Marginalised Participation: Physical Disability, High Support Needs and Tourism

Article excerpt

People with disabilities and their tourism experiences have largely been an under researched phenomenon. In the academic sense, disability issues and tourism have remained separate areas of study. This paper will examine the inequities experienced by people with physical disabilities with high support needs who travel or wish to undertake travel. It does so by investigating the lived tourism experiences of this group. In doing so the paper is guided by the principles of the social model of disability that views disability as a product of the disabling social environment and hostile social attitudes. This social experience takes place largely in the market environment of tourism. This paper seeks to: a) understand tourism from the lived experiences of this group; and b) identify, quantify and discuss the major areas of inequity. This work draws on Darcy's 1998 study into the tourism patterns and experiences of people with physical disabilities. A number of methodologies were used for this the research including a literature review, secondary data analysis and questionnaire based postal survey. This has been supplemented by in-depth interviews and policy analysis. The paper will conclude by examining the general and tourism specific policy implications of the inequities being experienced by people with physical disabilities with high support needs.


   The last time I went on holidays was 21 years ago.

   Trips are often a nightmare.

   I love travelling and when I do it makes me feel alive!

These three observations represent a range of experiences that people with physical disabilities encounter when travelling. Previously only anecdotal evidence suggested that a disproportionate number of people with physical disabilities experience the anxiety exemplified in the first observation. Research by Darcy (1998) had presented the first major quantitative study to investigate the tourism patterns and experiences that people with physical disabilities. The paper will firstly review the principles of the social model of disability that has guided the research process. The paper will then review the quantitative and qualitative results of this research for people with physical disabilities who have high support needs. The paper discusses the most significant of these constraints and barriers for this group. The paper concludes with an examination of the social policy implications of these constraints and barriers.

A Word About Terminology

"The power of language is overwhelming" according to Corbett (1996, p. 2) and as Corbett explains, language has a significant influence on attitudes and perceptions, and hence policy and practice. The term people with disabilities is a general term that is accepted when discussing disability in Australia (Hume, 1994) and in most Western countries. It places the emphasis on the person first and foremost and the disability, whatever that may be, second. It does not separate the terms, only placing an order to their use. As Fine and Asch (1988, p. 11) acknowledge, people with disabilities do not necessarily define disability as being central to their self-concept. As such, the phrase, disabled person places the emphasis on the disability first and the person second. This is a subtle but important difference as most people wish to be dealt with as people first, in their own right, and not by the preconceptions others may have because of age, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality or disability. This does not alleviate the oppressive conditions faced by people with disabilities each day but provides personal dignity to their interactions with the community. However, in this paper the term, disabled people, will be used interchangeably with, people with disabilities, where texts referenced used the term disabled people for the political reasons outlined by Oliver (1990, p. xiii). Oliver aggressively attacks the use of "people with disabilities" as a superficial humanist gesture that avoids the political reality of disabled peoples' oppression. …