Amman– Representatives from various tourism organizations convened recently to discuss how to develop tourism in a way that is inclusive of people with disabilities. Efforts are being led by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through a program implemented by Mobility International USA (MIUSA), a disability led non-profit in the U.S. that seeks to empower people with disabilities around the world to achieve their human rights through international exchange and international development. The USAID Jordan Tourism Development Project is working with MIUSA, the Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities (MoTA) and other Jordanian organizations to put in place measures to include people with disabilities in developing Jordan’s tourism sector. The Higher Council for the Affairs of Persons with Disabilities (HCD) was a key participant in the meeting.
“The tourism project is following USAID’s direction to promote the participation and equalization of opportunities of individuals with disabilities in USAID funded programs,” explained Ibrahim Osta, Chief of Party of the USAID Jordan Tourism Development Project, adding that, “Tourism is a great area for enhancing opportunities for persons with disabilities because it offers many opportunities to improve their economic conditions and quality of life.
“Jordan’s tourism sector is on the brink of making major progress towards opening the market to a broad tourist population, breaking down attitudinal and environmental barriers to appeal to persons with various disabilities, the non-disabled, seniors, and travelers with children,” said Debbie Sharp from MIUSA. She explained that, “Ensuring that persons with disabilities are part of your staff and your customer base does not require vast amounts of time, financial resources, or expertise. There are many small and inexpensive steps that you can take to make your organization and services accessible and appropriate for a broad tourist population, whether they are young, seniors, families, disabled, or non-disabled.”
Eng. Sameer Besharat, HCD consultant, was positive about the convention saying, "This meeting was practical as it focused on what can be done on the ground without having to wait for laws to be issued." He added, "The positive interaction between participants was significant, especially as it included both government institutions and the private sector." Besharat also stressed the importance of using technology in transferring knowledge about persons with disabilities. "We hope to cooperate with the USAID tourism project in following up on implementation of the recommendations made here and to organize more of these conventions," he concluded.
Several barriers to including people with disabilities in the tourism sector were identified and strategies to address these were proposed. For example, at hotels several measures can be taken, including ensuring elevators are wide enough for wheelchair use and adding Braille on floor buttons, using light as well as sound alerts for fire alarms, and using ramps as well as steps. In terms of marketing, radio advertisements can reach the visually impaired, brochures can be made available in Braille and people with disabilities can be targeted by making marketing more appealing to them, such as by using images of people with disabilities and using appropriate language. Barriers in several areas, such as restaurants, tourist sites, training centers, can be addressed through physical alterations, such as including ramps, accessible toilet facilities, including information for hearing and visually impaired people, etc. Also, in terms of employment, people with disabilities should be encouraged to apply and the workplace should be accessible to them. Employers within the hospitality industry can receive basic training regarding this.
The discussion also focused on how Jordan can cater for a large tourist market of persons with disabilities. While comprehensive statistics are lacking, 62% of US adults with disabilities have traveled internationally, and more than two million US travelers with disabilities spend more than US$3billion a year on their international travel. There are over 30 million persons with disabilities in the Arab World, with this segment of the population estimated to be worth US$3 billion annually for regional tourism.
“By ensuring that tourism services and facilities are accessible to people with disabilities, this niche tourist market can also be attracted to visit Jordan,” said Osta. The recent improvement of the Amman Citadel by the Greater Amman Municipality and MoTA with USAID support was sensitive to the needs of persons with disability. The site and its trails are wheelchair accessible.
"By catering the needs of people with disabilities they'll be encouraged to travel more which will increase the number of inbound tourists, especially that many of them do not travel because they don't know what to expect. It's important for us as tour operators to get clear and detailed information about the case of each traveler with disability so that we can organize and facilitate comfortable trips for each," said Jamal Zaatarah, Zaatarah ToursAssistant General Manager.
The USAID tourism project supported the participation of the Jordan Museum in the Deaf Nation World Expo in Las Vegas last year as part of efforts to reach new tourism markets and promote Jordan abroad. It is also supporting the Jordanian Women’s Development Association of the Deafin Amman to develop handicrafts with the aim of improving the livelihoods of cooperative members.
The next step will be to work with tourism stakeholders to implement and follow up on the short term goals that have been set and the strategies to achieve them, which have been agreed between the Vocational Training Corporation, Jordan Hotel Association, Jordan Restaurant Association and HCD.
According to MIUSA there are approximately 650 million people with disabilities in the world, and at least 80% live in developing countries. More often than not, they are among the poorest of the poor, and girls and women with disabilities make up a large proportion of that number.