The Economic Impact of Visitability on Ordinary Tourism

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 Does how private homes are built affect tourism?  You bet.    In part, because countless people who would have taken  trips  to visit  relatives and friends , stay home instead.


This one travelogue by the founder of the movement for Visitability, Eleanor Smith, tells the overlooked story of how lack of accessibility and the failure to adopt Universal Design even in our homes has an economic impact on a region's tourism coffers:

Four-day family vacation at my sister's house in California:   Ten of us--adult sibs and spouses.     We hiked the trails winding  above the Pacific, and  ate in a seafood restaurant.   We went to the John Steinbeck museum in Salinas, and ate lunch at a local diner.    We rode the rapid transit system into San Francisco,  shopped and dined  in Chinatown.    We toured  the historic mission  in San Juan Bautista  and had  lunch in an outdoor café under an arbor  in a  flower garden.    We had a wonderful time reminiscing, joking, catching up.    And we spent a lot of money.     Ordinary tourism.

 

Ordinary except that none of this would have happened if my sister's house had not had a ramp and renovated bathroom due to her husband's progressing Multiple Sclerosis.   I, meanwhile, have used a wheelchair since having polio at age three.   Now , at age 65, I was no longer the buff young woman who could toss her wheelchair behind her into the back seat of a car and drive off, and could  be carried up steps into houses in a manual chair if need be.        I use a power wheelchair and must have a ramp to enter houses that have entry steps.    So my sister's accessible house was the choice for our reunion.   Had the house not had access, I would not have been present.      Nor would my brother-in-law with MS  have been able to  exit his house without extreme effort (and no, not all people with mobility impairments are able to obtain the renovations they need in their  home.   Perhaps 2/3 of them remain dependent on the schedules, abilities and whims of others to exit their own homes.)   It is unlikely the California reunion would have happened at all if the house had lacked access.

  

What's the relation between private home access and disability?   I think no one has yet researched the vast amount of  tourist dollars NOT spent because people with mobility impairments can't enter the houses or  use the bathrooms in the houses of their far-flung adult children, siblings, friends...  or can only do so with great difficulty.      In fact, my non-disabled sibs often use my Kentucky sister's house  as an overnight stop-off and enjoyable visit while travelling  from Indiana  or Florida.   But I,  and my would-be travel companions, do not.       Her house has 5 steps up to one bathroom and five steps down to the other.   

 

I don't fault my Kentucky sister  for buying the house that was well located and priced right for her and her family.   We can't renovate all the existing houses that lack access, an  estimated 124 million houses in the U.S alone.    But we can stop building new houses with the same barriers.    That's what the movement called Visitability (or Inclusive Home Design, or Basic Home Access,   or Core Universal Design) is about. And it has been at least a little effective in getting houses built with basic access whether or not a known first resident has a disability.   For information about this movement, see www.concretechange.org.

 

Does how private homes are built affect tourism?  You bet.    In part, because countless people who would have taken  trips  to visit  relatives and friends , stay home instead.


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