Disability World
A bimonthly web-zine of international disability news and views • Issue no. 24 June-August 2004


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Hong Kong: becoming an accessible destination (and list of travel websites)

By Mabel Chau (mchau@rehabsociety.org.hk) and Barbara Kolucki

"Go Freely!" shouts the slogan. We want everyone, including people with disabilities, chronic illness and the elderly to:

  • Visit The Big Buddha
  • Sightsee on buses, ferries and trams
  • Shop
  • Dine
  • Attend cultural performances
  • Visit consular offices
  • Have fun at Theme Parks

Governments and industries around the world are beginning to realize that in addition to being a human rights issue, there is a large untapped potential market in accessible tourism. A study in 2003 of people with disabilities in Hong Kong indicated that accessible transport was one of their top priorities. In 2003, more than 300,000 people required the use of a wheelchair getting through Hong Kong's Chap Lap Kok International Airport. Travelers with disability also indicated safety, health concerns and lack of knowledge as other reasons curtailing their willingness to travel.

Hong Kong is one of the most exciting cities in the world to visit. It is a combination of old and new cultures, the best international cuisine, magical alleys of everything from herbs to antiques as well as modern shopping centers.

Easy Access Travel Limited (EAT) was launched in 2003 to provide "professional all-in-one travel services aiming to promote Hong Kong as an accessible international city." It is a subsidiary of the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation (HKSR), an organization providing landmark services and support to people with disabilities in Hong Kong and a WHO Collaborating Center in Rehabilitation in the Asia and Pacific Region. HKSR has been a forerunner in providing training in community based rehabilitation in China, launched more than 15 years ago.

Prior to the launch of EAT, HKSR conducted a study of over 800 facilities in Hong Kong including hotels, restaurants, consular offices, and key sightseeing and performance venues. The Guide to Visitors with Disabilities to Hong Kong was first published in 1982 and updated periodically. A new 2004 Guide will shortly be launched - and will also be accessible through the Internet. It will include transport information, including the degree of accessibility on various forms of public transport, like Mass Transit Railroad, buses, rail, ferries, airport, taxis, mini-buses, trams - as well as the specially adapted and accessible Rehabus and Easy Access Bus.

Regarding access in hotels and other accommodations, in 1997 the Hong Kong building code was revised to include that "for every 100 hotel rooms, 2 rooms must be accessible for people with disability".

Currently, major tourist attractions such as Theme Parks (including plans for Disneyland 2005/6) are accessible. Work still has to be done to achieve this same success for some of the most special cultural attractions, especially smaller temples and the famous streets and alleys of Hong Kong.

Support from Government

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government has recognized that this is an untapped market. The new Disneyland that is due to open in 2005/06 is going to be accessible to people with disabilities. And indeed, one of the best incentives for the Chinese government is the fact that Beijing, China has been selected as the venue for the 2008 Olympic Games, Paralympics, Deaflympic and Special Olympic China Games.

Current challenges and new issues

There are still several problems and issues that need to be worked out to ensure that accessible tourism can be anchored politically and developed properly. Many tour operators are small, catering for travelers both inbound and outbound. Access to other operators is one among numerous issues they must deal with - and until recently, they have not been well connected, either with groups like the HKSR or with agencies catering to people with disabilities. There are also major tourism players that simply are not yet interested - and continued advocacy with these groups is crucial.

Groups of travelers who are disabled also face practical concerns including the small number of rooms in a given hotel, small number of accessible seats for people with wheelchairs on a given transport or venue and lack of accessible toilet facilities.

At the present time, EAT has made the greatest progress in the area of access for people with physical disability. Currently, the latest number of both tourists and Hong Kong citizens requiring these services are those who are physically disabled. And Hong Kong has traditionally had greater experience and local expertise in physical access innovations. However, access for people with visual and hearing impairments is equally important and will be given greater attention. At present, only a small number of hotels and museums cater to people with visual impairments. The new "Disney" hotels and parts will provide access and services for those with physical, hearing and visual disabilities.

And finally, the cost of accessible tourism continues to be a hindrance for many. Options for people traveling with attendants and the cost-benefits to tour operators need to be addressed in creative and forthright ways. Networking among various agencies, referral of clients to each other and business collaboration are all being pursued as ways to build up and support this market.

Anyone who has visited Hong Kong can tell you about its uniqueness. It has traditionally been one of the most difficult cities for a person, especially with a physical disability. Easy Access Travel Limited wants to change that - for citizens of Hong Kong and those from other parts of the world. In 2003 Hong Kong welcomed nearly 16 million travelers. If even 10% were disabled, that would mean that 1.6 million people could enjoy this city, bring income to this city - and GO FREELY!

