Accessibility, a quality trademark

Two girls visit the Croscat volcano at the Natural Park of la Garrotxa. Each one is sitting on a Joëlette, an off-road wheelchair with just one wheel which is carried by two guides, one at the front and one at the back. Image by Nani – Natura i Màgia.

The current Covid-19 pandemic has set a new scenario that calls for a transformation process in all aspects of life, and tourism is no exception. The present situation should be seen as an opportunity to launch an ethical revolution in the tourist industry, one that has sustainability, ecology and accessibility at its core, as crucial issues that will strengthen our tourism supply.  

Accessibility is a key factor when talking about inclusive tourism and it has become an important indicator of quality. So much so that there cannot be a high-quality tourism that is not within everybody’s reach. And for the Costa Brava and the Girona Pyrenees to continue leading this industry they must adapt their touristic supply to the visitors’ functional diversity. 

Unnoticed accessibility 

In this sense, and within the framework of the Turisme 360º training programme of the Costa Brava Tourist Board of Girona -now online, free and open to all-, a few days ago the webinar “Accessibilitat desapercebuda” (“Unnoticed Accessibility”) took place. The session, aimed especially at tourist establishments, featured contributions by the architect and professor Enrique Rovira-Beleta, who stated that “accessibility is not only a necessity for people with major disabilities, but it is an advantage for all citizens”.

When barriers are removed quality of life gets better, for everyone: people with physical, sensory or cognitive disabilities, but also the elderly, families with baby carriages, people with temporary limitations, such as a broken leg…  Each and every one of us is susceptible to limitations or conditions at some point in our lives, and nevertheless we do not want to give up participating in the tourism experience, a fundamental right and a key vehicle for human development, according to the World Tourism Organization.

A woman accompanied by a guide dog walks down a cobbled street at Peratallada. Image by Isabel Godoy.
A woman accompanied by a guide dog walks down a cobbled street at Peratallada. Image by Isabel Godoy.

Accessibility is a feature of urban planning, building, transport or means of communication which ensures they can be used by all kinds of people without any restriction, thus providing each individual with maximum personal independence. According to Enrique Rovira-Beleta, a good accessibility is one that goes unnoticed by most users, except those who need it. This is called unnoticed accessibility.

Investing in accessibility is investing in business

Both senior and inclusive tourism have great market potential. Despite the physical limitations they may have due to their age or acquired diseases, the senior tourists are active, optimistic tourists, with purchasing power and who travels outside the tourist season, which helps to deseasonalise the market. Moreover, they travel with a companion and are loyal customers: if they are comfortable and feel they are well catered for, they will come back. 

A senior tourist photographs a green vineyard at Mas Oller. Image by Xènia Gasull.
A senior tourist photographs a green vineyard at Mas Oller. Image by Xènia Gasull.

As for people with a disability, it should be noted that they usually travel with a companion. Besides, given the fact that information on accessibility is usually wrong, unclear or non-existent, people tend to rely on word-of-mouth. This means that a satisfied customer translates into many new customers. According to a 2018 study by The Adecco Group Foundation, 56% of people with disabilities (more than 3 million people) do not travel due to lack of tourism supply.

On the other hand, the notion that accessibility entails a high economic cost is false. While it is true that some measures might imply a high investment, for instance in the case of refurbishment works, there are other measures which require very little investment, and still can significantly improve the services and the facilities available, having a positive impact in customer satisfaction. 

The importance of signage

Pictograms are a universal language. In addition to helping people with cognitive disabilities and people who are deaf or hard of hearing, they overcome language barriers. Therefore, they are an excellent resource for communication. Regarding pictograms related to accessibility, it is important to use standard signs, to avoid confusion. The information on the accessibility features available in destinations is one of the most valuable aspects to users.

The last section of this article is dedicated to highlighting the most common pictograms that refer to people who are blind or have low vision, and we will explain some measures for all budgets that can be implemented in your services, products, facilities and accommodations. 

Measures related to visual impairment

Visual impairment is the condition that directly affects the perception of images, and it is very heterogeneous. There are people with total blindness and people with low vision, that is, with visual impairment. In addition to the lack of vision, it must be taken into account that people with visual impairment also have mobility problems, as they can have difficulty moving around both indoors and outdoors.  Some people can use a cane, which helps them to detect obstacles, while others are accompanied by a guide dog. By law, guide dogs have access to any public or private facility, except kitchens (hotels, restaurants…) and operating rooms.

Accessibility pictograms related to blindness. From left to right and from top to bottom: indicators of services for people with low vision, blind people using a cane, blind people accompanied by a guide dog, guide dogs welcome, information with audio description, large print elements, or optical aids, elements in Braille, tactile elements.
Accessibility pictograms related to blindness. From left to right and from top to bottom: indicators of services for people with low vision, blind people using a cane, blind people accompanied by a guide dog, guide dogs welcome, information with audio description, large print elements, or optical aids, elements in Braille, tactile elements.

People with visual impairment can access information through a variety of resources. Firstly, it is important to incorporate sound resources. Oral speech allows access to the contents in a simple and clear way. Therefore, it is recommended to include audio descriptions, which can be direct (in the case of a guided tour, for instance) or recorded (in an audio guide, a promotional video, an informative video…)

Secondly, there is the large print for people with low vision. In this way, they can access written texts. In this case, an appropriate font size, a good contrast between the font and the background and a well-defined and unadorned font outline are recommended. It should be a clean, clear and spacious design.

Thirdly, Braille, the method of tactile reading and writing for people with blindness, should be mentioned. It is a code of dots that are combined to define letters and signs. Braille can be incorporated into signage, as well as into emergency plans, location maps, information documents, gastronomic menus…

And finally, a resource for making content display accessible, which is the design of tactile experiences

Close-up of a 12th Century capital at the Girona Art Museum, which features a face at the front surrounded by volutes. In front of the piece, a portfolio includes information in Braille and a drawing in relief of the work exhibited. Image by Rafel Bosch.

Providing a description of the images uploaded to a webpage or on social media with a simple footnote, diffusing scents in rooms, signalling the routes and the slopes of the ways, installing handrails on the stairs, keeping the spaces free of obstacles or using contrasting colours as differentiating elements (painting the floor and the wall in different colours, differentiating the door with a colour that contrasts with the wall, highlighting the door knobs …) are other measures available to everyone which can make the difference for people with visual disabilities and enrich their stay in our establishments. 

In future posts we will discuss the signage regarding other kinds of disabilities and recommend other measures to enhance the visitors’ experience. 

We encourage you to implement accessibility as a branding strategy. Tourism being a strategic industry in our country, now it’s time to establish ourselves as an accessible destination and create a new distinctive and qualitative value in the tourist supply of Costa Brava and the Girona Pyrenees