Yet, my cancelling of a tourism trip for business purposes pales into insignificance with the day-to-day experiences of people with disabilities in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I am inspired by the advocacy, passion and dedication of the local delegates from the conference who took to the streets of Kuala Lumpur to highlight what inaccessibility means for their citizenship rights. Before accessible tourism can become integrated within the tourism offerings of destinations, city planners and destination managers need to work with the local disability community to ensure that the city environments are accessible for their residents. Far too often people with disability are literally confined to their homes as their local streetscapes do not offer a continuous and safe path of travel so that they can get out of their houses and go about their business of shopping, getting to work or having quality leisure experiences. If people cannot be visible in their local communities how can they be part of their local community? If people cannot get out of their houses how can they become part of the social fabric of their community? If the local transport interchanges and public transport options are not accessible and affordable how can they access employment to enjoy the benefits of economic prosperity? If they can't get to commercial centres, how can they be employed? If they are denied employment how can they have the resources to experience the arts, sport and the benefits of accessible tourism?
I was heartened to see an excellent article in "The Star" that did a very good job in representing the issues that people with disabilities face on a day-to-day basis in the accessibility of urban environments in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The article also went on to explicitly examine some of the substantial issues facing people when they travel away from their place of residence. Whether that be air transport, ground transport, the accessibility of hotels and tourist attractions, or the attitudes of the industry towards people with disability, they all cumulatively make travelling with a disability much harder than it should be. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, suggests that the countries that have signed the convention should be working to ensure that the principles become more than just rhetoric so that people with disability can enjoy all the rights of citizenship including when they travel. Yet, this story would suggest that we are a long way from that ideal. Let's hope that the experiences I loaded by this conference are starting point for Kuala Lumpur becoming a accessible tourism destination where I will be able to visit in the future.
reprinted with permission