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

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Reflexive Traveller - Italy, accessibility and other observations

Some readers of the blog may have noticed that there have not been entries for a few months. This was the product of a hectic work schedule and an upcoming trip to Europe.  The opportunity arose as part of my University of Technology Sydney work and collaborative relationships with the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT). The trip included forging relationships with the Italian Institute of Architects, the Foundation of the Carlo Besta Neurological Institute, Expo 2015, the Facoltà di Sociologia - Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca. and Italian accessible tourism businesses like Villages for All. Of course, I took the opportunity to examine a range of accessible experiences including transport, attractions, hotels and customer service. As photo one shows, one such experience was testing new access equipment to experience the archaeological digs of ancient Rome.


Photo 1:  Simon Darcy, Rome and Italy Tours' specialist ArcheoTrekAble equipment and people power provided an up close look at Ancient Rome's archaeological digs that would not be possible in a standard wheelchair (© Fiona Darcy 2012)

Thanks to Ivor Ambrose's networking efforts with the ENAT, I received a range of publicity opportunities including those with mainstream media and disability specific media. Barbara Pianca of the Superando organisation interviewed me in the lead up to the trip and carried a story on the organisation's website. The interview focused on travel planning and accessibility for tourism. This theme was further developed by the Foundation of the Carlo Besta Neurological Institute who provided an opportunity for me to discuss the importance of tourism within the rehabilitation process for people who acquire disabilities. The Foundation does some excellent work and has always incorporated arts and sport within the rehabilitation process and it is now hoping to incorporate opportunities for people to travel while still in rehabilitation. The Foundation's Secretary Professor Ferdinando Cornelio hosted a media and business event where I was interviewed by mainstream print and television media on a range of matters including rehabilitation, Expo 2015 to be held in Milan and accessible tourism knowledge management processes that could be put in place to improve the tourism opportunities for people with disability. A video of the interviews by the journalists from the Corriere.TV can be found at the following site Video Salute - Corriere TV


As with all areas of disability, accessible tourism required the collaboration of a range of stakeholders from the private sector, government and the not-for-profit. An important player in the university sector where the education of future generations of architects, planners, business people and government officials requires an understanding of access and disability within the curriculum. Accessible tourism considerations are relatively new within higher education curriculum around the world. Italy is no exception but there is a growing network of academics starting to develop curriculum and research around accessible tourism in Italian universities. One such faculty and University is the Facoltà di Sociologia - Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca, where Prof Ezio Marra is fostering accessible tourism opportunities at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The seminar on accessible tourism was held in partnership with the Italian Institute of Architects, whose member Isabella Steffan, Arch- Eur/Erg, presented an introduction to the seminar and placed it in context to tourism developments in architecture and the built environment in Italy. The seminar was attended by 25 students and faculty and generated a great deal of interesting discussion about tourism information systems, the accessibility of the Italian built environment and transport systems, cross-cultural differences in disability and access, and the opportunities provided by Expo 2015 for access, disability and accessible tourism.

The other stakeholders that are critical to developing robust accessible tourism experiences are an active in disability advocacy and government equity framework. To that end, I had meetings with Aldo Maria Arrigoni, Director Diversity, Ministry of Labour and a person involved with the Fondazione Notari (http://www.fondazionenotari.com/that seeks to provide training courses around disability and access to Italian business. We spoke of of a series of issues around urban accessibility, business attitude towards disability, accessible tourism and his involvement in assisting organisers of Expo 2015 (http://en.expo2015.org/). Aldo recognises the opportunity that the Expo may provide to improve accessibility for residents and visitors to Milan. However, he also recognises that it is already 2012 and if they hope to have a more developed access culture for the Expo organisation and systems in place for improving accessible tourism experiences for visitors to Milan then time is running short.

