Allied health experts advocate for accessible tourism

04 November 2022

All people should have the opportunity to experience Australia's tourist destinations' products and services regardless of their physical limitations' disabilities or age.

That's according to CQUniversity allied health experts Dr Maria O'Reilly and Sasha Job who have today backed Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's tourism industry strategy (Towards Tourism 2032 ) announcement that aims to provide essential accessibility improvements to the tourism industry.

Occupational Therapy researcher Dr Maria O'Reilly said the announcement was an opportunity to ensure that dementia was included in the accessibility picture' with research suggesting that the number of people with dementia in Australia is likely to double by 2050.

"As our population ages' it is likely that more of us will experience dementia'" Dr O'Reilly said.

"Whereas at one time receiving a dementia diagnosis was viewed as an end to all activity' we now know that living life as fully as possible can sustain a quality of life. It can even slow the progression of dementia's effects.

"For many people' including those living with a diagnosis of dementia' travel is an important component of a life well-lived."

However' Dr O'Reilly said it was not a group often considered when discussing accessible tourism.

"Around the world' there are a small number of organisations that currently provide inclusive tourism experiences; however' most cater primarily to people with physical disabilities."

She said that Queensland had the potential to lead the way in accessible tourism after Brisbane recently committed to becoming a dementia-friendly city by 2032.

"Over the past several years' I have collaborated and undertaken research to find ways to make travel a more accessible and enjoyable experience for people living with dementia.

"This has included working with Brisbane Airport to have it endorsed as Australia's first dementia-friendly airport in 2017.

"Where there is room for improvement is within dementia-enabling tourism services. This gap presents a real opportunity for accessible tourism' especially in Queensland with its many attractions."

As part of the plan' the Premier also announced a $12 million investment for Queensland tourism operators' which the researchers say is a great step in providing an opportunity to drive change and facilitate business for both industry and travellers.

Dr O'Reilly said in the absence of specialist tourism services' the new funding could assist a number of communities' regions and operators to provide inclusive experiences' and in-turn improve their competitive advantage.

"If destinations can make themselves more accessible' it opens up travel opportunities for everyone."

One key destination that Physiotherapy researcher Sasha Job hoped would receive a boost was beach access across Queensland's regional locations.

"The beach is central to our way of life and is a tourist hotspot. We are famous for our beautiful beaches with our pristine coastline stretching the length of our state'" Ms Job explained.

"Given the diversity of disability experiences' it is essential that accessible and inclusive initiatives are put in place to accommodate people of all abilities."

The Universal beach accessibility (U-BEACH) researcher said a comprehensive perspective on beach tourism was key to welcoming people with disability to our beaches.

"It is important to be informed by research that considers the perspectives of people with lived experience of disability'" Ms Job said.

"We can then support tourists with a disability to engage in adapted beach activities that meet their needs.

"This could include walking and wheeling on the sand and expanding to swimming and water sports.

"There are countless water activities - snorkeling' surfing' and paddle boarding; viewing wildlife and picnicking - that be adapted for people with a disability."