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2 Dec, 2005

Caring For People With Disabilities

December 2 is the annual observance of United Nations International Day of Disabled Persons. The travel & tourism industry is beginning to focus on people with disabilities (PwDs) both as guests as well as employees.

This dispatch commemorates the U.N. Day with a series of stories on what is being done and what more can be done. Never forget that “being able-bodied is merely a short term condition – a period between childhood and old age.”














BANGKOK — The travel & tourism industry can and should be doing much more to help the estimated 400 million people with disabilities (PwDs) in the Asia-Pacific, beyond just accommodating their travel needs, a major conference has heard. Speakers at the conference said that by giving proper jobs to PwDs and buying products and services from companies owned and operated by them, the travel & tourism industry could also attract more business from them.

The conference was organised last October by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia-Pacific (U.N. ESCAP) in cooperation with the Leonard Cheshire International (LCI) of UK. It was attended by more than 200 people from 80 countries and territories to examine the root causes of problems that persons with disabilities face and discuss practical solutions for policy-makers, implementers, persons with disabilities and other stakeholders.

The number of PwDs in the Asia-Pacific is growing annually due to wars and conflict, birth defects, landmine explosions, natural disasters, workplace mishaps, traffic accidents, etc. India alone is said to have an estimated 60 million PwDs and there is a disproportionately high number of PwDs in countries that have been the victim of conflict, like Afghanistan, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Although the industry has been focussing on them merely as travellers and tapping their spending power, speakers showed that there were many more opportunities available to help PwDs lead fruitful, productive lives.

One of the speakers was Mr Tok-Vanna, a disabled book vendor in Siem Reap, Cambodia, a beneficiary of the International Labour Organization’s Alleviating Poverty through Peer Training (APPT) project.

He lost both of his lower arms as a result of a landmine accident in Battambang in 1990. His wife took care of him and the family lived in extreme poverty. In 2002, Vanna moved with his family to Siem Reap. He could not find a job and began to beg as a way to support his two small children.

In July 2003, the APPT field worker offered Vanna the opportunity to learn the book vending business from a peer, another disabled book vendor. Now, he sells guidebooks and other publications on Cambodia to tourists. He said he now makes US$ 10-15 profit a day, as against only US$1 or US$ 1.5 he used to make as a beggar. His earnings exceed the poverty threshold level, and the high tourist season is especially profitable in running the business.

Another conference speaker, Marcus Hurry, Chief Executive Officer, Thailand of the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation, said that hiring PwDs was now part of company policy systemwide. It fitted in with the global focus on corporate social resonsibilty and was also being demanded by financial analysts in recommending the stock to their clients.

He has only recently arrived in Thailand and started moving forward with this initiative. At his previous posting with branch in Brunei, the company now has five PwDs.

Some issues had to be addressed in terms of training programmes, such as finding out appropriate tasks for them to do in the office. Some of them had never worked in an environment with able-bodied people before, and both had to adapt accordingly — the able-bodied having to learn some social skills while the PwDs had to learn about in a professional banking environment.

“But that challenged and stretched us,” he said. “We took the able-bodied people out of their comfort zones and explained to them why they should be engaged in this. We all had to do a lot of internal learning. The net result is that today, employees have seen the value that has come from hiring PwDs who are well-motivated and making an equal contribution as any able-bodied person.” This same message is now being carried through in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.

He said the move should help the company by being seen as equal opportunity employer which stands out as being different from other companies. The feel-good motivation factor also rises among the company staff which could be translated back into a good bottom line result by attracting a better quality of applicant and also help improve staff retention rates.

“When we outsource some of our business to SMEs, it is possible they can be influenced in recruiting people similar also morale boost for work force,” Mr Hurry said, noting that these best practises are being shared among the bank’s 78 branches worldwide over the intranet.

He also cautioned prospective employers about the pitfalls. In Asia, it important to set realistic targets about the percentage of workforce can be by manned PwDs, he said. The working environment was also important and in some countries like India, the buildings are old, with awkward physical structure and tedious processes of getting approvals from civil authorities to make changes. He said the bank was working with a vocational school in the Thai beach resort of Pattaya to create prospects for future employees.

