Sia Siew Chin, Executive Director of The Beautiful Gate Foundation for the Disabled, wants to highlight the fact that even people with disabilities want to travel like the rest of the population. It is no longer about the lack of proper toilets or facilities for the disabled, but more about the lack of opportunities for this group, especially those with limited mobility, to travel or visit places.
"There is a 'market of millions' of people whose mobility has been reduced and yet they want to travel if the product, service and destination are adequately adapted to their needs," said Sia whose mobility has been impaired since childhood due to a genetic disorder.
She pointed out to the writer that this market has been emerging in various parts of the world since the last decade, but unfortunately the tourism industry in this country has yet to tap on this market.
'Accessible tourism' as the world knows must be seen from an economic perspective where disabled friendly facilities woo more disabled travelers and in turn more income from the tourism industry. "By promoting accessible tourism, we wish to change the public perception that the provision of disabled friendly facilities is no longer an extra cost but part of the future investment," she said.
Sia further said that the foundation has embarked on an effort to create awareness on accessible tourism in the country by coordinating a regional photography contest with the theme 'Exploring Life Through Lens of Equality'.
The contest, with participation open to the Asia Pacific region, welcomes photo entries that portray tourists with disabilities in a disabled friendly environment or people championing for the needs of the disabled tourist. Sia noted that the contest also aims to draw the attention of the tourism sector to the issue as well as encourage the Tourism Ministry to do more research on promoting accessible tourism.
The winning entry will receive RM3,000 while the second and third positions will get RM2,000 and RM1,000 respectively. Those coming in fourth to 10th position will receive RM500 each. The contest acts as a curtain raiser for the two-day Accessible Tourism For All Convention this November.
The contest will also advocate the removal of architectural and transportation barriers preventing the disabled persons from enjoying the environment.
"The photography contest held by the foundation is a great way for people to see this. For me, it is just like lending one's own eyes for the disabled," she said.
As the writer was conversing with Sia, the President of Malaysia Confederation of Disabled, Datuk Mah Hassan was led in to the room. Dressed in a black suit complete with dark glasses, he made for a strong presence in the room. Mah, a lawyer with visual disability, has championed for the cause of those visually challenged and was also involved in the drafting of the Persons With Disability Act 2008.
Mah concurred with Sia that accessible tourism is yet to be recognised here. "Promoting accessible tourism is not a job of the Tourism Ministry alone. Every government agency must play their part. Nowadays, we (disabled persons) do not depend on sympathy; it is the question of our rights. We have the right to have equal access to the environment," he said.
Mah said physical barriers have been one of the main problem preventing the disabled from enjoying the environment. This includes landscapes like flower pots that prevent access to wheelchair bound people and buildings without ramps which prevent the disabled from going up or down. Providing more disabled friendly facilities will help persons with disabilities to live independently in the community and contribute to the nation building.
He said people with disabilities were appreciative of what the government has done for them, but hoped that the government would provide them with more jobs in the civil services. "Only a few government agencies like the Social Welfare Department meet the one per cent employment quota for disabled persons. I appeal to the other government agencies to improve on this," he said. Mah further stressed that providing facilities for the disabled is not solely the responsibility of the government, it is the responsibility of all, including the private sector.
For more information on the subject, please visit http://www.beautifulgate.org.my/pro-icat.