Tour Friend: How to improve the accessibility of tourism for deaf and hearing-impaired people?

It is true that recently, our travel desires and plans have been somewhat curbed, regardless of our age, standard of living, location or possible disability. And since our projects are momentarily put on hold, why not take the opportunity to take the time to take an interest in the different modes of travel? For example, the travels of those who, despite their disability, live their passion as globetrotters and criss-cross the world in search of new encounters and experiences?

Have you ever wondered how people with disabilities travel? About 10%[1] of the population, or 650 million people, live with a disability. They are the largest minority in the world. And if, as the UN reminded us in 2007[2], it is a right to travel abroad in spite of one’s disability (motor, hearing, visual or mental), let’s be clear, it is still difficult to travel with a disability today. But then, what measures have been put in place to make tourism more supportive, responsible and accessible? Currently, 80%[3] of people with disabilities give up travelling because they lack clear and reliable information to plan ahead. In this article, we cannot deal with all types of disability, so we focus on hearing disability, i.e. people who are deaf or hard of hearing, whether or not they are fitted with devices.

source: Image by Firmbee from Pixabay

The first difficulty for people who are deaf or hearing-impaired is obviously communication, at any stage of the journey. Indeed, without speaking the language, any one of us abroad may encounter misunderstandings and difficulties in expressing ourselves or being understood. The same is true for deaf or hearing-impaired people. On the other hand, the lack of knowledge about deafness on the part of people who are not deaf/hearing can unfortunately often create a gap or discomfort in exchanges. For example, some are fully capable of lip-reading, or of exchanging in writing.

To cite just one unfortunate example, a few years ago, an airline refused to let a group of deaf tourists on board on the pretext that they were a safety risk, solely because of a lack of knowledge of disability [4]. Indeed, when you think about it, deaf people cannot hear the sound signals, but on the other hand, they are on the same level in terms of communication as all people travelling by plane who do not speak the language of the crew or English. Should people who do not speak the language of the crew and who do not understand English be banned from flying on the grounds that they represent a safety risk? To think about…

Generally speaking, it is the question of accessibility that is highlighted here. Whether it is for deaf and hearing impaired people, people with reduced mobility, visually impaired people or people with learning disabilities, the importance of adapting communication means to the needs of passengers with disabilities is paramount (European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC)). For passengers with deafness, the translation of on-screen safety announcements into International Sign Language for the Deaf and the implementation of appropriate training for airline staff are essential.

The legal framework at European level to regulate the travel of people with disabilities provides that:

  • It is not permissible to deny boarding or a reservation to a person with a disability.
  • these persons have the right, free of charge, to receive assistance.
  • staff members in contact with travellers must be trained in disability awareness.

For the full European legal framework you can consult this LINK

Beyond the legal obligations, we have collected some advice on (very inspiring) travel sites or blogs. The first thing that emerges is that there is a great deal of solidarity and real mutual help from the deaf community. Therefore, preparing your trip by identifying associations, federations, schools or initiatives for deaf and hearing impaired people is highly recommended.

Secondly, there are country-specific labels, certifications and initiatives, which enable tourists to make an informed selection of places, accommodation and sites adapted to their needs. In this respect, we will very soon publish a guide detailing the different public and private sector initiatives for accessibility for deaf and hearing-impaired people in Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, France and Italy.

Source: Image by Siggy Nowak from Pixabay 

To conclude this article, we would like to mention the existence of social networks, or collaborative websites such as AccessTrip or Handiplanet, which are aimed at a public with reduced mobility and which call for the contribution and involvement of all to collaborate together in the accessibility of accurate and reliable information on tourism. While waiting for such a platform to develop for people with disabilities, we, with the Tour Friend project, are working on the development of guides and materials to train and support people working in tourism so that they can acquire a better knowledge of their customers and have more means and tools to exchange and communicate.

“Because, beyond and with disability, going out to meet others also means going towards oneself in an enrichment that demonstrates a tremendous desire to live.”
Translated quote from LHOMME Caroline from www.handroit.com

Some very inspiring travel blogs written by deaf people :

Ed Rex, Founder and Travel Editor for RexyEdventures and The Deaf Traveller: “From the bad to the good and to the downright hilarious, he often tells his story to many people destroying stereotypes, discrimination and raising awareness of they can support deaf travellers”. https://thedeaftraveller.com/ – https://rexyedventures.com/ _ (in English)

Stéphanie travels alone. She shares with us her (magnificent) photos and her very enriching testimonies. http://www.2hands1backpack.com/_(in French only)

The Senka family, a deaf family around the world. The parents and their three children from 8 to 12 years old have travelled for 8 months and are now sharing their incredible adventure with us. https://www.senka.fr/blog/projet-2020/” _(in French only)

[1] https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities-fr/faits-et-chiffres-sur-le-handicap.html
[2] To ensure that persons with disabilities have access to the services of persons and organisations responsible for organising recreation, tourism and leisure and sporting activities
[3] https://handiplanet.com/
[4]  According to European Disability Forum

Visit the Website: http://tourfriend.eu/ 
  Follow the project on Facebook @tourfriendeu
#TourFriend #erasmusplusproject

In collaboration with: LES APPRIMEURS, Challedu- inclusion | games | education, Citizens In Power (CIP), Enjoy Italy di Alessandro Gariano

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