All abilities trek to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko - Australia's highest peak

All abilities trek to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko - Australia's highest peak
All abilities trek to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko - Australia's highest peak - © Jennifer Johnson 2008

Monday, March 1, 2010

Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Events Industry interested in Disability Events Research

Disability, Human Rights and Disability Specific Events

One of the exciting things about working in this area is engaging with different industries that can affect the lives of people with disability. When disability advocates and researchers get the opportunity they should always provide relevant industry with stories based on sound research evidence. A chance meeting with Major Events International provided an opportunity to discuss the UN Convention (see previous blog), disability discrimination issues with the events industry, market size and dynamics and outlining universal design as a concept to develop enabling events environments. The article finishes with information about two major disability sporting events: the Paralympics; and the Special Olympics. No matter which part of the typology of events [1] - locally based community events, regionally important festivals, hallmark events or mega-events like the Olympics and Paralympics - people with disabilities have the right to participate and the events industry needs to know how to create more enabling events environments. 

The website link is provided below as is the story and the references.

In 2006 the United Nations’ [2, 3] Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities was introduced and has been adopted by over 100 nations by 2008 . The Convention provides the international agreement on which national disability discrimination legislation and policy is framed. Article 30 of the Convention specifically identifies the rights of people with disabilities to culture, recreation and tourism, which has direct implications for the events industry. Yet, many in the events industry regard such conventions as a threat to the way that they operate rather than regarding it as an opportunity to open their operations to inclusive practices that broaden their markets. The remainder of the article provides market arguments, conceptual approaches, a case study of outcomes inclusive strategies and further information on two major disability specific events.

Globally there are over 650 million people with disabilities equating to about 10% of humanity [4]. As the World Health Organisation [5] state, by 2020 there will be 1.2 billion people over 60 years of age. The ‘greying’ of the population has been well documented as a market opportunity and is a phenomenon that affects all major inbound tourism and, hence, events markets [6]. The combination of disability over lifespan and the ageing of the population provide a significant convergence that the events industry need to react to not only on the human rights basis but from simple business sense [7]. Research in the United Kingdom, United States, Europe and Australia has shown that people with disabilities attending events or travelling for tourism purposes do so in a group rather than being alone [8-12]. If you are not inclusive of people with disabilities or those who are ageing, you not only lose their business but also the business of those who travel with them, which has been estimated at three to five other people on day trips to events or on overnight travel.

One way to ensure that disability and ageing is incorporated within event planning is through the principles of universal design. Universal design provides a framework in which to develop inclusive market practices for people of all ages, sizes and abilities by making products and environments usable without the need for specialist design [13]. In an Australian context, there has been the Disability Discrimination Act in force since 1992 and there have been significant cases of discrimination identified across the events industry [14, 15]. These included:

·         access to venues that event organisers had booked but were not accessible;
·         lack of provisions of accessible information formats including Braille, sign language interpreters and website accessibility to W3C international protocols;
·         staging that was not accessible to people with mobility disabilities;
·         policy on not charging for carer/attendants to support people with disabilities; and
·         registration procedures that did not identify people’s access requirements.

Yet, rather than focusing on the negative aspects of these discriminatory practices both the Australian Meetings and Events Industry [16] and the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations [17] have been proactive in  providing direction to the industry in producing inclusive and accessible events guides.

Apart from the argument that access considerations should be part of every event organisation, the events industry can benefit from many disability specific events including: adaptive technology expositions; disability organisation congresses; sport related travel; human rights meetings; inclusive education events; and disability specific arts productions. One example of how an organisation has benefited from pursuing disability specific events is the Perth Convention Bureau Ltd [18]. In developing a disability, ageing, and events strategy, the Perth Convention Bureau Ltd invested $50,000 in a Beyond Compliance Initiative. Beyond Compliance encouraged tourism operators in Western Australia to recognise the disability sector as a growing tourism market and subsequently provide universally accessible services to allow people with a disability and their carers and families to access and enjoy the stunning assets of Western Australia as a tourist destination for both business and leisure travellers. The initiative had lead to 18 national or international conferences being confirmed for Western Australia, translating to 10,385 delegates coming to the state for the purpose of a disability related conferences with an expected expenditure of nearly $20 million over three years [18].

An example of two major world disability events in the sporting sector is the International Paralympic Committee winter and summer Paralympic games and the Special Olympics.

The Paralympic Games are the pinnacle event of the International Paralympic Committee ( and the showcase of elite performance for athletes with disabilities. They are considered a ‘parallel’ movement to the Olympics. The Paralympics are held every four years generally after the Olympic Games, and mostly, in the same host City as the Olympic Games. The Paralympics had their roots in the rehabilitation of injured war veterans in England. The first staging of an international event took place in England at Stoke Mandeville hospital in 1948. The main aims of the first events were rehabilitation and social integration of people with disabilities. The first Paralympics was held in Rome in 1960 with 400 athletes from 23 countries. The Paralympics include the disability categories of: Amputee; Cerebral palsy; Intellectual disability; Vision impaired; Wheelchair; and Les autres. Fourteen sports are common to the Olympic Games with the sports of wheelchair rugby, boccia, goal ball and power lifting being specific to the Paralympics. The Paralympics have grown rapidly since their inception to become part of a global network of sports events. In doing so they have brought an increased visibility and status to people with disabilities by focusing on their abilities [adapted from 19]. Since the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games there has been an operational partnership that ensures that the big city for the Olympic Games also holds the Paralympic games in the same year, in the same city and no longer than two weeks apart. Photo 1 shows the opening ceremony to the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games.

