Written by: Dr. Daniela Ferdico, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
I adore travel and work with a lot of clients that have accessibility requirements. As part of our work at Sensory Access, we help Neurodiverse individuals find travel destinations that are accommodating to their needs. While most places in the world have become more accessible to individuals with mobility impairment, individuals that are deaf or autistic are not always included in accessibility initiatives, least of all in travel.
Thankfully, this is beginning to change.
The pandemic and the related isolation and shut-downs have helped the general population realize how much we miss travel, arts and entertainment when we can’t access it. Individuals with disabilities, especially hidden disabilities, have always been excluded in these areas, and many in the travel industry see that it is time to take action on accessibility and inclusion.
I work mostly with the neurodiverse population – from C-level executives at high profile tech companies going to exotic locations for a much needed break, to families with autistic children going on their first family trip. All of these groups require, and will gladly pay for, accessible travel destinations.
Here are 10 tips on how to make your travel destination more inclusive to those with neurodiverse needs.
1. Offer a choice of communication options.
Many autistic and deaf individuals prefer to communicate in writing, whether that is email or text. Having the option to make arrangements, check-in, and ask for needs during one’s stay with a written option is a huge benefit to neurodiverse individuals. For example, the Kimpton Hotel chain offers the option of texting for items needed during one’s stay, which is a huge benefit to many of the clients we work with.
2. Having a staff member trained about neurodiverse travelers.
Whether you have an accessibility consultant come in and thoroughly train one accessibility staff member or your entire front of house staff, the importance lies in how to best accommodate and welcome guests with needs. Such training is not only beneficial to guests with accessibility requirements, but also to the staff – we have yet to train staff at any resort, hotel, or tourism site that did not love having this knowledge and ability to empower their guests.
3. Hire neurodiverse individuals No one can give you better insight into neurodiverse guests than those part of that community.
4. Acceptance of the Sunflower Lanyard: The Sunflower Lanyard is a global initiative to allow those with hidden disabilities to indicate that they may need additional support, and is used at many airports and other transportation hubs across 18 different countries. Several initiatives are currently in place to spread the use of this tool to tourism sites to allow staff better visibility and ways to support those with hidden disabilities. We recently helped introduce the Sunflower Lanyard as a way of getting more support and access at the World’s Fair in Dubai, creating an easy way for guests to communicate their needs across a huge event with many different staff, customs and languages.
5. Complete a Sensory or Accessibility Audit
Do you know which areas of your resort or attraction are easy to navigate for neurodiverse individuals, and which areas cause trouble? Having an accessibility audit can be incredibly enlightening for your venue, and can indicate some easy ways to become inclusive to those with disabilities. While Accessibility Audits focus on overall accessibility, Sensory Audits focus on neurodiverse and sensory impacts of your environment – from hotel rooms, lobby, attraction highlights, etc.
6. Add in Sensory Supports From simple Social Narratives that you can post online, to Sensory Kits available to your guests and even entire Sensory Rooms, there are many simple things you can do to provide inclusion. A Sensory Narrative about your venue is a good first step in allowing Neurodiverse guests to know what to expect at your venue!
7. Make sure your website is accessible This not only means meeting the legal requirements about accessibility to the website itself (can someone with a screen reader see the information, for example) but also ensuring that accessibility information is easy to find and navigate to.
8. Offer sensory friendly activities
Offering activities and spaces that have a less sensory impact can be a significant factor in being more inclusive and in attracting neurodiverse customers.
9. Proper Wayfinding
Make sure it is easy to navigate not only to your venue but through it. Many resorts have a poor way finding, creating a frustrating experience that is difficult for anyone, especially those already overwhelmed by the sensory impact of a travel destination. Proper signage and easy to read maps that include accessibility information are crucial.
The Xcaret resorts in Mexico have fantastic wayfinding both physically with colored wayfinding markers themed to the environment, to digitally through the use of an accessible app. There are so many ways to create wonderful signage that fits in with a resort yet imparts critical information.
10. Digital Accessibility Consider creating an app for your venue that has accessibility information built in. Today’s customer uses technology for information, wayfinding and entertainment! We’ve created many apps for venues and events that allow them to customize what they want to see, get information, preview sensory and accessibility information, and reach out for support. Technology allows for a sustainable way to update information as needed without reprinting brochures, maps and menus. Have questions about inclusion at your travel destination? Reach out to Dr Ferdico and Sensory Access at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.SensoryAccessTravel.com
Dr. Daniela Ferdico, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Dr. Daniela Ferdico is a global leader in inclusion and accessibility. She holds multiple graduate degrees, including a doctorate in Clinical Psychology with a specialization in Neuropsychology. She is passionate about the inclusion of those with Hidden Disabilities such as Autism and other sensory disabilities, and co-founded the non-profit Sensory Access in 2017 with her daughter Isabella. Dr Ferdico and Sensory Access work world-wide increasing accessibility for those with sensory/hidden disabilities at large-scale events, theatrical productions, museums, and even small towns. Her most recent work includes the first sensory accessible World's First in history at Expo 2020 Dubai.
Dr Ferdico leads a small diagnostic practice and loves using technology to expand accessibility for individuals with access requirements. She is a frequent keynote speaker and contributor worldwide.