September 27, 2007

Inclusive Destination Development: Getting the Design Right

The tourism industry can be a vehicle for disability rights.

This is the fundamental assertion of the Rolling Rains Report. The Report gleans evidence daily from around the world to fulfill its tag line, "Precipitating dialogue on travel, disability, and Universal Design." Universal Design, as applied to policy and services - as well as to place, publication, and product - is the primary strategy it promotes.

Universal Design is a design philosophy with its roots in the disability rights movement but its impact - and core constituency - is considerably broader than those with what are commonly recognized as specific disabilities.

The point of departure for the various national and regional dialogues on Universal Design differs. In Japan, for example, the aging of the population is of crucial concern while in Australia or Germany the emphasis is on disability. Language tends to vary also. Universal Design in one region may be "design for all," "human-centered design," "lifespan design," or "inclusive design" depending on the region.

There are seven principles that make up Universal Design. They will be discussed in the article, "Inclusive Travel: Some Definitions," that will appear here on May 1, 2005. The central unifying point is that this is an approach to accommodating users as they are - in all their variability of capacity.

A design approach differs from a "repair" approach in that it seeks to create something from the outset that will "work for the widest possible spectrum of users without adaptation or specialized design." * That is, because care is taken to insure ease of use by the young, the old, the tall, the wide, the short - and all the other authentic varieties of humans.

Stylishness, not stigmatization, becomes possible for all. Real choice becomes available allowing consumers-on-the-sidelines to jump into the game. Consider the fashion industry and how it has embraced ample sized customers or transported eyeglasses from prosthetics to an art form.

This movement from sterile to style is influencing the hospitality industry. Studies find that people want convenience, comfort, and service as they travel. Then they want a sense of home where they stay.

Hotels chains have begun to hire world-renowned designers to create their luxury rooms. At the same time, designers have begun to create their own hotel chains. "It took Michelangelo four years to complete the Sistine Chapel. Your room took five," proclaims Steve Wynn of Wynn Resort & Country Club in Las Vegas.

As long as Universal Design, and its near cousin, Visitability, are in the repertoire of the likes of Bulgari, Armani, Ferragamo, and Versace, the designer-hotel trend enriches life for all of us. But beds - designer beds included - with mattresses several inches higher than the tops of wheelchair armrests are equally problematic for the rambunctious young and the arthritic old. And even the best chefs produce something unpalatable if they fail to serve menus in Braille.

In the United States, "home" is being redefined. Universal design has moved squarely into the mainstream in new home construction. Visitability, the practice of building homes with at least one ground floor zero-step entry and a ground floor bathroom with a doorway wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through, is not only gaining popularity, it is the law in a growing number of communities. As home becomes synonymous with universally designed hotels, retreats, and resorts will follow the trend. Cherished traditions of shipbuilding that obstruct easy access will be cast aside to accommodate the aging Baby Boomer generation on cruise ships.

As Universal Design continues its path into the core values of the travel and hospitality industry it will carry its democratizing civil rights philosophy to the farthest corners of the world.

What multinationals in the industry model as ethical best practice - even as they demonstrate that Universal Design is also profitable practice - puts added pressure on local governments to build accessible infrastructure for citizens. In a self-enforcing cycle, the outside money brought in by tourists and invested in regional development that works "work for the widest possible spectrum of users without adaptation or specialized design" creates destinations of choice for travelers with disabilities.

We call that "Inclusive Destination Development."


Related Reading:

Integrated Quality Management (principle # 7 is Inclusiveness)

This article first appeared at Suite101.

Posted by rollingrains at September 27, 2007 10:53 PM