Empathy, transparency and adaptability, the secret of a good inclusive tourist service

Screenshot of the training day, with the five speakers and the representatives of the Tourist Board. There is a sign language interpreter on the bottom right corner of the screen.

Sixty professionals from the tourism sector of the counties of Girona took part in the “Tourism services for all” training session organised by Inclusive and Senior Tourism of the Costa Brava Girona Tourist Board. The conference, part of the Tourism 360º training programme, is part of the Board’s 2021 Action and Objectives Plan and was offered with Catalan sign language interpretation. During the session, five people with different disabilities shared their tourism experience and gave advice on how to help professionals in the sector.

Human and empathetic accessibility

Isaac Padrós, president of Multicapacitats, an association in Girona that brings together people with and without different disabilities, spoke of the universal right of access to enjoyment and tourism. He referred to “architectural, digital and communicative” accessibility, but, above all, “human and empathetic” accessibility. Padrós, who is visually impaired, called for accessible tourism websites so that everyone can access information. He added: “When I travel, I miss a lot of specific information on how to address people with disabilities, how to attend to us to make us feel as good as everyone else.”

Isaac Padrós practising sea kayak in the Costa Brava. Image by MultiSignes.
Isaac Padrós practising sea kayak in the Costa Brava. Image by MultiSignes.

Public and reliable information

Josep Planiol, member of the Board of Directors of Grup Mifas and wheelchair user, insisted on this idea. He commented that the staff who attend to visitors must have specific training, must be well-informed, must know what resources the establishment offers and must know how to adapt to the customer. “If you ask if they have an accessible toilet and they tell you that the door is more than 80 centimetres high, which means that I will be able to get there in a wheelchair, that there are bars and mirrors at my height, that generates confidence”. Planiol also stressed that it is especially important that information on accessibility is public and reliable.

Clear and understandable language

In this sense, Yolanda García, psychologist of the reception service of the adult area of the Ramon Noguera Foundation, has asked for a simple, clear and understandable language to the tour operators, and has insisted on the idea of inclusive tourism: “We all want the same thing: to have a good time and that they offer us the support we need to enjoy it like the others”. The Ramon Noguera Foundation attends to people with intellectual disabilities. Regarding the treatment that the users of the entity receive when they go on recreational outings, García said that it is necessary to break the stigma that exists around this group: “They are adult people, with the interests and hobbies of any adult. We have to stop infantilising and overprotecting them.”

A group of adults from the Ramon Noguera Foundation visiting Empúries in 2019. Image by the Ramon Noguera Foundation.
A group of adults from the Ramon Noguera Foundation visiting Empúries in 2019. Image by the Ramon Noguera Foundation.

Pictograms and easy reading

Sara García, a great traveller with a hearing disability, spoke of the need to offer visual information, with pictograms, photographs or easy reading. As she explained, signs help her to find her way around when she travels, and she makes good use of photographs when she goes to a restaurant, for example. She also commented that there are many digital tourist materials that could be adapted into sign language. He advocated that tourist staff should learn sign language. She also proposed the installation of luminous warning lights in tourist establishments. These devices convert sounds into light or vibration signals that enable deaf people to access information from sound signals (door or telephone ringing, an alarm, etc.).

Inclusive and emotional diving in Lloret de Mar

The day ended with a talk by Roger Mandri, from the Catalan Emotional and Adapted Diving Association ACBEA. Mandri, a diving instructor, suffered a spinal cord injury. After a long recovery, in 2017 he founded ACBEA. The organisation offers diving-related activities for people with disabilities. But “we don’t talk differently or give excessive attention”, he said. According to Mandri, it is important to adapt the activity and it is essential to connect with the client beforehand. In the case of ACBEA, the experience is directed at the person, the sensations and the perception of the environment are worked on and, finally, the experience is lived in the most appropriate way. “We teach how to manage fears. The people who come here are in a phase of overcoming the experience they have lived. (…) Everyone sets their own limits.

Mandri’s participation was a response to the companies in the underwater sector associated with the Nature and Active Tourism Club of the Tourist Board, who were very interested in learning about the experience and in training to offer inclusive underwater activities.