October 15, 2008

The Disability & Poverty Nexus - and Tourism as a Path to Sustainability

The November issue of Design for All India will include the Waypoint-Backstrom Principles on human centered maritime design.

The 3rd annual i-CREATE International Convention on Rehabilitation Engineering & Assistive Technology will take place in Singapore in April two weeks after South America's massive REATECH Feira Internacional de Tecnologias em ReabilitaĆ§Ć£o

So why are these milestones in the evolution of Inclusive Tourism part of a post on alleviating poverty?

Isn't tourism the ultimate in nonproductive and discretionary expenditure serving only the rich?

Not as it is being pursued every two years at our International conference on Inclusive Tourism held in Taipei May 2005, Bangkok 2007, and scheduled for Singapore in 2009. There the foundation in the work of UNESCAP through the Biwako documents and clarified in post conference declarations follows the reasoning of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MGD) and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Disability is a cause of poverty. Tourism is one of the world's largest and most culturally impactful enterprises. Inclusion in the right to travel is not only guaranteed in Article 30 of the CRPD but, when done according to the seven principles of Universal Design, the infrastructure built by or for the tourism industry alleviates poverty by enabling social inclusion for generations to come. It is not necessary to belabor the point - just wander Beijing after the Paralympic Games.

Yet the very inclusion of disability as a category meriting observation when measuring progress toward the Millennium Development Goals is being overlooked. Recently a gathering of 200 Africans concerned about this problem met and declared:

We, the 200 delegates of the Millennium Development Goals and Disability Conference from the, Central, Eastern, Northern, Western and Southern sub regions of Africa met in Nairobi, Kenya, at the Panafric Hotel on 15th to 17th September 2008, to examine the status of MDGs in respect to the inclusion and mainstreaming of disability;

And further to enhance the capacity of leaders from the disability and development sectors on effective mainstreaming of disability in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in African countries;

Noting that MDGs have no specific reference to persons with disabilities and therefore their continued exclusion in the campaign processes, policies, planning, programmes and implementation;

Concerned also that disability has not been mentioned in the midway Millennium Development Goals Report;

Further acknowledging that the convention on the rights of PWDs has recently come into effect, to among other things strengthen the resolve for inclusion of people with disabilities;

We note with dismay the continued categorisation of people with disabilities as vulnerable which further marginalises us and consigns us to invisibility, we state that we wish to be recognised as actors in the development processes;

An opportunity is being missed. Calls for corrective action have gone out to the highest authorities.

In my consultations on Inclusive Tourism and Inclusive Destination Development with governments, industry, professional associations, and disabled people'
organizations (DPOs) around the world I sometimes encounter the last concern in the list above in an odd way - people are afraid to treat us as consumers.

On the one hand that should not be so surprising when attitudes, policies, and architecture conspire toward social exclusion of people with disabilities. Yet, with a minimum of reflection, it becomes undeniably apparent that those of who pay the same as other customers expect access to the same product as other customers (after expending greater psychic and physical effort in the world's current barrier-rich environment to earn the money we are spending.)

Simi Linton in her book My Body Politic reflects on that process of coming to such undeniable truth in this quote picked up by the Temple University Disability Studies blog:

My earlier body had been trained to walk such steps and my eyes to appreciate their grandeur. I grew up thinking, although I'm sure I never said it out loud, that steps are either a pragmatic solution, a means to connect spaces of different heights, or they are an aesthetic element, added onto a design because it makes the building more beautiful. But now, with their function lost to me, their beauty began to fade, and I saw something I hadn't noted before--attitude. Steps, and particularly these steps at Columbia, seemed arrogant. The big buildings sitting up on top said, "The worthy can climb up to me, I will not kneel down and open my doors to those below me."... The design of steps forbids the wheelchair user, and the designer of these steps, deliberately or unwittingly, provided us only a solitary and difficult route to get where those steps took all others. (p. 57)

The transfer of wealth made by US citizens with disabilities to the tourism sector is astounding. Studies by the Open Doors Organization show that we annually average $13.6 billion US in travel and hospitality sales. While nearly all respondents reported significant barriers encountered in travel the resounding report was that we would double our travel if destinations were made accessible.

"Destinations" for travelers are "home" for the citizens who live there. Public transit, sports stadiums, government buildings, workplaces, and tourist sites made accessible through poverty alleviation projects like MDG attract the outside money of travelers with disabilities. If, as Brazil has done in Salvador da Bahia and Rio de Janeiro, large scale projects are undertaken to bring people with disabilities into the tourism industry as professionals this transfer of wealth stays within the community. Economists take great pains to explain how that phenomenon generates new wealth and breaks cycles of poverty in marginalized communities such as ours.

Posted by rollingrains at October 15, 2008 09:28 PM