For people with disabilities, the island lacks the necessary equipment. But thanks to new enterprises things are changing
Websites and apps make it easier for us to plan our holiday”. “For people with reduced mobility planning a trip is not easy. It is hard to find a hotel with a bathroom which is up to standard, a room big enough for you to move around in a wheelchair, and let’s not talk about transportation”. Roberta Macrì is 28 years old and lives in Barcelona Pozzo di Gotto. Just like her, there are around 40 million citizens in Europe with a form of physical disability. While 72% of them (around 36 million) describe themselves as “eager to travel”, only 5 million actually manage to do it because of physical obstacles as well as cultural, psychological and economic ones. Accessible tourism for people with reduced mobility can potentially involve up to 260 million people, considering that disabled travellers move around with friends and family, generating revenue of up to 166 billion euros.
TOWARDS ACCESSIBLE TOURISM. Compared to the rest of Europe, Italy and Sicily are still a long way from delivering opportunities to people with reduced mobility to enjoy an obstacle-free holiday. On the other hand, however, there is a growing number of apps and start-ups willing to address these needs for a market that is constantly growing. “Although I have had to put up with rooms that could not be described as accessible” says Roberta. “Lately, I have discovered websites like bookingbility.com which help me find the kind of tourist accommodation that is right for my needs.” The website reviews hotels and B&Bs on the basis of their accessibility and allows users to browse the results according to their needs. Annalisa Riggio from Palermo, the woman behind this project, says: “As time goes by, we receive more and more requests from hotel owners who are discovering this new market share that has been ignored for too long.” Other websites, such as “Sicilyforall” can help tourists with reduced mobility visit cultural sites. MOBILITY. One of the biggest obstacles in Sicily is the lack of accessible public transport. “Most buses and taxis do not have low-floor boarding devices,” says Roberta. “Taking a train is hard too. Most stations are not accessible and carriages are too narrow for wheelchairs.” Flying remains the easiest way to travel, though still with problems. “First, you need to understand how to get assistance from staff, then place a request and wait for the carrier to respond. A cruise could be a good alternative, but you need to book six months in advance and excursions are hardly ever accessible to people with reduced mobility.”
ACCESSIBLE TOUR OPERATORS. Can accessible tourism become a business opportunity for young people? It certainly did for Damiano La Rocca, aged 30, from Catania who founded “Seable”, a “social enterprise” helping visually impaired people travel to Sicily and abroad. For three years his enterprise, which is based in London, has organised excursions on Mt. Etna involving “sensory activities” such as collecting olives, canoeing, windsurfing and scuba diving. “The tours I organize are designed to help people with disabilities experience daily life and improve their confidence through safe activities”. Initially, Damiano wanted to include people with reduced mobility on his tours, but had to give up due to the number of obstacles on the island. “Hotels with accessible rooms are usually 5-star hotels and most people cannot afford them, just like the cost of moving around in Sicily”. He also goes on to say that in Sicily there are lots of accessible sites, although most of them are not advertised. “An example? The multimedia hands-on museum in Catania. It has been around for years, but very few people know about it.”