How accessible and inclusive is Cape Town really?

With Cape Town’s tourism season soon approaching and the promise of the best season to come since the dreaded COVID-19 lockdown. Flights are back to normal with many new flights added to schedules, Cape Town is sure to be buzzing with life over the next seven months.

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It is no doubt that the world loves coming to Cape Town, with our breathtaking beaches, majestic mountains, and Winelands that stretch as far as the eye can see … and that’s really just the beginning of the Mother city’s offering.

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But the big question is: how accessible and inclusive are we as a top tourism destination in the world?

While many Cape Town establishments are fully inclusive and accessible, many are short-sighted on what accessibility really is. It does go beyond a ramp and rail?

I spoke with Tarryn Tomlinson, Activist and Founder of LiveAble, a company enabling accessible and inclusive traveling and living, on just how accessible and inclusive Cape Town is for people with disabilities, writes Cape {town} Etc’s Adrienne Bredeveldt.

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Tomlinson has first-hand experience of how important accessibility is, she was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and has been wheelchair-bound since the age of 18.

“Roughly 15% of the world’s population experiences some form of disability, whether that be limited physical mobility, hearing and visual impairments or cognitive disabilities. This does not take into account people who need accessible services and facilities such as the aged, temporarily disabled and parents with prams.”

Tarryn added that overlooking the needs of those with disabilities was not only bad for a company’s image but could also affect the bottom line.

“Companies will reap the benefits of putting accessibility in place. Designing inclusive experiences reduces the need for personalized services and accommodates the widest range of potential visitors. Embrace a greater diversity of clients for economic sustainability.”

Living in Cape Town with a disability, Tarryn has had to navigate her way around the city and has become quite familiar with which places and activities are available to her.

Picture: Tarryn adaptive paragliding off of Signill Hill

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Here are the three types of accessible places Tarryn goes to when looking for entertainment and leisure in the city:

Over the past couple of years, Cape Town has developed into a ‘market’ type city with food and craft markets popping up just about everywhere. Being such a cosmopolitan city with a variety of fresh produce and culinary options it makes sense that it would be such an attraction for locals and tourists alike.

Markets are great in that they usually have open spaces in which one with a physical disability can easily circulate although a word of caution- not all markets are made equal. Be sure to call ahead to see whether they are accessible.

Hotel restaurants and bars. Why? Because hotels are built with accessibility for guests in mind and have a stronger emphasis on service. Most hotels have accessible bathrooms and parking. The attention to service also means that staff are more willing to lend a hand.

When coming to Cape Town, you simply cannot leave without a visit to one or ten wine farms. Many wine farms are fully accessible as well as the restaurants on them. Some older farms can be a bit trickier to navigate with a step here and a step there, but those are few and far between.

Tarryn offers a few suggestions to establishments on how to become more inclusive of accessible tourism.

  • As with everything, it starts with education. Gather data on accessible tourism that reveals profile behavior and spending patterns of travelers with disabilities, their needs as well as those of their families and essential staff.
  • Once you have an understanding of how to change, you need to adjust or create accessibility policies and strategies. A large part of the problem is that these policies are designed without the active participation of persons with disabilities, so include them in the process.
  • Work on a short-, medium- and long-term strategy. Start with a small ramp and accessible parking bay. Offer more information on your website and install a plug-in. Make it doable and you will be amazed at what a difference it can make.
  • Apply international standards to ensure the same level of accessibility and service quality. It also supports a common understanding of tourism products and services.
  • Improve customer service. Usually, tourism service personnel lack training and therefore confidence with respect to catering for customers with disabilities. Many activities not considered accessible – such as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – can be adapted for access. Trained staff can alleviate 80% of the barriers faced by persons with disabilities.
  • Use innovations and technologies as a lever in marketing travel. Alternative formats like sign language, audio description and braille should be incorporated.
  • Target customers through mainstream media channels and not as a niche market. Simply include people with disabilities in your marketing and advertising. Do it in ways that make them part of society, in group settings, and enjoy life.
  • Terms like ‘accessible’ can be vague and misleading in your information. What is considered accessible for someone in a wheelchair is different for a blind visitor. Information about rooms and specs should be clearly stated. Factors such as bed height are often overlooked by designers and hoteliers even in universally accessible rooms. High beds make it impossible for someone with a disability to access the bed on their own, and in most cases, even with the help of someone else.

Tarryn added in conclusion, “If we think about how many of us are parents or have parents who are elderly and how many of us at some point in our lives will become temporarily incapacitated due to injury or illness we can see that creating spaces which are free of architectural barriers is in all of our best interest and should not be viewed as servicing a niche market.”

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Picture: Unsplash

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