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Guest Commentary: Georgia’s Planning and Tourism Initiatives for the Disabled
Atlanta – 07.02.09
Could a blind visitor ever fully enjoy a visit to Georgia’s Aquarium without being able to see the marine life? Yes. Due to the collaborative efforts of experts at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Georgia Department of Economic Development, and several local organizations committed to the disability community, it may someday be possible for a blind guest to have an enriching experience at this Atlanta attraction.
The Accessible Aquarium Project, under the leadership of Georgia Tech, aims to engage visitors with blindness or vision loss in the venue’s many exhibits. In-depth research is being conducted on motion, tracking, music, and narrations with a goal to convey the dynamic nature of a tourism destination such as the Georgia Aquarium.
These alternative means of representing a tour draw on other senses and seek to enhance the holistic elements of an aquarium, zoo, museum, or outdoor tourism zone. This project is part of an overarching initiative to advance Atlanta and Georgia’s accessibility for the disabled population, particularly in the areas of travel and tourism.
On June 15, the Georgia Alliance for Accessible Technologies Initiative (GAAT) of the United Nation’s Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (G3ict) held a meeting at the offices of the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG).
This seminar of presentations and dialogue focused on the progress of GAAT’s overall work and allowed members of the group to share updates about their recent endeavors related to establishing Georgia as an accessible destination for the disabled.
Participants from a range of organizations attended, including representatives from IBM Research, Delta Air Lines Inc., Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities, Georgia Tech, the Atlanta VA Rehab Center of Emory, Aeolian Solutions, among others.
These leaders reconvened to follow-up on its last workshop in late April, hosted by the Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI), and to devise a new set of immediate goals, all with the ultimate objective to promote Georgia’s competitiveness in accessible travel and tourism. This accomplishment will serve as a strong driving force in the economy and brand Georgia as a frontrunner in human rights, hence the persistent cooperation of public and private sector entities.
Presentations on “good practices” in Georgia commenced with IHG and a description of the company’s increased concentration on web accessibility sites and other technological undertakings for reaching out to the disabled constituency, both domestic and international.
According to Karen Bennett, manager of user experience at IHG, everything from grass roots pressure to upper management and financial support is crucial in the hotel industry’s adoption of accessibility standards. In order to spearhead accessibility innovations for the Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express sites, IHG has worked on thoroughly educating planners and developers about the needs of the disabled. She cited the ongoing challenges of these site changes and re-emphasized the importance of consistently educating the company’s staff.
In his discussion on Delta’s Disability Program, David Martin from the airlines department for disability services and customer advocacy also highlighted the value of educating employees on the subject matter and training them to ensure “good practices.”
He continued by depicting Delta’s commitment to making “Delta the carrier of choice for customers with disabilities.” The strategies used to do this include providing operational excellence, anticipating complaints, offering helpful responses to feedback, and seeking advice from experts.
He defined experts as disabled individuals themselves, since they hold the most insight regarding problems and improvements.
Delta works with the Shepherd Center, the Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI), and other non-profit groups on its “experiential outreach program” in order to connect with these experts.
Delta encourages those with blindness, deafness, or physical disabilities, such as spinal cord injury, to confront the difficulties that they face with air travel by going through a guided tour of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
This is an opportunity for each individual to undergo the steps of travel (from check-in, to security, to gate arrival, to enplaning, deplaning, and making connections), so that he or she can express concerns and overcome fears. This is a mutually beneficial program as Delta can learn from any negative experiences,
create improvements based on complaints, and make preventative innovations. Delta’s relationships with the Shepherd Center and CVI exemplify the unique fusions that can only exist in Atlanta.
The sponsorship team of GAAT, which is composed of representatives from IBM Research, Aeolian Solutions, and G3ict, concluded the session by highlighting the positive measures that have occurred since the group’s last meeting.
The Google site for GAAT and its Twitter feeds were completed and serve as a central source of information for everything related to the initiative (http://sites.google.com/site/gaallianceaccessibletech/).
This online site serves as a helpful tool for GAAT members to cooperate and communicate on issues related to the initiative. To develop this site, GAAT plans to explore various business models employed by organizations running similar efforts such as: EasyAccessChicago.org (Chicago/Illinois) and The Accessible
Road/La Route Accessible (Montréal/Québec).
Bill Curtis-Davidson, GAAT co-chair and representative of IBM Research, noted that “GAAT Core Team Members plan to reach out to experts and learn from other jurisdictions’ efforts, so as to explore the best model for promoting inclusive travel and tourism in Georgia and Atlanta.”
Leveraging such global connections will help GAAT develop a unique plan that will support Atlanta and Georgia-based organizations’ goals.
The organizations participating in GAAT are hopeful that their research and development efforts will extend the identity of Atlanta and Georgia as highly accessible travel and tourism destinations.
Their efforts should one day help Georgia residents and visitors with disabilities navigate transportation facilities easily, experience smooth air travel, find accessible hotels and inns, experience attractions and exhibits, and have a thoroughly enjoyable experience in Georgia.
For more information on G3ict, please visit
To become involved in these meetings, please contact Francesca Cesa Bianchi at
Trina Bolton is a graduate of George Washington University where she majored in International Affairs. She was employed in the corporate relations department of the Brookings Institution in Washington for several years thereafter and has since worked on various arts and journalism projects in Atlanta. She plans to attend graduate school for a master’s degree in public policy. She loves dogs, crossword puzzles, happy hours and running.
2008 The Agio Press, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without expressed permission.
Reproduced from http://www.globalatlanta.com/article/17436/