Cruise Lines and Attractions See Benefits of Serving Travelers with Sensory Disabilities

If you’ve ever been to a museum, you know rule number one is to keep your hands to yourself and not to touch the displays. But for a person with an invisible or sensory disability, these decades-old practices are more dissuasive than an incentive to visit.

Travel industry companies are realizing they are lacking in revenue by failing to serve the invisible community of people with disabilities with billions of dollars in disposable income. How are policies changing to become more inclusive and enable sense-sensitive programming?

Once a month on “Sensory Saturday” the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Southport is removing voice recordings throughout the museum, dimming the lights, and providing crafts for visitors with sensory disabilities during the two-hour program.

While many companies offer standard accessibility for people with reduced mobility, providing these amenities is important because sensory disabilities restrict how a person perceives or interacts with the world around them. These include anything that affects the five senses, such as blindness or deafness, autism and hypersensitivity or sensory processing disorders.

Museums and attractions clearly understand why someone would want to spend money on something that they or a member of their group cannot enjoy? To put it in perspective, in the United States alone, 61 million people or one in four people live with a disability, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Globally, more than two billion people are visually impaired, according to the World Health Organization.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that people want choices, including inclusive and accessible housing for their specific disability, from museums to attractions and cruises.

The creation of the North Carolina Maritime Museum program led the museum to become a certified center for autism through the Standards of the International Council on Accreditation and Continuing Education (IBCCES) and the museum offering inclusive internships.

“There is definitely more emphasis now on inclusion and accessibility – most organizations want to provide the best experience for visitors with varying needs, they just need help and a process to do it. , this is where IBCCES comes in with certification and ongoing support and professional development, ”said IBCCES spokesperson Meredith Tekin.

The Smithsonian Institution Museums in Washington, DC, have been offering Access Smithsonian since the 1990s, an office exclusively dedicated to visitors with disabilities, a Smithsonian spokesperson said.

During the pandemic, the Smithsonian began offering online programs to anyone with a disability or unable to attend in person. The spokesperson said the online programs include accessibility features such as visual descriptions, sign language interpretation and closed captioning.

Before the pandemic, the Smithsonian offered “Morning at the Museum”, a program running in its museums and at the national zoo on certain Saturdays and Sundays for children, adolescents and young adults with sensory impairments.

While the Smithsonian Museums are free to the public, museums and the travel industry can benefit from how the National Maritime Museums and NC have incorporated sense-responsive programming.

In fact, the old adage of putting yourself in other people’s shoes could be a game-changer in bringing accessibility to the entire travel industry. In fact, the travel industry can learn a lot from a family member’s personal account of their journey with autism.

On the cruise line side, many cruise lines offer accommodation for disabled passengers.

Royal Caribbean welcomes assistance dogs and offers captioned television, large print documents, visual-tactile alerting system, braille in cabins, TTY, listening devices and sensory films, games in its children’s programs. On some cruises, the company offers American sign language interpreters, the company said on its website.

For travelers with autism and other developmental disabilities, Royal Caribbean offers personalized karaoke and group tours. Accommodation of dedicated cruises in collaboration with Autism on the seas, an international organization dedicated to making vacations fun and accessible for people with autism and other related disabilities.

The Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA), a global trade association for the cruise industry, has worked closely with the International Maritime Organization since the 1970s to create a regulatory framework for passenger ships to accommodate people. with disabilities, a CLIA spokesperson said.

For some reason, perhaps due to a lack of resources to travel or past bad experiences, many members of the disability community rely on word of mouth or known companies to meet their needs. Others search the internet, so it’s important to make the accessible information provided by a business easy to find.

Certifications are an effective way to show clients and investors that you are committed to inclusiveness and that you have the appropriate training to better serve the disability community. The trend seems to be generalizing in the cruise industry, museums and attractions.

For example, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean are certified by the Autism on the Seas Foundation Standard and Certification Program for Autistic Cruise Lines.

Certified at Silver training level, the foundation’s second level of training, according to its website, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean youth staff on departing North American fleets have basic autism awareness training. and other developmental disorders.

On the other hand, Carnival Cruise Line has chosen a different route for certification. It is the only cruise company to be certified “sensory inclusive” thanks to its partnership with CultureCity, a US-based non-profit organization that serves the accessibility needs of all people with sensory disabilities, including military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“One in six people have a sensory need and often face social isolation. We believe in making the ‘never’ possible and ensuring that people with sensory needs are accepted and included in the community – that means cafes, restaurants, concerts, sporting events and travel ”, said Uma Srivastava, Executive Director of KultureCity.

In addition to a list of services, including an on-demand personal safety briefing and a KultureCity sensory bag filled with essentials to calm and relax a traveler with a sensory disability, Carnival offers additional accommodations for guests who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind. or visually impaired. A glance at KultureCity’s interactive ‘Sensory Inclusive’ map shows that Carnival currently has 23 vessels out of 24 in its fleet that are Sensory Inclusive certified.

Many theme parks, including popular destinations like Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Universal, offer accommodations, breakout rooms, or planning guides for clients with sensory disabilities. Sesame Place and Sea World are among five theme parks in the United States and the Kizmondo Covered in Doha, Qatar, currently centers certified for autism by IBCCES.

Marlene Valle, a deaf traveler who gave a presentation at the Skift Global Forum in September, was right when she said accessible travel is a human right and should not be ticked off a list.

While this is a start for increased inclusion, travel professionals should and must do more to include the portion of the population with sensory disabilities and make this information visible and easy to find on websites for consumers.

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