One in five (4.2 million) Australians have a disability and accessibility is a hot topic in the Australian travel industry right now. In 2018 MyTravelResearch found the accessible tourism market is worth $10 billion to Australia, and the industry is responding by improving facilities. There’s certainly a long way to go, but a number of recent changes have improved accessibility for travellers in Australia. Here’s a small sample of the sorts of initiatives taking place across the country.

A boy in an orange life jacket smiles as a man in a red rashguard guides a surf board through the waves; accessible Australia
Australia is stepping up its offerings for accessible tourism © Disabled Surfers Association of Australia Inc.

Researching an Accessible Australia Trip

It’s getting easier than ever to research travel opportunities in Australia. Start by downloading Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel Online Resources. If you’re visiting Melbourne there’s also Lonely Planet’s free Accessible Melbourne, a guidebook full of reviews, practical details and inspiration.

In March 2019 Travel Without Limits, Australia’s first disability travel magazine launched. The magazine, founded by Have Wheelchair Will Travel, seeks to get into the nitty-gritties that travellers with disabilities need to know. In December 2018 Adelaide-based husband and wife team Scott and Clair Crowley launched The Good Scout’s 101 Accessible Australian Adventures guide, which offers suggestions on everything from accommodation to wheelchair-accessible campervans and diving outfits across Australia. In 2018 South Australia became the first state to introduce accessible tourism awards.

Launched in 2016, Sydney-based WheelEasy reviews attractions for wheelchair users, including details about parking, toilets and space and terrain information. Rollawayz is a database of wheelchair-accessible accommodation for all budgets across Australia maintained by Spinal Cord Injuries Australia. Can Go Everywhere offers online resources covering all of Australia, with a good range of accommodation, as well as attractions and restaurants. IDEAS (Information on Disability & Education Awareness Services) has an Accessible Holidays category searchable by location.

a group of kids touches a model of the Sydney Opera House as a man talks into a microphone; accessible Australia
A group of kids experiences a sensory tour of the Sydney Opera House © Sydney Opera House

Accessible Attractions in Australia

The Gold Coast is Australia’s most iconic beach holiday destination and host of the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, the largest major sporting event to integrate para-sports. Gold Coast Tourism publishes all sorts of useful details such as beaches with matting (for wheelchair access), mobility maps and recharge points for electric mobility devices. There’s also Accessible Beaches Australia, a state-by-state directory of wheelchair-accessible beaches.

Down in sparkling Sydney there are increasing opportunities for travellers with disabilities to enjoy the world-famous harbour. The Sydney Opera House schedules Auslan-interpreted, captioned, sensory- and Autism-friendly talks, event and performances throughout the year, including a daily access tour designed for people with limited mobility.It also completed refurbishments in December 2018 to allow mobility-impaired people to access the northern foyer bar for the first time, with its beautiful view across the harbour to the Bridge, with similar building works to be undertaken in the Concert Hall in early 2020.  The Bridge itself has also recently become accessible to wheelchair users with the installation of elevators. Also in Sydney, Gig Buddies supports people with learning disabilities to enjoy the city’s entertainment and nightlife, pairing up people with and without learning disabilities to see bands, go clubbing or see a footy game.

In Victoria, Australia’s cultural capital, the City of Melbourne publishes mobility maps, transport info and accessible facilities and Travellers Aid Australia provides services like mobility equipment hire and buggy services at Southern Cross and Flinders Street Stations, as well as volunteer assistance and recharge points. They also have JAWS-enabled computers for free public use and Changing Places toilets. Many Australia cities, from capitals like Adelaide, to regional centres like Townsville on the Great Barrier Reef, offer facilities guides for people with disabilities.

A man launches his kayak into the water while a wheelchair sits on a dock behind him; accessible Australia
There is a wheelchair-friendly kayak launch at Murray Valley Regional Park © Rhys Leslie / New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage

Innovative & Accessible Travel Experiences

Across Australia, national parks are working to improve facilities. Parks Victoria is a world leader in creating opportunities to access nature for those with limitations. For example, it has developed social script resources for children on the autism spectrum in landmark parks like Wilsons Promontory, and offers free TrailRider experiences supported by volunteer sherpas at many parks, like the Grampians National Park in western Victoria. TrailRiders are single-wheeled chairs that can handle most types of terrain. The New South Wales National Parks & Wildlife Service lists facilities like accessible forest boardwalks, accommodation and the wheelchair-friendly kayak launcher at the Murray Valley Regional Park with an access deck made out of locally recycled plastic. Queensland Department of National Parks also lists parks and forests with wheelchair access in the Sunshine State.

Meanwhile Disabled Surfers Association of Australia runs surfing experiences from its 16 branches across Australia and New Zealand and Sailing for Everyone and Sailors with Disabilities offer adaptive sailing experiences. For art-lovers who can’t access audio-tours, Open Access Tours provides tours of over 60 galleries and museums using captions, Auslan, audio description and other languages, all accessible by phone or tablet.

Three people are on a bluff over looking the ocean, one is in a two-wheel wheel chair, one holds the front and the other stands at the back of the wheelchair working to make Australia Accessible; accessible Australia
Companies all over Australia are making a concerted effort to increase accessibility for all kinds of experiences © Parks Victoria

Accessible Travel Agencies

Specialist agencies are also available across Australia. Melbourne-based TravAbility has a wealth of travel resources for travellers including full travel agency services from car hire to adventure travel. It also plays a large role in supporting the travel industry to be more accessible. Travel company In the Flinders (tel +614 288 878 45) offers off-the-beaten-track tours in TrailRiders anywhere in South Australia, including in locations such as beaches and bush tracks in the Flinders Ranges and Adelaide Hills.

And for travel companies like Cocky Guides, sight-seeing has been ditched in favour of other sensory experiences. Cocky Guides organises adventures for vision-impaired travellers to places like Kiama Blowhole and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Travel With Special Needs is a travel agency that offers holiday packages that have been road tested and assessed by travellers with disabilities, to places like Uluru, the Whitsundays. More leads on accessible operators specialising in everything from cruises to city breaks can be found in the Travel Agents, Tour Operators & Commercial Operators section of Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel Online Resources.

Top Tips for Accessible Travel in Australia

While these companies can help you experience the beauty of the wilderness, Australian cities and towns are not too hard for travellers with disabilities to navigate independently. Infrastructure like tactile paving, kerb cuts, Braille buttons for lifts and ATMs, hearing loops in public places and audible signals at pedestrian crossings are widespread. The National Relay Service assists hearing- or speech-impaired people to communicate by phone.

Public toilets are generally wheelchair accessible and you can find one quickly in the area by using the map-linked National Public Toilet Map. For extra room, Changing Places has a list and map-based search for fully accessible toilets with hoists and adult-sized change tables.

Wheelchair taxis are widely available and easy to find online, while Aussie company Haycomp developed the Eagle Lifter used by Qantas and other airlines to lift travellers with mobility needs onto planes more comfortably. Transport Victoria has installed beacon wayfinding technology in six train stations to help vision-impaired people to access public transport using the BlindSquare app.

Written with expert help from Martin Heng.

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