While these initiatives are catching on, NGOs say that both public and private institutions have a long way to go. Javed Abidi, Executive Director of India’s National Centre for the Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) said, “India has about 60 million disabled people and the current employment rate is just 0.4%. NGOs are the main service providers in our country. However, when it comes to employment they have very little to offer.”

The Indian Disability Act, 1995 mandates 3% reservation in government jobs but it is not effectively implemented. Employment as an issue has not received the required focus and disabled people today remain the least employed, Mr Abidi said.

He said employment is contingent upon availability of education and spatial and technological access. Lack of opportunities for education, plus societal conditions of architectural and institutional barriers, lack of legislation or inadequate implementation of existing legislation, create structural impediments which lead to joblessness and economic disempowerment.

He said sustained advocacy efforts by the NCPEDP led to inclusion of disability in the social agenda of Confederation of Indian Industries, preparation of Draft Incentive Policy for promotion of employment of disabled people in the private sector, opening up of high ranking Civil Services for persons with disabilities, and the announcement of a Comprehensive Plan by Ministry of Human Resource Development to make education system disabled friendly by 2020.

According to U.N. ESCAP Executive Secretary Mr Kim Hak Su, “Nearly 40 per cent of an estimated 100 million children out of school in the world are children with disabilities. Over 40 per cent of an estimated 400 million persons with disabilities in the Asia-Pacific remain the poorest of the poor. Among women who lack opportunities more than men, those with disabilities suffer far more from inequitable access to opportunities and participation.

“There have been major natural disasters, such as the South Asian earthquake earlier this month and the Indian Ocean tsunami. In the wake of such disasters, many survivors are disabled and their vulnerability is exacerbated. More efforts must be made to uphold the dignity of persons with disabilities and of their families.”

He said that in the Asia-Pacific, UN ESCAP had spearheaded efforts to promote the full participation and equality of PwDs since 1992 by launching the world’s first regional decade of disabled persons. This was extended into a second decade from 2003 to 2012 but its focus was changed from a charity-based approach to a rights-based, development-oriented one. U.N. agencies such as FAO, ILO and UNESCO, have also made significant efforts in mainstreaming the disability rights agenda into their projects and activities.

A Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities was completed in August 2005 and is now undergoing a drafting process and expected to be finalised by 2007. When completed, it will be the first legally binding, disability-specific international convention, and a formidable instrument to implement a rights-based approach towards disability.

Said Mr Kim, “Today, disability issues are receiving more attention because of the upcoming international convention on disability as well as the heightened awareness of the development perspective concerning disability issues. “Policy-makers and other stakeholders now realise that, regardless of where they live, persons with diverse disabilities face the same problem of inequitable access to basic services and opportunities in society.”


One of the outcomes of the first Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons from 1993 to 2002, the first regional initiative of its kind in the world, was the formation of the Asia-Pacific Development Centre on Disability (APCD) in Bangkok. This was a collaboration between the governments of Thailand and Japan, to serve as a regional training hub to empower persons with disabilities and to create a barrier-free society.

Since its inception in 2002, APCD has established a network with 34 focal point organizations in the region and has organised 8 regional training courses annually to persons with various disabilities. It is a rich source of information for companies seeking to boost their employment for PwDs. For further information: http://www.apcdproject.org


LONDON – The 2005 World Travel Market in London was host to a seminar on the industry’s response to the needs of disabled people. Chaired by Tourism for All, the UK national charity, the main message of the meeting was that despite improvements made in the UK since the Disability Discrimination Act, there is still a missed business opportunity here.

Keith Richards, ABTA’s Head of Legal Affairs, pointed out that by not thinking of disabled people as a market, their wish to enjoy travel and leisure will continue to be frustrated. 50 million people in Europe have said that they would be more likely to travel if they could be sure their needs would be met.

