Travel and tourism is big business. Seeing new places, meeting new people and experiencing other cultures can provide a new appreciation and understanding of our world. The State of Georgia has a heritage as a transportation, logistics and civil / human rights center, and the state is fortunate to be home to many world-class attractions and destinations.
Yet, residents and visitors with disabilities can encounter obstacles when they travel for business or for pleasure. Airlines, airports, hotels, attractions and restaurants often unintentionally put up barriers such as unwieldy doors, cramped seating areas, inaccessible restrooms, or inaccessible exhibit content and communication technologies. In addition, a lack of customer service personnel who have adequate training to serve travelers with disabilities can be an impediment.
In Georgia, tourism is the second largest industry bringing an estimated $20 billion each year into the regional economy. The strong information technology industry - combined with the region's identity as a hospitality center -- means the region is ripe for accessibility innovation. According to the Open Door Organization (ODO) / Harris Interactive® Market Study on Travelers with Disabilities, 11 out of 54 million persons with disabilities in the U.S. travel each year spending $13.6 billion. And, 38% of travelers with disabilities say they have traveled to Atlanta, making it the 8th-ranked destination city in the country.1 The same ODO/Harris Polling Market Study showed that most of these travelers take advantage of destinations that they already know are accessible, and examples from other regions are proving this point. Studies suggest that these travelers would double their spending if some minor amenities were made available. Meet and greet programs at airports, preferred seating on airplanes, hotel rooms closer to amenities, and employees who go out of their way to accommodate guests with disabilities topped the list.
Bill Curtis-Davidson, IBM Accessibility
Business Development Executive, and
Arthur R. Murphy, of Aeolian Solutions
LLC, Co-Chairs of the Georgia Alliance
for Accessible Technologies.
Bill Curtis-Davidson, IBM Accessibility
Business Development Executive and
Co-Chair of the Georgia Alliance for
Accessible Technologies addresses
attendees of the 9th Annual "Making a
Difference" Discovery Day in Atlanta,
Georgia USA on December 18, 2009.
Key executives and speakers at the 9th
Annual "Making a Difference" Discovery
Day in Atlanta, Georgia USA on December
18, 2009, from left to right: (1) Kenneth C.
Stewart, Commissioner, Georgia
Department of Economic Development;
(2) Eric Lipp, Executive Director, Open
Doors Organization; (3) Axel Leblois,
Executive Director, G3ict; and (4) John D.
Kemp, Executive Director, USBLN®.
Recently, a public-private partnership -- the Georgia Alliance for Accessible Technologies (GAAT) Initiative -- has been formed to help make inclusive travel and tourism a reality in Georgia. Over 60 Georgia-based companies, research and academic institutions, NGOs and public sector organizations have become involved in the initiative, which IBM is co-chairing. Formed in 2009, this partnership is currently planning for more formal business operations and pursuing specific projects such as the development of a website to summarize accessibility information for the region's travel, transportation and tourism destinations.
On December 16, 2009, an executive briefing to formally debut the GAAT Partnership was held in Atlanta. The executive briefing was organized in collaboration with the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, serving as their 9th Annual Making a Difference Discovery Day.
Key sponsors for the event included:
Air Serv Corporation, Delta Air Lines and IBM also served as partners for the event.
Richard Warner, CEO of What's Up Interactive and host of Georgia's Business (Georgia Public Broadcasting GPB-TV), moderated the event. GAAT Co-Chair and IBM representative Bill Curtis-Davidson presented an overview of the GAAT Partnership, and announced the release of a "Georgia Inclusive Travel & Tourism Concept Paper" developed by the Partnership that presents the business case for implementing a statewide inclusive travel and tourism effort that would benefit state and local governments, residents and visitors. A copy of this concept paper is publicly available in Microsoft® Word® format and in Adobe® PDF® format.
Eric Lipp, Founder and Executive Director of Open Doors Organization (ODO), was the keynote speaker at the December 16th event. Since its founding in 2000, ODO has produced two Market Studies with Harris Interactive® that describe the market need for accessibility in travel, transportation and tourism. Eric described how ODO, working with State of Illinois and City of Chicago tourism, developed Easy Access Chicago, an online and supplementary print guide that describes accessibility features at popular destinations such as restaurants and hotels in Chicago. "What surprised us the most is that the guide was flying off the shelves for people who were citizens -- the users weren't strictly travelers or tourists," Lipp said. "The initial 10,000 guides flew off the shelves and the guide is in its second printing."
The Easy Access Chicago guide is unique in that it provides sensible information that people with a wide variety of abilities could find helpful. For example, it provides a detailed guide of city transportation, from the airport to the subway to the bus system. "What we've set out to do is to tell you everything," Lipp said. "When we talk about inclusion, we mean for everyone."
Other leading organizations who spoke at the December 16th Georgia event included:
IBM applauds the State of Georgia, City of Atlanta and the Georgia Alliance for Accessible Technologies Partnership for their leadership in Georgia's inclusive travel and tourism efforts.
From Making a Difference magazine:
ATLANTA -- The Winter 2010 edition of Making a Difference highlighted the annual Discovery Day event that happened on December 16. Discovery Day brings together professionals and disability advocates to discuss practical visions for an all-inclusive world. This year's theme was "Making Accessible Travel and Tourism a Reality in Georgia."
"Our ultimate goal is to bring together the diverse spectrum of Georgia citizens and use their talents to create an inclusive society," said Tom Seegmueller, chairperson of GCDD. Discovery Day brought together experts in travel and tourism from across the country.
Bill Curtis-Davidson of IBM and Arthur Murphy of Aeolian Solutions introduced "Georgia Inclusive Travel & Tourism," the inaugural white paper from the Georgia Alliance for Accessible Technologies, which proposes a coordinated effort to work toward inclusive travel and tourism in Georgia. As tourism is the second largest industry in Georgia, advocates are cheering the state on to become a leader to the rest of the United States and to the world.
GCDD collaborated with G3ict, Harstfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Renaissance Concourse Hotel, and partnered with Airserv, Delta Air Lines and IBM.
Making a Difference is published by the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities. Current and past issues are available in accessible formats online at www.gcdd.org. GCDD is an independent state agency, funded by federal grants, that works to foster a better understanding of the challenges, concerns and lifestyles of people with disabilities in Georgia. To accomplish this goal, GCDD collaborates with a broad coalition of organizations, agencies and individuals, all working to improve the quality of life for Georgians with disabilities.