Tourism celebrates inclusion

Published 5:00am 20 February 2023

Tourism celebrates inclusion
Words by Jodie Powell

A pilot program is helping businesses in the Moreton Bay Region boost accessibility for customers and staff.

Run by Spinal Life Australia, the free EnABLED Business program provides one-on-one mentoring to businesses and disability awareness training, as well as connections to potential employees with a disability.

The program is funded under the Queensland Government’s Growing Workforce Participation Fund.

Moreton Bay Region Industry and Tourism (MBRIT) Tourism and Industry Development manager Renee Gusa says the timing couldn’t be better, with the State Government declaring 2023 the Year of Accessible Tourism.

“It’s an opportunity for businesses – including tourism and hospitality operators – to think about how they can welcome an area of the market that’s previously been under-serviced,” Renee says.

“People with disabilities have jobs and they want to do experiences and they want nice places to eat.

“It’s about changing perceptions, really, and understanding that when we think about the word ‘disability’ we have this icon which is a wheelchair, which only represents four percent of people with a disability.

Access for all

Tourism celebrates inclusion

“Spinal Life recognises that not all disabilities are the same, but accessibility for wheelchair users also enables access for people using walkers, frames, trolleys and prams. The program gives consideration to all disability types and access needs.”

Renee says she and Spinal Life Australia Business Inclusion and Diversity officer Brendan Somerville are talking with businesses about improvements they can make to cement the region’s reputation for world-class accessibility.

“As an industry, we were completely ignoring a whole user group - one in five domestic travellers has a disability.

“Businesses need to celebrate what they are accessible for and be honest about what they’re not accessible for.

“It’s not just focusing on wheelchairs - there’s also the vision-impaired and hearing-impaired market and we’re talking to cruise vendors about how to make their vessels more accessible for those people.”

Unseen disabilities

Tourism celebrates inclusion

Renee says there’s a focus on better catering to the needs of people with unseen disabilities such as ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) – from both a consumer and employment perspective.

“Many families with kids on the spectrum don’t travel because of sensory considerations.

“But knowing what it’s going to be like and what it’s going to smell like can break down those barriers,” she explains.

“You might have a teenager who can’t order a burger because it’s too overwhelming, so they would choose not to eat.

“In the reverse, you’ve got staff looking at this teenager who’s non-verbal – imagine what that’s like if you’re under pressure in a busy café.

“It’s knowing what to look for and ensuring staff are across it.”

Needs of an ageing community

She says they’re also considering the needs of an ageing population, as well as residents with disabilities who have family come from outside the region to stay with them.

“People have families come to stay and send their families out to tourism experiences while they stay home, because they don’t want to be a burden.

|“How can we ensure that our locals in our community are included?”|

Renee’s focus on accessibility was sparked about six years ago when she received an email from a North Lakes resident whose parents were due to visit from the UK.

“My dad is a wheelchair user, can you recommend places they could visit that would be accessible for him?” the email asked.

“When the question came through, I thought it would be easy to find information,” Renee recalls.

“But when I started to search there was no information.”

Better access to information

Tourism celebrates inclusion

In the years since, she’s worked with Moreton Bay Regional Council Access and Inclusion officer Andrew Monaghan, disability advocate the late Matt McCracken and Spinal Life Australia to ensure people can access such information easily.

“Our Visit Moreton Bay website has an accessibility portal, which also has new accessibility software to ensure people of all abilities can use it,” Renee says.

“Among the features are the ability to convert website content from text to speech, change text and background colours to assist with dyslexia and translate content to over 100 different languages.”

Sister site Visit Moreton Bay Region For All is a comprehensive guide to planning a visit and making the most of the region – from tips on the best spots to park, who to speak with, location of toilets and seating to pathways, and sensory considerations.

Opportunity for businesses

Brendan from Spinal Life Australia says the EnABLED Business program is an opportunity for businesses to seek advice about being more accessible for visitors and employees.

“It’s all about businesses in the region becoming more confident to welcome customers with disabilities and helping them consider people with disabilities as they’re recruiting,” he says.

“Some of the changes businesses I’ve worked with so far have been things like signage that’s in the wrong place – like too high or a contrast of the wrong colours making it difficult for people who are colour-blind - or websites that are not accessible.

“People have good will, they want to be more accessible, they just don’t know how to achieve it.”

Good accessibility equals good business

The EnABLED Business program runs until September, with participants receiving a comprehensive report after working with Brendan, who says good accessibility is good business.

Moreton Bay Regional Council Mayor Peter Flannery says the region has long been a friendly place for people of all abilities to call home and feel welcomed without discrimination, but there’s always more to do.

Plan an accessible visit

“Twenty per cent of people in Moreton Bay live with some form of disability and many parts of our region have a significant proportion of elderly residents, so providing accessible infrastructure for everyone is something very close to my heart,” he says.

“Even before coming to visit Moreton Bay, you can jump online and do a virtual tour of all our cultural venues to plan your visit and ensure we have suitable amenities prior to arriving.”

Find out how to book a free EnABLED Business consultation here.

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