list as no. 68 of the most influential disabled in Britain, is also the founder and coordinator of Sisters of Frida, a disabled women’s cooperative, and Connect Culture, a disabled led community group for access and inclusion. She is also a co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts.  Based in Coventry, she was a torch bearer for Coventry Olympics 2012 and is a member of Coventry Women Voices.

A version of this post was originally posted on Connect Culture.

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