Why is Accessible Travel Necessary for Blind People?

Posted by Tom October 11, 2022

Even though travel can be more challenging and complicated for people without vision, I would argue that it is even more necessary than for those who can see. In many instances blind people have no choice but to physically be present to have similar experience to sighted people. This presence can only be achieved when the entire process of the trip is fully inclusive and accessible. If one piece is missing, the trip doesn’t make sense, or is simply not possible.

For the sake of this article, and in general for the blog, let’s define travel as getting from point A to point B and carry out the intended task. This can be as long as an overseas trip, or as short as walking down to the corner to grab a coffee. And of course, everything in between. Here the in between part is equally important, because traveling without a purpose is often not beneficial, unless the purpose is just to enjoy the journey, for example a hike. Most often, we travel to do something, therefore it is important that this activity is equally enjoyable.

In the following I will look at a few instances where travel is even more important for blind people, yet it can have many complications. Of course, the following list is without the intent of being complete, the purpose is to give you a few ideas.

Experiencing the world

Sighted people experience most of the world through their eyesight. When they are curious about what something looks like and it is not immediately available, they can get a good sense of it if they look up a picture on the internet or watch a video. Though descriptions exist, such as alternative text on picture or audio description on video, it is by no means the same. You probably heard that a picture is worth a thousand words. For blind people, it is almost the opposite: sometimes even a thousand words won’t give a similar experience to just looking at a picture. For a blind person, an equivalent would be touching an object, but it is often not readily available. Here the only alternative is to get out of the home, and find the object and touch it.

For sighted people often museums and exhibits can be an equivalent experience, for blind people museum are often not an option because objects are behind glass.

Even when there is an opportunity to touch something, the object maybe too big to get a sense of it. For example, you probably have heard the story where blind people get to touch an elephant, but they touch different parts of it. So, what are the alternatives? Of course going to a place where elephants live is often not possible, and even if it is, one can’t just walk up to them and examine them. Another option would be to find a miniature elephant to feel the shape, though it won’t give a good idea of the texture.

Or think about a building, for example the Empire State Building. One can travel to it, walk up to the top, hear the sounds above the city, but this will not help at all, because touching the entire building is not possible. Again, the alternative is getting a small model of the building in the gift shop.

These examples are only to satisfy curiosity, but one can live without knowing what an elephant or the Empire State Building feels like. But there are more practical implications, for example when buying a house or furniture.

Thus, one may argue that in most cases, the experience is not necessarily useful, rather, it is only there to satisfy curiosity. However, it does have implications in social interaction. It is difficult to have a conversation with people when they exactly understand what something looks like, while blind people may only have an idea about it, sometimes an incorrect one.


A related area is shopping. Especially when getting around is more difficult at some places, online shopping takes travel out of the equation, and as long as the web shop is accessible with a screen reader, people can just buy what they would like to. In reality, often these purchases are based on looking at a picture, but as I described this above, even the best description of a picture does not give an equivalent experience. Not to mention that in reality, shopping sites often don’t even describe their products in great detail. Thus, the only remaining option for blind people is to go to the store or touch the product before buying, unless it is in a package, which only adds another problem. Therefore, instead of just looking at a picture, blind people need to find an accessible way to the store and make sure they can touch the product before they buy it. This could be as simple as buying clothes, gifts, tools, dishes, etc.

Often the solution can be just to order what we already know, but who wants to wear the same shirt every day, or give the same gift each year.


Though remote work is more available these day, a good number of people still need to show up at their work location. According to the American Federation of the Blind, in 2017, less then 50 percent of visually impaired people were employed. This does not take it into account that though some people are employed, they are working part time, or paid below the average rate. Therefore, with such a minimal income, many blind people are forced to live outside of cities, where public transportation is minimal or non-existent. But if they can’t travel, they will have a harder time to get a job. So, it becomes a catch 22.

Especially in larger countries, often times public transportation is not sufficient, so blind people have the option of finding remote work, or move to a usually more expensive area where transportation is available.

Social interaction

When long distance communication was mostly done by telephone, blind people had similar chances of connecting. These days, where the norm is video communication, sighted people are able to pick up on non-verbal interaction and thus better understand each other’s intentions. This is not available to blind people, all they can rely on is the spoken word and the tone of the voice. However, when getting together with people in person, some of the non-verbal communication can be auditory. The question is, what is worth more, to save the time and often frustration of travel, or have a better communication.

For example, a sighted teacher will be able to tell when people are not paying attention. In a virtual class it may not be obvious for a blind person. However, when a blind person teaches an in person class, they can tell when students are shuffling papers, clicking the mouse, talking, or otherwise distracted, and it is much easier to refocus the attention.

Another example when onsite work can be more beneficial is when not all software are accessible, or some of the information is on paper that is difficult to read with optical character recognition, for example hand writing. If the majority of the information is accessible, in the office a blind people can ask for some help from the colleagues or hire a personal reader, but this maybe much more difficult in a remote environment.


As you can see, traveling for blind people is not only about the fun and entertainment, but in many instances it can improve the quality of life. When it is completely avoidable for sighted people, in some cases, for blind people it is absolutely necessary.

Original at https://evengrounds.com/why-is-accessible-travel-necessary-for-blind-people/