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

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

World Tourism Day - Accessible Tourism for All: what is it all about and do we really need it?

27 September 2016

Even temporary overlays can include universally design features. Photo by Tracey Dickson at the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic games and provided for use to UTS Business School.

It is World Tourism Day on Tuesday, September 27, and this year the focus will be Accessible Tourism for All.

The UN World Tourism Organisation has chosen this focus because people with disability are still poorly accommodated by the tourism industry globally, despite the World Health Organisation estimating that 1 billion people live with some form of disability.
“This makes accessible tourism not only an issue of equality and human rights but an economic one. People with disability and seniors with access needs are already making a significant economic contribution to tourism, but it has the potential to double through understanding how to accommodate and market to this group,” says Professor Simon Darcy of UTS Business School, an expert in tourism and a power wheelchair user himself.
A recent European Union study has shown that the market already accounts for a gross value added economic contribution of €150 billion annually.
Previous Australian government tourism figures identified approximately 10% of domestic overnight stays as having an access component worth some $4.8 billion to the economy.

"People with disability
are still poorly accommodated
by the tourism industry globally."

Recent research published by Professor Darcy and Spanish collaborators sought to identify the key components that contribute towards accessible tourism ‘destination competitiveness and sustainability’.
This research was only possible because national and regional data was available for both countries that provided an evidence base.
While global tourism data is available longitudinally, due to the 10% economic contribution of the sector, few nations have included disability and access modules within their data collection.
However, UNWTO has invested considerable resources in producing a set of best practice reports on improving accessible tourism experiences for people with mobility, vision, hearing and learning disabilities. Each of these groups has different access requirements to be inclusive of their access needs and embodiments.
By incorporating the access needs and embodied understandings within destination development and marketing, precincts, cities and nations are creating a competitive advantage in the attraction of tourists in a globally competitive industry.
For example, people with vision impairment experience tourism environments without the ‘tourist gaze’ and require product development to take into account their other senses.
Research on vision impairment and tourism has shown the importance for considering wayfinding, soundscapes, aroma and tactility to enhance this group’s experiences of destination environments.

"By incorporating access needs and embodied understandings
within destination development and marketing...
nations are creating a competitive advantage."

The ‘competitiveness’ of destinations such as Sydney, Barcelona, London, Hong Kong and Rio brands can be enhanced or tarnished by their approaches to these markets. Arguably, Spain with Barcelona as the prime example, has led the way with their commitment and product/service development of accessible destination experiences.
The UNWTO is ‘responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism’. While rarely discussed together, sustainability and universally accessible tourism are philosophically linked as part of sustainable development goals.
Universally accessible tourism is founded on the core elements of ‘universal design’ that is fundamental to developing both an equality of tourism experiences and the market potential of this group.
Universal design, also known as inclusive design, goes beyond accessibility and compliance with legislation to produce buildings, products and environments that are inherently accessible to everyone. Universal design has been defined as:
‘...the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. The intent of the universal design concept is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by more people at little or no extra cost. The universal design concept targets all people of all ages, sizes and abilities’.
Applying the principles of Universal Design provides a foundation for local communities and tourism destinations to be more effective, efficient and sustainable.
In Europe it has been estimated that less than 10% of tourism suppliers offer universally designed tourism products and services.
The outcome of adopting universal design principles includes a broader market base, increased occupancy out of season, and an enhanced market brand.
In a recent keynote address to the 2nd Australian Universal Design Conference, Professor Darcy identified spaces and places including the Barangaroo redevelopment, the Goods Line adjacent to the ABC and UTS Business School, and the Sydney Olympic Park as examples that include elements of universal design.

"...universal design is fundamental
to developing an equality of tourism experiences
and the market potential of this group."

What makes implementing universal design for accessible tourism purposes that much more complex is the movement of people locally, regionally, nationally and internationally so that all elements of the ‘travel chain’ link together seamlessly.
This incorporates the elements of information provision, planning, transport, accommodation, attractions and all forms of miscellaneous service provision across accessible tourism supply chain.
The UNWTO has produced a booklet for World Tourism Day highlighting aspects of the accessible tourism supply chain.

