On 07th of December 2017, the Latvian organization of people with disabilities and their friends “Apeirons” held an international conference “Accessible Tourism for All” as part of the project “visits4u”, which is co-funded by the COSME programme of the European Union. The conference theme was on tourism accessibility for people with disabilities and developing inclusive tourism for everyone.
Ivars Balodis, Chairman of the Board of organization of people with disabilities and their friends “Apeirons” says: “Tourism and the possibility to travel is important for everyone, but the concept of accessible tourism in Latvia and around the world still requires further work. Of course, tourism places are specific places and ensuring accessibility in those places often requires creativity, imagination and non-standard solutions, but I’m pleased that more and more tourism places in Latvia are becoming accessible to society. It is important to understand that inclusive tourism does not only mean the physical, environmental accessibility by setting up ramps in order for a wheelchair user to move easily. This concept involves a much broader perspective – accessible tourism means acting so that everyone can enjoy the atmosphere of tourist facilities – families with small children, people with visual and hearing, intellectual, physical impairments, as well as seniors. The provision of accessible tourism rather than reconstruction of places, implementation of additional technological solutions requires change of the thinking and attitude of people involved in tourism. Therefore, I was pleased that we had such conference her in Latvia where we had possibility to discuss with tourism organizations, business, tourism makers here in Latvia to make them more open to accessible tourism.”
The conference began with presentations of policies and strategies on accessible tourism, and their implementation, by the European Commission and the Ministry of Economics in Latvia. The Municipalities of the Latvian towns of Jurmalas and Siguldas, presented what they have done respectively to make Tourism in their regions more accessible for people with disabilities. For example, the municipality in Jurmala earned the third place in the ‘Access City Award 2017’, the European prize that recognises good practice in making cities more accessible. This is a very good example how local authorities can work to make their cities accessible to everyone.
Subsequently, different tourism businesses presented how they are involved in accessible tourism and what they do to improve the services they provide: Latvia’s States Forest main business is forest management but in their forest they have created tourism attractions and many of these attractions are accessible for people with disabilities in Latvia. The Latvian Museum of Natural History which is located in an inaccessible building and due to its cultural heritage status it is not easy to make changes in the building. However, the Museum have been actively seeking solutions to overcome the physical barriers of the building and improve the visitors’ experience in their premises. As a result, they are developing accessibility of their programmes and finding suitable alternative solutions where possible. The Latvian green movement, together with Apeirons, has created a Certification of Accessible Natural Places which will be awarded to natural places as a sign that they are accessible. Apeirons presented their mobile application of accessible places “Mapeirons”, where it is possible to find tourism attraction and other places what are accessible for people with disabilities.
The final session of the conference was dedicated to the Visits4u project, presenting its progress since July 2016 and its outputs: the visits4u itineraries in Modern Art and Culture and in History and Heritage in Latvia (Sigulda and Riga), Spain (Reus and Tarragona) and Greece (Rhodes). Furthermore, the visits4u online tools and resources were presented for the first time: Access Guides, Case Studies and Online Training modules, which are available for free via the project’s website. During the two discussion panels, visits4u partners – the Centre for Accessible Environments (UK), Asklipiades South Regional Social Protection and Solidarity Network (Greece), DomSpain Consulting LTD (Spain), Turin institution for the Deaf (Italy), Municipality of Rhodes (Greece), Nikanor LTD (Bulgaria), Apeirons (Latvia) – talked about their work as part of the project, their learning and ideas for future plans.
Conference delegates had the opportunity to gain international theoretical and practical information on how to make tourism accessible to everyone. During the intervals delegates visited the conference’s exhibition on accessible tourism and environment where they could try different assistive equipment, watch the visits4u videos in Sign Language and get information materials on accessibility and accessible tourism.
Further information about the project: www.visits4u.eu