People of determination seek inclusion
The global population of people of determination (a respectful coinage used in the UAE for people with a number of physical and mental disabilities) will double by the year 2050 to two billion people, according to some figures. Local statistics claim that people of determination constitute 15 per cent of the total travel and tourism movement in the UAE.
The Dubai Accessible Tourism International Summit, held on January 12, called for joint international cooperation to make service facilities such as airports, airlines, hotels, various means of transportation and communication, websites, shopping malls and other facilities and services friendly to people of determination.
While praising Dubai and Dubai Airports and its efforts and achievements in supporting travellers of determination, the summit recommended 20 measures for smooth travel, especially in airports and airlines globally.
The panel represented the blind, deaf and mute, motion-challenged and autistic communities and shared a heart-wrenching array of day-to-day challenges they face and also how travel and tourism should become more inclusive and respectful of their needs.
Most airports do not have professional staff who are skilled in dealing with travellers of determination with their various needs at check-in, security checks, passports and other points inside the airport facilities.
The panel also encouraged providing guiding plates in sign language in the premises of airports to help travellers and guide them to the right areas to complete their travel procedures. Airports often don’t have sign language interpreters to assist passengers with hearing impairments.
It was suggested that passengers with mobility disabilities should be provided a special vehicle to enable them to enjoy the airport experience like any normal passenger, to have the opportunity to roam the duty-free, instead of being placed in a special lounge depending on the time of their flight.
Airports should be prepared with inspection devices for people of determination, especially in the motor category, to avoid embarrassment and inconvenience that the traveller may be exposed to at some airports when he/she is removed from the wheelchair for security checks.
The panel asked for automated systems to open the doors of toilets at airports to facilitate the entry process, especially for travellers with mobility disabilities, because the doors in some airports are heavy and require physical strength to open them.
One of the suggestions provided by the panel was to allocate a site for people of determination at airline reservation centres to facilitate the booking process, where airlines and airports can easily take stock of the needs and the services of particular passenger right during the booking process. Design a kind of document to include the technical details of the equipment used by people with disability for easy identification and to provide help if needed.
Often airlines are lacking a sufficient number of wheelchairs inside the cabin of the plane for use in transporting people of determination, as carriers usually provide only one chair, while more than one passenger with a mobility disability may be present on the same flight. And while on the flight, toilets inside the aircraft are usually not suitable for passengers with mobility disabilities, in terms of space and ability to move and rotate. This can be debilitating during long-haul journeys.
Dissatisfaction with the travel system ranged from the absence of sign language to explain safety instructions during flights, to Braille-ready and sign-language-ready entertainment options onboard and providing smart devices equipped to serve passengers with hearing disabilities.
It was quite a powerful experience sitting in the audience among differently abled high achievers who were voicing their concerns and fighting misperceptions and mainstream selfishness.
Clearly travel systems around the world have a lot to do when it comes to becoming truly inclusive of people with varying needs.
Hopefully, the travel system will be more attuned to the needs of special assistance travellers sooner than later. After all, at some point in our own adult lives, we too may have the need for assisted travel services ourselves.
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