According to Professor Yaniv Poria, accessibility in hotels and places of tourism and leisure should not only concern the reception of wheelchairs and guide dogs.
Accessibility also means alleviating the difficulties faced by people with, for example, obesity or autism.
“Today, the right to tourism, recreation and recreation is a social right,” says Poria, dean of the Eilat campus of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a researcher and teacher in its hotel and tourism management department. .
“We live in a world where it is not enough for schools and workplaces to be accessible. Beaches, restaurants and places of worship also play an important role in our lives. I see it as a political issue: we must aim to ensure that tourist, leisure and leisure facilities are accessible to all, and universities must take the lead.
A year ago, he says, his course proposal titled “Managing an Accessible Tourism Experience” won a Rothschild Foundation competition for new academic courses that can have a positive impact on society.
“We were amazed to find that we are the first university in the world to teach a course focused on accessible tourism management,” he says.
Poria insisted that her students learn about issues “by listening to people with disabilities who cannot participate in tourism, recreation and recreation because of their disability – not from experts who think they know what people with disabilities want.” “.
By inviting people with various disabilities to discuss with his students, “we try not only to enrich their knowledge but also to have an emotional impact”.
Her course focuses on facilitating better experiences from a practical managerial perspective. The Israelis, he notes, are renowned for their original solutions. And in fact, he’s already fielding calls from managers looking for advice.
Families with autistic children
Abigail Blas, one of Poria’s master’s students, is conducting the first known research on accessibility barriers for families with autistic children.
Although one in 78 children are now diagnosed on the spectrum, she found no studies on this topic. So far, she has interviewed 20 parents and found that they typically experience major difficulties in hotels, restaurants, airplanes and playgrounds.
Security is a key issue when it comes to improving their experiences and how sites can improve their services, says Blas.
Parents she interviewed said they would not go to an unfenced playground for fear their child would run into the street. Fencing playgrounds is a fairly simple solution; keeping autistic children safely supervised on beaches is more difficult. Blas suggests asking rescuers to keep an extra eye on the child, who should be wearing an easily visible color.
Parents of children with autism could have a less stressful hotel stay by requesting in advance that items such as shampoo bottles, bedside phones, pens, and notepads be removed before arrival. to prevent children from drawing on the walls or spilling toiletries.
“Also, children on the spectrum might be prone to opening the hotel room door and running down the hall. If parents received a childproof lock, it could change the whole experience,” suggests Blas.
“Hotel managers often think that accommodations for people with disabilities will be very expensive and they don’t appreciate the economic power of the disability segment,” adds Poria.
Dining out is avoided by many families of children with autism, Blas found, “because it’s hard for their children to wait and they may only like certain foods.”
Leaders notified before arrival can avoid disruptive behavior by immediately moving the family to a quieter location and ensuring that their food arrives quickly.
“If they get their tokens right away, the child will be calmer and it will also help the business,” Poria points out.
In collaboration with Blas, Israeli restaurant reservation/order automation website Tabit is experimenting with a button that would allow waiters to speed up specific online orders.
His conversations with parents also led Blas to offer to recruit BGU students to accompany families of autistic children to the beach, museum or playground to provide an extra pair of hands and eyes. Poria hopes to pilot this on the Eilat campus. In return, volunteer students would earn college credits.
The way society looks at them
Poria has published research articles on the impact of social disabilities that can cause suffering, for example, to an obese or LGBTQ person.
“If I don’t have a leg or if I’m blind, obviously I can’t enjoy tourism, recreation and recreation as much as others,” he says.
“However, there are people who cannot enjoy it because normative people – consciously or unconsciously – put barriers in front of their participation and enjoyment of tourism and recreation. We say mean things to them and watch them.
Poria’s studies show that people who look different from what is perceived as “the norm” are reluctant to enter beaches, gyms and airplanes.
Possible solutions: Gyms could allocate certain hours to people who are uncomfortable with their body image. Airlines could “ask a gentle height question” at check-in, giving obese people the option to board first and disembark last to avoid the embarrassment of bumping into others.
“You don’t need to announce it; the other passengers would not be aware of it. It will be an option to tick on a form filled out on your mobile phone,” Poria points out.
He also says it is essential that managers consider gender when considering disability access, as “there are major differences between men and women in the hotel, tourism and leisure experience” , he notes, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual.
Awareness and research
Poria sees its students as ambassadors for people with disabilities.
“I went to a new tourist attraction in Eilat with my students, and one of them said to the director: ‘It’s beautiful, but you have to know that this site is not accessible and I won’t bring no tourists here.’ The reaction was, “You’re absolutely right. We’ll come back and see how we can fix it.”
While not all attractions can be made fully accessible — such as ancient heritage sites that could be damaged by renovations — “many of them can, and quite easily,” says Poria.
It wants every tourism, recreation and leisure facility to display a symbol informing visitors with disabilities of the degree of accessibility of the site.
It also advocates easy solutions to common problems. For example, a blind person told him that it’s impossible to tell pepper from salt in airline meals because the packets have the same feel. “If they made salt and pepper packets in different sizes, that would solve the problem.”
Poria’s goal is to open a BGU research center next year dedicated to making tourism, recreation and leisure sites more accessible.
“My vision is that if you open a restaurant in Ashkelon, Beirut or Chicago, you will go to our website, read our studies and contact the people in our research center who can help you. We aim to be the best research center in the world. I want him to be a light for the nations.