Blind Tourism: a Window to the Unseen

Blind Tourism:  a Window to the UnseenBlind Tourism:  a Window to the Unseen

Tourism literature today is increasingly turning its attention to tourists with diverse physical disabilities. However, there is a dearth of studies on the physically challenged people’s perceptions of tourism experiences. Furthermore, most existing studies focus on wheelchair users, ignoring other segments of the disabled population such as the visually and hearing impaired.

Existing studies have devoted little, if any, attention to the experiences of blind people. This lack of attention is surprising, first, because of the considerable size of the global blind population. Second, blind people often travel accompanied by others. Third, during group travels, the presence of blind people may affect the travel patterns and itineraries of their fellow travelers. Fourth, legislation requiring organizations and companies to offer accessibility to all members of society, particularly to people with disabilities should also be taken into account. Such accessibility legislation is also reflected in rules relevant to the tourism experience of disabled people. In addition, prevailing modern social norms recognize travel as a social right of all members of society. Finally, travel’s contribution to the quality of life of people with disabilities and their well being is well recognized. Therefore, both researchers and practitioners need to investigate blind people’s tourism experience in terms of theory and practice.

Blind Tourism as the term implies deals directly with the perception and needs of the blind and visually-impaired regarding traveling and any type of touristic experience. It addresses elements which play an important role in blind people’s tourism experiences including flights, hotels, restaurants and museums, ISNA reports.

  Efforts in Iran

Fortunately, there have been efforts to promote blind tourism in Iran.

Bahram Khalfi, is a tour guide who, after losing his sight, staunchly dedicated his life to step into the world of the blind and take them with him on his journeys.

For over seven years he has been taking visually-impaired visitors on sightseeing tours to museums, palaces, and even natural sites, where he acts as the tour guide describing the site, its history, and environment to them.

He has also written a guidebook on blind tourism in which he explains the characteristics of the trips and the requirements and necessities of such tours.

He had the permission from the authorities at the National Museum of Iran for the blind to be able to touch the artifacts while visiting the place. He organized 5 tours of such nature before the permit was annulled due to the preservation regulations for the museums two years ago.

Khalfi then came up with other ideas to facilitate the visits of people with disabilities such as designing a walking route for the blind inside the museum, making replicas of the artifacts and even historical sites and monuments so blind visitors could grasp the history by touching them, with the instructions, guidelines, and descriptions in tourist sites in Braille.

However, all his proposals to the Iran National Museum are on standby, waiting for approval from the head of the museum, not to mention the funding.

In the meanwhile, Khalfi has not kept quiet and is making efforts to run eco-touristic and natural tours for his special tourist groups.

They go on walking tours in a 15-km route along the river and in nature to ‘Shahrestanak’, Alborz Province.

“Tours in nature are completely different from visiting a museum. Therefore I designate a guide to every tourist to accompany them during the trip. I have designed a new route along Qom Salt (Namak) Lake where there are not many bumps on the way and travelers can easily walk 10 to 15 km in nature and enjoy themselves”, notes Khalfi.

He regrets that not a lot of travel agencies have joined him in his endeavor: “I offered the tours to several tour and travel agencies to advertise and run them but almost none of them welcomed the plan.”

“The main reason is money. We run these tours at the least price possible so more people with disabilities can participate. That is why travel agencies are not that interested to take part”, he observes.

  Examples Around the World

There are numerous trends, people, and entities that enthusiastically work on Blind Tourism from different aspects.

As Peter White, the Disability Affairs Correspondent for the BBC, testifies holidays always present challenges, but blind tourists face particular problems; a sense of terror can be part of the pleasure.

He is the presenter of ‘You and Yours and In Touch’ on BBC Radio. In his program he says he tries to give people the experience of what it would be like traveling to a place for the first time.

“The first thing that sounds different is the voices. And so instantly you’ve got that idea of getting your picture of the place from what people are saying, what they’re talking about, the intonation, whether their voices go up or down, the way the street-sounds work, the way people sell things, the way they call each other to prayer, all sorts of things which are very distinctive and which make a soundscape.”

Emma Tracey, a producer on the ‘BBC Ouch! disability blog and talk show’, who has been blind from birth, explains that she discovered the hard way, during a trek to Machu Picchu in Peru, that it is vital to choose an appropriate destination. Many visually-impaired travelers prefer to go to noisy cities with a decent transport system and a reputation for great food and friendly people and they tend to travel with family or friends.

But that is not the only option available for them. Technology trainer and globetrotter Robbie Sandberg prefers to travel alone.

“Although it might take me longer to get to places, I can do it in my own time and it is an achievement,” he says.

Whether accompanied or holidaying solo, blind travelers tend to build up a non-visual picture of a place using their other senses. “I have found that getting in touch with the culture of a place is the most helpful way to build up a mental picture.”

Amar Latif, a British entrepreneur, actor, director, motivational speaker and world traveler, is the founder and director of commercial tour operator Traveleyes, which organizes holidays for a mix of blind and sighted people. The company allocates each blind holidaymaker with a different sighted guide each day, who describes the visual aspects of their surroundings.

Blind himself, Latif says that having a dedicated guide provides a much richer sightseeing experience.

 TEAD project

The TEAD project provides free training resources to tourist industry employees across Europe to help them make the holiday experience more accessible for people with disabilities.

The comprehensive guidance has been designed by the TEAD project group (a group of European organizations who specialize in disability and education, including Foundation Institute for Regional Development, Action for Blind People and Access Sweden).

Service providers being targeted by the project include tourist information centers, travel agencies, tourist guide organizations, tourist transport, and regional promotion offices.