Mabel Chau is the CEO of Easy-Access Travel Ltd. and the Executive Director of the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation. Barbara Kolucki is a frequent contributor to disabilityworld.org. Both authors would like to thank Annie Kwok and Allen Chiu of the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation for their assistance with this article.

For information regarding Easy-Access Travel Ltd. contact:

Ms. Gloria HA
Address: G/F, HKSR, Lam Tin Complex
7 Rehab Path
Lam Tin
Hong Kong
Service Hotline Fax: 852 2772 7301
Email: enquiry@easyaccesstravelhk.com
www.easyaccesstravelhk.com

List of Selected Websites and Companies on Accessible Tourism:

  • Disabled Travels: Provides respite care for people with people with physical and learning disabilities and receives enquiries from worldwide from people looking for special needs hotel accommodation. www.disabledtravels.com
  • Global Access: Provides information & newsletter about accessible hotels, resorts and disability links to numerous countries. www.Geocities.com/paris/1502
  • Disability Travel: provides newsletter, Accessible Journeys; advice, references and connections since 1985: www.disability-travel.com
  • Accessible Holiday Home Exchange: A service run by people with disabilities where customers can swap homes with other people with similar needs in other parts of the world. www.independentliving.org/vacaswap.html
  • World Travel Care Companions Inc.: Offers knowledgeable support and assistance as needed for international travel. www.travelcompanions.com
  • Trips Inc. Special Adventure: Provides travel outings designed for people with developmental disabilities. www.tripsinc.com
  • Wheelsup: Specializes in planning and arranging travel for people in wheelchairs and other with limited mobility. Recommends specific hotel room and cruise ship cabin accommodations and well as arranges special handling on airlines, car rentals with hand controls, resorts with special beach-ready wheelchairs. www.wheelsup.com
  • People and Places: Provides year-round, small group travel, vacation and respite opportunities for people with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities. www.people-and-places.org
  • Wings on wheels: Specializes in arranging U.K., European and Worldwide vacations for disabled people, their carers/attendants, relatives and friends. www.wingsonwheels.co.uk
  • The Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality: active since 1976, provides access audits of hotels, restaurants and attractions and answers media requests on disability travel. www.sath.org
  • Abletogo.com: Provides information with details on type of accommodation, places of interest and accessible premises. www.abletogo.com
  • Vacation Care International: Offers a range of professional companion and nursing care and other services during vacation including medical supply pick-up, exercises, Alzheimer's Care, Intermediate Care, etc. www.vacationcareinternational.com
  • Medical Travel, Inc. : Arranges cruises and land vacations for Dialysis Patients, Patients with Respiratory Problems, arrangements for scooter and wheelchair rentals, oxygen rentals, lift rentals as well as arrange travel insurance for travelers with pre-existing medical disabilities. www.medicaltravel.org
  • Cape Tours and Adventure: Organizes special holidays/vacations conducted by qualified tour guides in Capetown, South Africa who are fluent in sign language. www.caperocktours.com
  • Costa Rica Deaf Travel Corporation: Includes trips for deaf and hard-of-hearing groups as well as individuals who are deaf. www.cdtcsa.com
  • Winged Fellowship Trust: A U.K. based charity providing holidays for disabled and visually impaired people. www.wft.org.uk
  • Egypt for all: Includes tours that are accessible for people with visual impairments. www.egyptforall.com
  • Epic-enabled: An overland tour company specializing in adventure travel in and around Southern Africa for people with disabilities. www.epic-enabled.com
  • Accessible Kiwi Tours Ltd.: Includes total tour packages as well as provision of special travel and medical needs for disabled travelers in New Zealand. www.accessible-tours.co.nz
  • Accessible Italy: Arranges group and individual travel services in Italy for people with disabilities. www.accessibleitaly.com
  • Access Tours: Provides accessible tours for people with disabilities in the American West. www.accesstours.org
  • 3H Fund: Organizes subsidized group holidays for physically disabled children and adults with the support of volunteer helpers. Provides grants to families on low income with a physically or mentally disabled dependent of the U.K. www.3hfund.org.uk
  • Access California: Facilitates accessible travel in Northern California. www.accessnca.com
  • Accessible Alaska Adventure: Provides services for Alaska cruises customized for people with disabilities. www.accessiblealaska.com
  • Access Aloha Travel: Provides services for travel, cruising and local transportation for people with disabilities visiting Hawaii. www.accessalohatravel.com

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