Guest Commentary: Georgia Takes Lead in Travel/Tourism for the Disabled

Trina Bolton
Atlanta – 05.15.09
Reprinted with Permission from GlobalAtlanta.com.

Consider all of the frustrations that you may experience preparing for and during overseas travel. Now imagine the existence of these difficulties in addition to the challenge of being visually impaired, deaf or physically disabled. These considerations and concerns for people with disabilities have inspired public and private sector leaders in Georgia to direct efforts toward statewide travel and tourism.

The Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (G3ict) has chosen Atlanta as its base because of the research Georgia institutions have conducted on the capacities of these technologies to assist people with disabilities.

G3ict also has chosen Atlanta because of the support these initiatives have received from the local business, academic and public organizations in the state.

G3ict is a “Flagship Advocacy Initiative” of the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development and promotes its Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In October 2008, G3ict formally commenced its unique partnership with the Georgia Alliance for Accessible Technologies in a collaborative push for Georgia’s emergence as a global hub and source of expertise in digital accessibility.

Atlanta and Georgia have great potential in being frontrunners of inclusive technologies that would make domestic and international trips to the state by disabled individuals more efficient and enjoyable.

As the Southeast’s center of activity, Atlanta is historically a crossroads for business activity and enterprise and Georgia offers the traditional warmth and hospitality of the South. Local leaders of G3ict are working together in order to ensure that these qualities are available to every individual, regardless of physical disadvantages.

On April 28, representatives from a range of industries convened at Midtown’s Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI) to share their ideas related to accessible technologies, brainstorm consistent and collaborative application of these innovations, and devise a strategy to near the goal of providing disability-friendly accessibility, transportation, activities, and travel information services throughout Atlanta and Georgia.

Those in attendance included executives from IBM Corp. and the InterContinental Hotels Group, members of CVI, leaders of G3ict, and officials from MARTA, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the Georgia Department of Economic Development, and the Atlanta Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, among others. These companies and associations have already made contributions to inclusive travel and tourism, including the development of digital programs for the
blind and high standards in hotel rooms and transportation for the disabled constituency.

Not only do these advancements endorse human rights in Georgia, they have a large capacity to positively enhance the economy. A recent 12 percent increase in revenue of the hospitality industry is attributed to consumers with disabilities and travelers with disabilities spend $4.2 billion in the lodging sector alone.

With economic and legal incentives in mind, Georgia companies are taking “profit-oriented” approaches to increase tourism by investing in ICT’s. Leaders of G3ict encourage these justifications in their understanding that the private and public sector must work together in order to benefit all of society.

The April 28 meeting addressed the many difficulties presented by ICT’s and the need for vendors to continually update disability-friendly services as technologies change.

The presentation continued to consider the phases of travel (from preparation to follow-up) and took into account different perspectives and disabilities as well as universal and individual approaches.

Axel Leblois, president and executive director of G3ict, remarked on the importance of “the continuum of the travel experience” for any individual, highlighting the need for consistent application and a statewide implementation of ICTs, beginning long before actual arrival at the airport gate.

Other nations that have had a degree of success incorporating the disabled into mainstream travel were cited as models to aspire, including those in Australia, Canada, Qatar and South Africa. Georgia also has the ability to become an exemplar of “good practices” for inclusive travel and tourism and its system can serve as a blueprint for other states and countries.

Everyone in attendance agreed that a central source of updated information about Atlanta’s and Georgia’s disability-friendly services, activities, and transportation would be an integral element of this plan. Ideally, the city and state would have available a package of timely details about these special accommodations presented in a palatable and appealing way for handicapped individuals planning a trip to Atlanta and Georgia.

This would be a digitally accessible site—obtainable via PDA and cell phone—with materials in several languages.

This group of business and philanthropic leaders will meet on a regular basis to continue their progress in making Atlanta and Georgia preeminent destinations for disabled travelers.

The positive economic and social implications for the Southeast fuel their determination to focus on this. Hopefully, their work will allow any individual from across the globe, regardless of blindness, deafness, or physical disability, to book a ticket to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport online,
ride MARTA to taste beverages from around the world at the World of Coca-Cola museum upon arrival, and even choose to rent-a-car for a road trip to Savannah….

For more information about G3ict, please visit
http://g3ict.org

To become involved in these meetings, please contact Francesca Cesa Bianchi at
fcesabianchi@g3ict.org.

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/17342/