Inclusivity must be considered a priority in contemporary society. Yet, too many people living with disabilities still experience hurdles to access a range of experiences. Some of these relate to navigating essential everyday tasks. Others involve tourism experiences with barriers that seem unproblematic to those without disabilities.
However, businesses are continually developing new technologies that bridge the inclusivity gap. Cities and tourist venues are finding new ways to adopt tools that minimize the negative experiences those living with mobility challenges come up against.
Let’s take a closer look at the advancements in accessibility surrounding technology and tourism for individuals living with disabilities.
All spaces — no matter their intent — must be accessible to everyone. Nevertheless, there will be times when this isn’t a practical or immediate option. Indeed, some people with disabilities may have preferences for businesses or experiences they are comfortable with. This may be due to finding travel difficult or finding public spaces overwhelming. This is where technology for virtual connections has become a powerful tool for accessibility.
While video calling apps and telemedical appointments are seeing widespread use, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology is also showing great potential. Alongside more affordable VR headsets and systems, many virtual experiences can be accessed via extensions that connect to smartphones and other mobile devices. Crossing over with accessible tourism opportunities, there’s a growing number of virtual tours that are compatible with VR and AR smartphone tools.
One of the rising forms of accessible virtual technology at the moment is the metaverse — a virtual space to interact with businesses, play games, and spend time with friends. As adoption expands, there is the potential to engage in education and training in the space and attend more collaborative virtual business meetings.
Importantly, at this early stage of development, there are opportunities to make the metaverse an inclusive space for the nearly 2 billion people worldwide living with disabilities. The digital and immersive nature of the environment means that physical challenges don’t need to be hurdles to engagement.
The virtual space can be augmented by real-time captions, and feature contrast control options — both of which can be extremely helpful for those who are visually impaired or those who have color blindness.
Making travel experiences accessible is vital beyond the ethical duty of equality. Tourism is, after all, more than simply fun, it is also personally enriching. There are clear mental and physical health benefits to spending time among different cultures and in new environments.
There are various important areas of focus for accessibility in tourism, including physical access, sensory access, and communication access. Advanced technology is instrumental in addressing challenges related to these.
Some of the key accessibility hurdles in tourism are indoor spaces. Hotels, museums, and restaurants — all of which are essential for most tourists — are not always well-designed for individuals with disabilities.
However, an increasing number of venues are utilizing smart technology to ensure visitors with visual impairments and other mobility challenges can navigate areas more comfortably. In many hotels, smart rooms may be available. These rooms include voice assistants for controlling temperature and lighting, as well as ways to connect more easily with concierge services.
Museums and other tourism event spaces are also starting to seriously consider how technology can make their offerings more widely accessible. Both the Prado Museum in Milan and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London utilize 3D printing tools for this purpose. Both institutions have replicated pieces in their exhibits, making them tactile enough to be handled and explored by people living with visual impairments.
Advances in Mobility
A person’s challenges with mobility are often the fundamental hurdles to gaining access to spaces. This applies both in day-to-day life and tourism experiences. Some of the responsibility for ensuring equality must certainly be directed toward businesses and city planners. However, the technology that enables individuals to navigate environments more easily is also advancing and should be considered an invaluable tool for inclusivity.
For one, electric wheelchairs have changed drastically over the last few years. Smart devices are even used to transform new wheelchairs. This evolution has been mainly created to incorporate wheelchairs more meaningfully into the ecosystem of interconnected devices known as the Internet of Things (IoT).
Some manufacturers are starting to place sensors on chairs that work alongside cameras and radar to analyze surroundings and prevent accidents. There’s also work underway to connect wheelchairs to maps stored on the cloud. This can allow users to set routes that can be adjusted in real-time as the environment unexpectedly changes.
There have been some significant technological advances that make navigating daily life and tourism more accessible for individuals with disabilities. Virtual reality tools, including the development of the metaverse, can bring experiences to people who find it difficult to travel. Tourist venues, including hotels and museums, are utilizing smart tech to create more inclusive vacations.
There are also leaps in wheelchair technology that transform them into smart chairs that utilize sensors and the cloud to navigate spaces. As advances in technology continue, these tools help to make society a more equal and, therefore, richer place.