Professor Darcy's current research includes examining the outcomes of accessibility of major events and recently looked at the Paralympics and Rio’s accessibility in these articles:
'Grotesque spectacle'? Rio has a long way to go to become more accessible
‘A brief history of the Paralympic Games: from post-WWII rehabilitation to mega sport event’

Reprinted from

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Observations on the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Accessibility

'Grotesque spectacle'? Rio has a long way to go to become more accessible

Tracey J Dickson, University of Canberra; Jorge Knijnik, Western Sydney University, and Simon Darcy, University of Technology Sydney

It was quite a reality check. With one phrase, “Espetáculo grotesco” (“grotesque spectacle”), Portuguese journalist Joaquim Vieira created a major controversy with his denigration of the Paralympic Games.

Through his choice of words, and his throwback to disability as a “freak show”, he highlights the difficulty of moving the discourse and practice from a medical model to a social approach.

The former sees people with disabilities as abnormal, deviant or inferior, with disability a “personal tragedy”. A social approach focuses on the abilities rather than deficits, challenging the disabling environments, attitudes and behaviours of individuals, organisations and societies.

Without this transformation, the vision espoused in the IPC Accessibility Guide to improve host city accessibility and attitudes towards people with disability will remain a distant aspiration rather than a reality.

The Paralympic Games will never be a panacea for the social issues facing a host city and nation. But can they be a beginning to enabling social, cultural and environmental change?

Focus on accessibility

Rio is a city already facing accessibility challenges. This is after Rio hosted the 2007 Parapan Games and was also involved with the 2014 FIFA World Cup, where accessibility was on the agenda.

The accessibility agenda seeks to be inclusive of the ten different impairment types that compete within the athlete classification system. Yet, accessibility at the Paralympics moves beyond athletes to spectators, officials, employees and volunteers who should be able to move freely, independently and with dignity around the city.

According to the Rio 2016 Accessibility Technical Guidelines, nearly 24% of Brazilians have some kind of disability. So an improvement in accessibility levels not just in Rio, but throughout Brazil, will be one of the biggest and most enduring legacies of the Olympics.

But there are challenges making large cities that have existed for centuries more accessible. Following the 2012 Games, David Bamford noted that London had made improvements to accessibility, particularly with public transport, but there was still more to be done.

For a host city to be accessible for the event and beyond requires a range of facilitating factors, including policies, codes, legislation, funding, strong disability advocacy coalitions and education.

What Rio didn’t need was a downturn in its economy that saw it descend into a recession in the lead-up to the Games, and political turmoil that resulted in the impeachment of its President between the Olympic and Paralympic Games.


              The residences for athletes have good accessibility, but what about the rest of the city?

Rio 2016 Paralympic accessibility

Sally Swanson, an architect and registered journalist at the Games, sponsored by Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, told us via personal correspondence that accessibility was not factored into planning for the Games and was only implemented after the construction was completed. The exceptions she noted were the athlete’s village and the integration of the transportation system.

Together with others on the ground in Rio, we note a few examples that highlight the gaps in planning, design, construction, funding, operations and management of accessibility.

There have been many efforts to enhance accessibility, but existing infrastructure makes universal accessibility difficult. In the Fort Copacabana area, where the triathlon and marathon are held, there are kilometres of black and white “Portuguese pavements”.

These tell some of the history of the land, but in reality, they have not been well maintained. The surface is often undulating, tiles are missing and they are very slippery when wet or sandy.

There are also limited public toilet facilities in Fort Copacabana, none of which are accessible. However, many retail stores and cafes in the area have made an effort to have ramps available to improve access.


              Barriers were placed across access tactile tiles.
              Author provided

There is a new subway line L4 that was 30 years in the planning. It was opened in time for the Games and is for exclusive use of accredited personnel and ticket holders during the event. With 15 new trains, the poster behind the barrier (see image right) boasts “agility is first”, but agility for whom?

There is good lift access and tactile tiles, but when these became active, it is clear that the message has not been conveyed to operational managers as to what tactile tiles are for. Barriers to manage pedestrian flow were placed across the tiles.

Services were also cut back before the Paralympic Games as a cost saving measure.

In Barra Olympic Park, in front of the entry to Main Press Centre, there was a trip hazard that was unmarked. No one seemed concerned, nor was anyone doing anything about it.

As noted by Sally Swanson in personal communication, the curb cuts in the Park were also installed after construction and were not marked for vision-impaired.

