Al-Ahram Weekly Online   5 - 11 November 2009
Issue No. 971
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875


By Mohamed El-Hebeishy

ACCORDING to recent statistics, there are 600 million people around the world with special needs, accounting for a good nine per cent of the entire human race. This is a considerable figure which requires special attention from the tourist industry, writes Mohamed El-Hebeishy.

"My so-called disability will not stop me from seeing the world," John told me matter-of-factly when our conversation ventured into his "special" condition. His left leg was amputated years ago after a dreadful accident, and although he is over 60 years old, he is full of life and energy -- and a strong determination to tour the world.

Targeting tourists with special needs requires a concerted effort from both sides; those with special needs should aspire to travel despite their condition, and those raising the banner of "Accessible Tourism" should be ready for them. Accessible Tourism is a 21st century term which advocates the accessibility of all tourism destinations and services to all people, regardless of any special condition, physical limitation or even age.

But before chanting humane slogans, certain preparations need to be made to enable this endeavour. The country's infrastructure needs to be special-needs-friendly with ramps available next to stairs, starting from international airports to side-street pavements. In addition, parking lots designed for cars driven by people with special needs should be made available. As for hotels, lodging facilities with modified designs such as wider in-room space and bathrooms with special needs access should accommodate people using wheelchairs. Chaperone services for the visually impaired should also be made available, as well as rental cars which have been modified for special needs drivers.

Out of the thousands of fancy hotel rooms in Egypt, only a fraction are equipped to cater for special needs visitors. Since tour operators specialising in tours for this market are on the rise globally, Egypt needs to catch up or risk losing a considerable amount of business.

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