Lonely Planet Writer

Here are 5 ways travel became more accessible to people with disabilities in 2016

Lonely Planet is committed to becoming the world’s premier provider of accessible travel information and our news reporting is no different. Thankfully, the travel industry is continuing to take steps to make incredible adventures accessible to people of all abilities. Here are five ways the industry brought the ideal of travel for all one step closer to reality in 2016.

1. Canoemobile offers US National Park access for disabled visitors

To celebrate the centennial anniversary of US National Parks, the floating classrooms of Canoemobile expanded to offer people with disabilities and diverse backgrounds a chance to explore the park from a canoe. Each expedition served people of all abilities in specially adapted canoes. Canoemobile is run by Wilderness Inquiry, a non-profit adventure company that specialises in promoting outdoor access for people with disabilities or from disadvantaged communities. They’ve been running integrated adventures since 1978.

A woman looks at her wheelchair on the dock while she canoes.
Canoeing was just one of the ways travel became more accessible in 2016. Image by Disability Images

2. Cape Town unveils its first outdoor park designed for people with vision impairments

Cape Town’s newest outdoor park is suitable for children of all abilities, but has added some special features to enhance the play experience for people with vision impairments. There is a specially designed scent garden filled with aromas of lavender, rosemary and wild garlic. To assist with navigation, there are dropped kerbs and tactile paving while the low-seated walls make it easier to navigate by sound. People can also enjoy the tactile mosaics depicting different stories about nature.

Students from the nearby school for the blind give the park a test run.
Students from the nearby school for the blind give the park a test run. Image by City of Cape Town

3. The world’s busiest airport gets a new calming room for travellers with autism

Travelling can be stressful for everybody, but travellers with autism often face a unique set of challenges as the hassle and loud noise can sometimes overwhelm them. This April, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport – the world’s busiest – launched a multi-sensory room to give travellers a calming environment to escape to before flights. With a ball pit, tactile activity pane and bubbling water sculpture, it provides a much-needed space to make travelling easier for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International airport proved to be the busiest during Christmas while coming in in second position for Thanksgiving.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International airport. Image by Charlie Lee

4. Thailand launches accessible tourism routes for people with disabilities

Eight major routes have been planned through some of Thailand’s most popular regions with the aim of making them more accessible for travellers with disabilities, or people who find travel difficult because of age. The first route will go through the north-eastern province of Khon Kaen and will be fully accessible to every visitor from arrival to departure. There are further plans to replicate the scheme throughout the country.

Wat Arun temple across Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, Thailand.
Wat Arun temple across Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, Thailand. Image by ©Jirawat Plekhongthu/500px

5. Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum launches inclusive audio guide

An art museum may not be the top attraction for a visitor with vision impairments but the Andy Warhol Museum wants to change that. In November this year they launched a comprehensive audio guide that focuses on guiding visitors through touch and hearing. In conjunction with the app, the museum has also created tactile reproductions of some of the artworks, allowing for an entirely new kind of museum experience.

Andy Warhol Mao art.
Andy Warhol Mao art. Image by Warhol Museum