At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Opening Ceremony, the final torch bearer who used a wheelchair had to push himself up a ramp that appeared to well beyond the 5-6.25% of incline as recommended Rio 2016 Accessibility Technical Guidelines. Of further concern was whether it was of a suitable surface given the heavy rain that came over the stadium as he ascended the final ramps.

Media coverage

In the week prior to the Paralympic Games, Brazilian mainstream media was mostly highlighting stories about personal triumph, of how Paralympic athletes have suffered and overcame personal barriers to be where they are.

Even with the large number of people with disability in the country, there were no discussions about diversity and social topics surrounding disability. These conversations continue to be omitted in mass media, which appeals only to individual efforts of the “warriors” as the way to overcome hurdles they face due to their disability.

There were a few exceptions, such as the history of Natalia Mayara, a Brazilian tennis player who wants to be acknowledged not by her life dramas but as an elite athlete. These may be indicative that there is room for positive changes in the social imagination.

Despite the media focus on the sentimentality of athletes, the main open TV broadcaster (Rede Globo) has a very weak coverage of the Games. It only broadcasts live on its pay TV channels, which have had a major increase in their audience levels since the start of the Paralympic Games. The broadcast of the Paralympic opening ceremony has broken all audience records on these pay TV channels.

Public TV (TV Brasil) is covering most of the games live, but few people access it,  and the new government after Dilma Roussef’s impeachment is planning to reduce or even to close this very important public vehicle.

Accessibility for tourists

In the lead up to the Games, the IPC ran workshops for tourist organisations and tourism businesses on the opportunities for accessible tourism.

The international media spotlight also brings with it initiatives such as the Accessible Rio City Guide by Lonely Planet. The guide was developed in conjunction with IPC support and is provided free on the Lonely Planet website.


              Old cities often have significant accessibility issues, and Rio is no exception.

While developed with the dual idea of servicing both athletes and visitors with disabilities, the guide also provides a certain amount of corporate social responsibility cachet for both organisations.

Historically these types of CSR programs are part of a plethora of strategic alliances that the IPC has worked with in the lead up to the games and announced strategic alliance extensions of during the games.

How will we know if there is an accessibility legacy? Within Rio and Brazil this may involve the improved visibility of people with disability in life but without baseline research on current levels of social participation how will we know improvements have been made? Another KPI might be to look at the growth in competitors and countries at successive Paralympics, if there are more athletes and/or more countries then this might be a signifier of the increasing accessibility of the International Paralympic movement.

Access game changers

One missed opportunity is the training of the 70,000 passionate volunteers as “game-changers” for access. Typically, disability is just a small fraction of the overall volunteer training (which may be less than three days per volunteer). We are not even sure that accessibility is addressed in the training at all.

If volunteers were given more training in accessibility and disability, which could be done very simply and cheaply via online training such as with Vancouver 2010 and Rio 2016, they could also become the “game changers” for access in their communities after the Games.

The volunteers would be able to support accessibility during the games, and then have the knowledge, skills and vision to support accessibility in their communities when they return home, enabling a true accessibility legacy for the host country.

It’s important we remember that accessibility does not happen by accident, it happens by design.

The Conversation

Tracey J Dickson, Associate Professor, Centre for Tourism Research, Faculty of Business, Government and Law, University of Canberra; Jorge Knijnik, Senior Lecturer, School of Education; Researcher, the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University, and Simon Darcy, Professor & Co-Director  Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Research Centre - UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games: Learn about the Origins, Governance and Challenges of the Paralympic Games

A brief history of the Paralympic Games: from post-WWII rehabilitation to mega sport event

Simon Darcy, University of Technology Sydney and David Legg, Mount Royal University

Some 160 countries will participate in the Rio 2016 Paralympic games involving an estimated 4,350 athletes competing for 528 medal events across 22 sports. This signifies an 11-fold increases in athlete participation from 400 at the 1964 Tokyo games. Countries represented at the games have grown from 21 in 1964 to 160 and the number of sports has increased 2.5 times from nine to 22.

The Games have thus evolved from an event for only athletes who used wheelchairs to now welcoming ten different impairment types that make up the athlete classification system for competition.