One of the great things about travelling is finding the unexpected. One such pleasure was in coming across Roberto Vitali from Village for All or V4A as it is branded and shown in Figure 1 (www.v4a.it). Roberto who has a history as a Paralympian, for the last 20 years has dedicated his life, work and passion towards establishing Village for All and the 35 accommodations that it currently has in Italy, Croatia, USA and Brazil. Roberto has established an information system for his accommodation offerings. As important as a good-quality information system to allow tourists with disabilities to make informed decisions about whether access at a property is appropriate for their needs, V4A is all about the experiences that you want when staying at one of their accommodations or resorts. Their properties offer a series of experiences from the passive to the active, from the solitary to the family or from a sporting to a cultural experience.




logo V4A village for all
Figure 1: Village for All logo


As Figure 2 demonstrates, the accommodation information system is detailed and provides critical measurements. This system very much operationalises research discussed in other blog entries on accessible accommodation based on research in Europe and Australia (Darcy & Cameron, 2008; Darcy, 2010; Europe for All. 2007a, 2007b) It is also very similar to a recent exploratory project carried out for the City of Sydney and presented on Easy Access Australia's website (http://www.easyaccessaustralia.com.au/sydney/).  
Figure 2: Room floor plans for V4A properties


Lastly, research has shown that people with disability do not trust mainstream travel agents and tourism operators as mainstream providers do not understand the requirements of people with disability (e.g. McKercher, Packer & Yau, 2003). Subsequently people with disability have organised and managed their own travel plans and itineraries to a much higher degree than people without disability. However, those who to manage their own travel planning miss out on many of the discounts and insider advantages of using industry providers. Language provided a barrier which was restricting my own travel planning for this trip. After some searching, I settled on Rome and Italy Tourist Services to assist with land transport connections and specialist accessible tour provision (http://www.romeanditaly.com/tourselected.php?id=10). As shown in Photo 1, Stefano Sghinolfi CEO and Owner of Rome and Italy Tourist Services is trialling equipment to provide a more up close and personal experience of Rome's ancient historical sites. It is this type of innovation that I was drawn to and can attest was only part of the excellent service provision of the company^.


Over the coming weeks I will be reflecting upon other aspects of the trip including accessible tourism knowledge management systems, air travel, accommodation choice, attractions, transport, customer service attitudes and accessible destination experiences.


^ please note all services were purchased at standard market rates and the tour operators did not know that I would be reviewing product and service offerings.


References

Darcy, S., & Cameron, B. (2008). Accessible Accommodation Assessment Template [Software template]. Sydney: © University of Technology, Sydney and Easy Access Australia.


Darcy, S. (2010). Inherent complexity: Disability, accessible tourism and accommodation information preferences. Tourism Management, 31(6), 816-826.


Europe for All. (2007a). The Europe for all Photo and Measurement Guide Vol. 2008. (pp. Website).  Retrieved from http://www.europeforall.com/tourismProviders.seam?conversationPropagation=end&conversationId=162076 


Europe for All. (2007b). The Europe for all Self-Assessment Questionnaire Vol. 2008. (pp. Website).  Retrieved from http://www.europeforall.com/tourismProviders.seam?conversationPropagation=end&conversationId=162076 


European Network for Accessible Tourism. (2012). Accessibility and tourism seminar at the  Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca 9 July 2012  Retrieved 28 July, 2012, from http://www.accessibletourism.org/?i=enat.en.events.1338



McKercher, B., Packer, T., Yau, M. K., & Lam, P. (2003). Travel agents as facilitators or inhibitors of travel: perceptions of people with disabilities. Tourism Management, 24(4), 465-474. 

Pianca, B. (2012, 4 July). Voglio sentirmi il benvenuto in ogni città del mondo, Superando.it. Retrieved from http://www.superando.it/2012/07/04/voglio-sentirmi-il-benvenuto-in-ogni-citta-del-mondo/



Parrot, M., & Passerini, G. (2012, 25 July). Disabili e turismo - Girare il mondo è la prima forma di riabilitazione Corriere Della Serra - Corriere TV. Retrieved from http://video.corriere.it/se-turismo-aiuta-disabili-uscire-ghetto/131d40b0-d675-11e1-bdd2-f78a37bd7a67




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