Photo 1: Welcoming the elite athletes with disability at the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games © Fiona Darcy 2000

Special Olympics ( ) is a non-profit, international program of sports training and competition for people with intellectual disabilities. Founded in 1968 the Special Olympics provides training and athletic competition in 24 Olympic type sports for more than one million athletes in nearly 150 countries. The Special Olympics uses sports training and competition to develop relationships between the athletes, their families and the community. The goal is to provide people an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of sport to become useful and productive citizens who are accepted and respected in their communities.  While eligibility for participation in the Special Olympics is based on an IQ score as international competition seeks to be fair, challenging and provide individuals with a reasonable opportunity to succeed. This is a very different focus to the Paralympics that is based on a policy of elite sport participation where competition is based on a functional classification for each disability group where success is measured by winning [adapted from 20].

The overview of these two major disability sporting events was timely given that the 2010 Vancouver Winter Paralympic games starts on 12 March 2010 [21]. The Winter Paralympic games includes the same disability categories as the summer Paralympic games  and has the common winter sports of Alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, Biathlon and Cross-country skiing, with the disability specific Ice sledge hockey and Wheelchair curling. As VANOC organize the Olympic and Paralympic games the same village, venue and facilities used by both the Olympic and Paralympic athletes [21]. The Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic games has had a full review of the considerations for logistics of planning, developing, managing, delivering and evaluating such an event [22].

Lastly, UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities has provided the event industry with a wonderful opportunity to develop inclusive practices for all events or to open up new market understandings through pursuing disability specific events. An opportunity is only a business potential until actions are taken to move the potentiality to a reality. The challenge is yours!

1.         Allen, J., et al., An overview of the event field, in Festival & special event management, J. Allen, et al., Editors. 2008, John Wiley & Sons Australia: Milton, Qld. p. 3-35.
2.         United Nations, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 2006, New York United Nations General Assembly A/61/611 - 6 December 2006.
3.         United Nations. Landmark UN treaty on rights of persons with disabilities enters into force. [Webpage] 2008 3 May [cited 2008 12 May]; Available from:
4.         United Nations. Enable.  2009 2 June 2009; Available from:
5.         World Health Organization. Global Age-friendly Cities Guide 2007; Available from:
6.         Dwyer, L., Trends underpinning global tourism in the coming decade, in Global Tourism, W. Theobald, Editor. 2005, Butterworth Heinemann: Burlington, MA. p. 529-545.
7.         Darcy, S. and T. Dickson, A Whole-of-Life Approach to Tourism: The Case for Accessible Tourism Experiences. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, 2009. 16(1): p. 32-44.
8.         Dwyer, L. and S. Darcy, Chapter 4 - Economic contribution of disability to tourism in Australia, in Technical Report 90040: Visitor accessibility in urban centres, S. Darcy, et al., Editors. 2008, Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre: Gold Coast. p. 15-21.
9.         HarrisInteractive Market Research. Research among adults with disabilities - travel and hospitality.  2005 January; 66]. Available from:
10.        UK Department for Culture Media and Sport, Accessible tourism: Making it work for your business. 2010, UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport: London.
11.        Buhalis, D., et al., Accessibility market and stakeholder analysis - One-Stop-Shop for Accessible Tourism in Europe (OSSATE). 2005, University of Surrey: Surrey, United Kingdom.
12.        Van Horn, L. Disability Travel In The United States: Recent Research And Findings. in 11th International Conference on Mobility and Transport for Elderly and Disabled Persons (TRANSED) - "Benchmarking, Evaluation and Vision for the Future". . 2007. June 18-22, 2007, at the Palais des congrès de Montréal.
13.        Center for Universal Design. Universal Design Principles.  2009  [cited 2009 20 May]; Available from:
14.        Darcy, S. and R. Harris, Inclusive and accessible special event planning: an Australia perspective. Event Management, 2003. 8(1): p. 516-536.
15.        Darcy, S. and T. Taylor, Disability citizenship: An Australian human rights analysis of the cultural industries. Leisure Studies, 2009. 28(4): p. 419-441.
16.        Meetings and Events Australia. ACCESSIBLE EVENTS: A Guide For Organisers.  2006  [cited 2010 26 Feb]; Available from:
17.        Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, A guide for Accessible Events for People With Disability. 2007, Compiled by the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, incorporating information from the Canadian Guide to Planning Inclusive Meetings and Conferences and the Victorian Inclusive consultation and communication with people with a disability (used with permission): Canberra.
18.        Darcy, S., et al., Technical Report 90042: Developing Business Cases for Accessible Tourism, in STCRC technical report. 2008, Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre: Gold Coast.
19.        Darcy, S., Paralympics, in Encyclopedia of Leisure and Outdoor Recreation, J.M. Jenkins and J.J. Pigram, Editors. 2005, Routledge - Taylor and Francis Group: New York and London. p. 350-351.
20.        Darcy, S., Special Olympics, in Encyclopedia of Leisure and Outdoor Recreation, J.M. Jenkins and J.J. Pigram, Editors. 2005, Routledge - Taylor and Francis Group: New York and London. p. 475-476.
21.        Vancouver Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (VANOC). Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Games.  2010  [cited 2010 26 February]; Available from:
22.        Cashman, R. and S. Darcy, eds. Benchmark Games: The Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games. 2008, Walla Walla Press in conjunction with the Australian Centre for Olympic Studies: Petersham, NSW Australia.

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