The summer Paralympics now has a massive broadcasting audience, which in London 2012 included a 3.8 billion-person TV audience. It also has an increasing presence on social media. At London 2012, for example, some 1.3 million tweets mentioned “Paralympic”.

As we all await for the opening of the Rio 2016 Paralympic games, many people viewing might not know how this multi-disability multi-sport mega event has evolved from one-man’s vision to use sport as a vehicle for rehabilitation to the international spectacle that it is today.

Dr Ludwig Guttmann and the origins of the games

The second world war was devastating for humanity, not just in the number of those killed but also in the number of people who sustained injuries resulting in lifelong disability.

The Paralympic games are a direct result of those incurring spinal injuries during the second world war and the improved medical efforts that resulted in much higher survival rates and longer life expectancy.


              Dr Ludwig Guttmann provided the initial impetus to create a para-athletic games.
              Wikimedia, CC BY

This also meant there was a greater need for rehabilitation. Young people with spinal injuries in their early twenties would now live until their 60s. There was also a moral and economic imperative to ensure they could be contributing and engaged members of society.

One of the responses to this was the opening in 1944 of the Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, England. It was headed by the visionary Dr Ludwig Guttmann, who quickly gained a reputation for innovative practice not just in medical rehabilitation but also through motivating those with spinal cord injury.

Central to Guttmann’s approach was the introduction of sport into the rehabilitation regime, which quickly evolved into a wheelchair sport competition. This was first between wards, where servicemen and women who were naturally competitive, thrived on the physical outlet that competition provided.

Following a few years of development, as depicted in the film The Best of Men, it was on July 28, 1948 that the Stoke Mandeville Games were first held.

From the announcement of the games, Guttmann had a vision for the future of wheelchair sport beyond Stoke Mandeville. He had deliberately planned for the games to be held at the same time in parallel to the 1948 London Summer Olympic Games.

These modest beginnings of an archery competition with 14 male and two female competitors, led to the creation of an annual Stoke-Mandeville Games. The first internationalisation of this competition occurred in 1952, where competitors from Holland were invited to complete in archery, table tennis, darts and snooker.

Clip from The Best of Men about Guttmann attempts to establish a para-athletic games.


Eight years later Rome became the first city outside of Stoke Mandeville to host the games. Yet, it was not until Tokyo 1964 that the term “Paralympics” was officially used.

The table below shows the host cities of the Summer Paralympic Games from 1960 through to 2016. The table also details the growth of the Paralympic Games in terms of overall number of athletes, gender breakdown and proportion, and the number of countries participating.

Adapted from Cashman & Darcy 2008

The Games evolve

From 1960 to 1984, only two Paralympic Games were held in the same city as the Olympic Games: Rome 1960 and Tokyo 1964. However, there was no formal relationship between the organising committees during these two games, or between the International Olympic Committee and the organisations representing the Paralympic movement at that time.

In 1988, the Paralympic and Olympic Games were both held in Seoul, Korea. The host organising committees for the first time ensured that the Paralympic athletes competed in the same venues (except housed different villages) as the Olympic Games. They also had similar style Opening and Closing Ceremonies. For many, these Games represent the birth of the modern Paralympic Games.

One year later in 1989, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) was officially formed, bringing together the four separate disability-specific organisations that had previously been represented in the International Co-Coordinating Committee Sports for the Disabled.

With this significant step, the IPC was able to forge closer links with the IOC and the host city organising committees. And since the Barcelona 1992 Olympic and Paralympic Games there has been a much closer “operational partnership. This has seen the Paralympic games held three weeks after the Olympics in the same city and utilising the same games village and venues used for the Olympics. As Richard Cashman notes

An Olympic endorsement proved a huge boost for the Paralympics, adding status and legitimacy. The timing of the Paralympics, two to three weeks after the Olympics, is also auspicious. By then, people have recovered from the serfeit of Olympic sport and are ready for another.

Up until 1989, with the establishment of the IPC, it could be considered that the Paralympic Games did as well as it could in working with host cities to provide as good a games experience as possible for Paralympic athletes.

The Olympic-Paralympic co-relationship was more evident at the Barcelona 1992 Paralympic games, which was widely regarded as a model Paralympic Games. Yet, there was still a great deal of goodwill required for the Olympic and Paralympic games experience to be coordinated through the host city arrangements.

