Travel for All: join Lonely Planet's accessible travel project

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Today, on the International Day of People with Disability, a United Nations–sanctioned day that aims to promote an understanding of people with disability and encourage support for their dignity, rights and well-being, Lonely Planet is proud to share a new project that seeks to make travel possible for more people.

Our core belief is that travel is a force for good when practised responsibly, that travel enriches those who are touched by it either directly or indirectly. Travelling with a disability requires a lot of organisation, but information on accessibility is often hard to find. Around 50% of people with a disability would travel more if they could be sure more accessible facilities were available. With almost a billion people in the world — that’s almost 15% of the world’s population — having a physical, mental or sensory disability, we believe it’s important to ensure their access to travel opportunities is not limited.

Trout fishing at an idyllic mountain lake. Image by Rick James / Photoability.Trout fishing at an idyllic mountain lake. Image by Rick James / Photoability.

What is the aim of Lonely Planet’s Travel for All project?

Our goal is to make Lonely Planet the world’s premier provider of accessible travel information, the first port of call for all accessible travel needs, not only for those with a disability, but for anybody with access issues.

Related article: London for visitors with a disability

So what exactly do we intend to do?

We believe that this is all about community. Lonely Planet already hosts the world’s largest, most well-known, highly respected and frequented online travel community; we want to extend that to the accessible travel community. There is no group of people better qualified to assess the accessibility of venues than those themselves affected by access issues and none more highly motivated to provide advice and recommendations for their peers. We intend to give our community the platform to share their information and experiences, through our existing Thorn Tree forum, and via social media channels such as Google+, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest.

The first thing we intend to do is listen! Many of you will know or know of someone who may have trouble accessing all the opportunities travel has to offer and we'd like you to let us know what you think we can do to support them. Whether it's help with planning, advice about how to cope on the road or something else entirely; simply send an e-mail to travelforall@lonelyplanet.com.au.

While your ideas flow in, we’ll publish a series of articles on lonelyplanet.com written by people affected by different access issues.

Our pilot project will be an Accessible Melbourne & Victoria e-book since this format is the most affordable and appropriate medium for many with access issues. Melbourne is also where Lonely Planet has been headquartered for most of our existence, making it a natural place for me (formerly Editorial Manager of Lonely Planet, and myself a quadriplegic) to lead the project. Again, if you have any ideas specifically related to this project, drop us a line to travelforall@lonelyplanet.com.au with the subject header 'Accessible Melbourne'.

Snow, slalom and high speed - disabilities are no barrier to the joy of winter sports. Image by Andrea Jehn Kennedy / Photoability.Snow, slalom and high speed - disabilities are no barrier to the joy of winter sports. Image by Andrea Jehn Kennedy / Photoability.

Introducing our new community on Google+

There has long been a Travellers with Disabilities branch on Thorn Tree, but it is little used. We believe that part of the reason for this lies in the fact that much of the information needed by people with access issues should be shared in a different format to a standard forum, particularly in the digital age where it is so easy to share photos and videos, and where blogging has become so commonplace.

So we are delighted to invite you to join our new community on Google+ to share your experiences and to show other people what they can expect when they visit a particular attraction, hotel, cafe etc. Every person’s access issue is different, according to their level of ability and type of disability, and the only way for them to truly judge whether a place is suitable for them is for them to see it or to read about it in detail. Come and join us there – and help us build a community that can change the lives of millions of travellers worldwide.

Accessible Tourism for All: UN recommendations

We are far from alone in our commitment to accessible travel. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) recommendations on ‘Accessible Tourism for All’ (2013) have been approved by the General Assembly. The recommendations outline a form of tourism that will enable people with access requirements to travel independently through universally designed tourism products and services. These recommendations were developed within the framework of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of 2007, the first human rights convention adopted in the 21st century, signed by 158 countries and ratified by 138 (though not yet by the United States).

A manual on ‘Accessible Tourism for All’ is set to be published in late 2013, designed to guide tourism stakeholders in how to improve the accessibility of tourism destinations, facilities and services worldwide. The development of the manual is a joint effort between UNWTO, the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT) and two Spanish institutions, the ACS Foundation and the ONCE Foundation.

As UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai says, ‘We must come to appreciate that accessible tourism does not only benefit persons with disabilities or special needs, it benefits us all.’ More and more tourism bodies around the world are beginning to realise this. Spurred on by hosting the Olympics, VisitEngland and VisitScotland have led the way by providing concrete support and guidelines for businesses and by sponsoring the Open Britain website.

As momentum gathers, why not join us in embracing different ways to travel and sharing what we learn along the way?