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Travel Becoming More Viable for Physically Disabled

May 2, 2000

An increasing number of travel agencies are developing and marketing tours in which physically handicapped persons can take part with minimal inconvenience and concern. These "barrier-free tours" are travel plans that respond to the special needs of the physically disabled, including means of transportation, meals, and choice of guides at their destinations. The travel industry began developing these special travel packages through a process of trial and error several years ago and is now beginning full-scale efforts at marketing them.

Easing the Way
Some of the features of these barrier-free tours include easing the burden on those confined to a wheelchair by ensuring that buses used by these travelers in destination countries are equipped with lifts, offering assistance in immigration procedures for guide dogs accompanying the visually impaired, and providing sign-language interpretation services for the hearing impaired.

The Yokohama branch of the Japan Travel Bureau (JTB) has developed an overseas travel package for people with diabetes and their families. Due in part to language barriers, it is often difficult for those with diabetes, who must strictly manage their dietary intake, to access the same food abroad as at home. As a result, many of these people are hesitant to travel. A salesperson at the JTB branch, however, developed a special tour package after hearing many patients with diabetes voice their desire to travel abroad. The main feature of this plan is an arrangement with destination hotels to provide special menus allowing participants to access the same types of food overseas as they do when at home.

Since many diabetes patients are also concerned that they may find themselves in need of emergency health assistance while abroad, the plan also provides a nurse on duty throughout the duration of the trip. This tour is offered twice per year; in August 1999, 18 diabetes patients and family members took part in a seven-day trip to Australia.

Web Site Information
Nippon Travel Agency Co. has also been working over the past few years to provide barrier-free tours. The company offers information related to "barrier-free tours" (Japanese only) on its Web site. On this Web site, physically handicapped and elderly persons can enter their desired contents and then search for and request a travel plan that includes barrier-free hotels and other accommodations.

The Japan branch of Able Tours, a U.S. company, is using the Internet to promote a six-day wheelchair tour of Los Angeles. The unique aspect of this tour is its destinations, which include not only famous tourist spots but a research center for spinal-cord damage, a rehabilitation hospital, and a health-care-equipment store, as well as a chance to watch a wheelchair-basketball practice and converse with the athletes. The company determined that a large group tour would be difficult, given the varying degrees of disability of the participants, and chose instead to conduct the tour with just a small number of travelers.

Cost Concerns
As the travel industry has become more active in marketing barrier-free tours, interest has grown among the physically disabled, and there has been significant response to promotional Web sites and pamphlets. According to industry affiliates, however, because the costs of arrangements for such necessities as wheelchair lifts on buses, nurses, and sign-language interpreters must be borne by the participants, the fees for these tours tend to be expensive. As a result, many packages fail to attract their targeted number of participants. Whether barrier-free tours succeed in the future will depend largely on the extent to which these costs can be reduced.

Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.