The Atlanta 1996 Olympic and Paralympic Games showed the frailty of the relationship, with significant issues emerging with very little coordination between the two organising committees.

Four years later, the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games became a benchmark for the operational partnership between organising committees. It was following these Games that the first host city agreement between the IOC and IPC was signed ensuring that all Games following 2008 would require bid cities to host both Games.


              By the 1996 Atlanta Games, the Paralympics was organised in the same city as the Olympics, but there were major coordination issues between the IOC and the IPC.
              Australian Paralympic Committee/Sport The Library, CC BY-SA

Even without the formal agreement in place, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 organising committees benefited from the improved knowledge management exchanges that saw lessons from previous games transferred to the next host city.

While the knowledge transfer was predominantly Olympic related, there is no doubt that the Paralympic host city organisation also benefited from this arrangement.

The relationship between the IOC and the IPC was further consolidated prior to the commencement of the 2016 Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games with the signing of another Memorandum of Understanding, which extends the partnership until 2032.

Whether this agreement is in the best interests of the Paralympic movement is debatable. There are some who believe that the Paralympic movement and Games are at a point in their evolution where they could and should separate themselves from the Olympics.

Yet, the risk associated with the Paralympic Games separating itself from the Olympic partnership is regarded as too high for others who believe the Games and movements are best served being together in the same cities.

More radically, it has been suggested that a merger of the two is best where both Games are held at the same time in the same venues. Others regard this idea as a recipe for a disaster. The integration of non-disabled and para-sport events at the Commonwealth games has been suggested as a model for the future of the Olympics and Paralympics

The IPC, social inclusion and the Paralympic Games

The benefit and value of the Games, regardless of where they are held or placed within an Olympic context, is also being questioned.

The vision of the IPC is “to enable Para athletes to achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world”. Yet critics of the IPC and the Paralympic movement suggest that the rhetoric of these claims falls far short of the reality of people with disability within the host city and country where they take place.

Does the Paralympic games lead to a lasting legacy of improvement for people with disability? Can it only ever improve the material position of the elite athletes who participate?

While the IPC Handbook and the IPC accessibility guidelines identify the importance of improving host city accessibility and attitudes towards people with disability, the IPC has never resourced studies to test these claims.

It wasn’t until London 2012 that social inclusion was highlighted in bid documents, and formed part of the narrative leading up to London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. This focused attention specifically on Paralympic engagement beyond the athletic field and sought to prepare London for a legacy that included disability, accessibility and inclusion in the community.

Yet, even this bright light is fading, as recently expressed by the face of the London 2012 Paralympic games Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson, who quit her role on the organising committee because she considered it had become “tokenistic”.

Similarly, the President of the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games Organizing Committee, Carlos Arthur Nuzman, is hopeful that the Paralympic Games will improve social inclusion in Brazil.

Yet, the opportunities outlined in both the Rio sustainability management plan and the Rio accessibility guidelines for the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic games require resourcing to achieve outcomes that currently do not exist for disadvantaged groups in Rio de Janeiro.


              Former triathlete, Antonio Lanari Bo, completes the relay of the Paralympic torch in Rio.
              Revezamento da tocha paralímpica em Brasília, CC BY

Rio 2016 Paralympic games

The Rio 2016 Olympic Games has not been without its own controversies.

Even before the Olympic Games had ended, controversy over the financial viability of the Rio 2016 Paralympic games dominated social media discussion and captured media headlines worldwide.

These financial matters have spilled over from cost overruns from the Olympic Games and will test the new Memorandum of Understanding signed by the IOC and the IPC.

These financial matters threaten the participation of a number of developing nations that were due to compete at the Paralympic Games with potential non-payment of participation funding from the host organising committee.

As the athletes of the world descend on Rio for the focus of their last four years training, we all hope that the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games can be run safely, successfully and with some type of lasting impact and legacy for the socially disadvantaged in Rio and in particular those with a disability.

If you are interested in a detailed history of the Paralympic movement and fuller understanding of the Paralympic games, see the following:

Athlete First: A History of the Paralympic Movement, by Steve Bailey

The Paralympic Games Explained, by Ian Brittain

The Conversation

Simon Darcy, Professor & Co-Director  Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Research Centre - UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney and David Legg, Professor of Physical Education & Recreation Studies, Mount Royal University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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