Jenny Stephenson of Tourism for All quoted a London Development Agency report in saying that in terms of increasing tourism competitiveness ‘nothing has the potential to deliver results as simply and effectively as accessibility’. With the Paralympics in 2012, an event which has grown enormously in size, participation, and excitement, there will be many more visitors with special needs over the coming years, not just the athletes themselves, but their families and supporters.

The meeting heard from Sian Foster of Virgin Atlantic Airways, who described how Virgin has progressed in the last two years, and received some accolades from the audience, in particular for their policy of not charging for oxygen on flights.

Susan Thomas of the Royal National Institute for the Blind stressed how staff training and customer care is of vital importance. The largest group of disabled people are the blind or visually impaired, and much can be done that does not cost a great deal.

Attention was drawn to various resources available to help the industry – Tourism for All’s information line can help point people to accessible accommodation, especially properties that have been assessed and inspected under the National Accessible Scheme, operated by VisitBritain. Tourism for All also have special offers on hotels available for disabled people on their helpline 08451 249973.

They also have advice for businesses on their website www.tourismforall.org.uk. The RNIB also has significant resources on offer, and can be contacted through their website www.rnib.org.uk. ABTA produce the ABTA checklist for disabled travelers, which gives helpful questions for customers to ask of their suppliers, and can be used as a tool for industry.

Alendo Travel, a Zambian tour operator provided information about custom-made safaris and packages which included provision for those with disabilities, proving that there is awareness around the world of the market for this type of travel. It is to be hoped that many more in the industry will wake up to this market.


By Jenny Stephenson, Chief Executive, Tourism for All UK

[Extracted from a presentation made at the World Travel Market 2005]

<> 10m in the UK have a disability that qualifies under the Disability Discrimination Act

<> They have an annual spend of at least £50bn

<> By 2009, there will be 2m more people over 60 in the UK, with corresponding increase in those with hearing, visual, and mobility impairment

<> 30% of us will have some kind of non-permanent incapacitation due to accident, sickness, mental or emotional crisis etc

<> 1 in 3 can expect to be a carer at some time in our lives

<> Many people in these groups are not tied to school holidays or weekends

<> Conference organisers are required to make events accessible and want destinations that meet these needs

<> Visitors from US, where 20% of population has a disability, have high expectations of accessibility

<> 120m people in Europe “would travel more if they were confident of finding the right facilities”

<> Disabled people are loyal customers who give repeat business

<> Even if we never suffer any form of incapacity, we are all likely to be responsible for helping a family member or friend to travel, or to look after a child in a buggy, or simply to be wheeling heavy luggage

<> Clear signage, level access, gentle ramping — easy access helps EVERYONE

<> The percentage of disabled who are wheelchair users is 5% – there are many other small improvements which could help other disabilities

<> Many examples of where adaptations have been made, often at considerable cost, but there has been no training or setting up of procedures around their day to day use.

<> There is business to be gained – a lot of it and it will increase in the future

<> There is business to be lost – to other destinations, if an inclusive attitude is not cultivated

<> An attitude of excellent customer care will work for your whole business

<> Don’t forget the employment opportunities – many disabled people want to work in an accessible environment

<> It could be expensive not to make the changes – but it does not have to be expensive to make a start and demonstrate your commitment

<> The changes you make have a positive impact on ALL customers (what helps a wheelchair helps a parent with a buggy; what helps someone with visual impairment, like clear signage, helps someone with anxiety, or learning difficulties, or language barriers)

<> All of this helps your local citizenry – who will love you as a Socially Responsible Business, committed to excellence in all you do.

<> 20 EASY ACCESS TIPS – on TFA’s website, under Advice for Business on www.tourismforall.org.uk


Become a disabled-friendly company by following these simple rules compiled by India’s National Centre for the Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP):

<> Visual of disability-friendly corporate logo symbolising the synergy between the disability and the corporate sector; Inculcating a positive attitude towards people with disabilities and following non-discriminatory employment practices.

<> Reserving a percentage of jobs at all appropriate levels for disabled persons.

<> Including disability in the Mission Statement of the company. Different departments (HRD, Finance, R&D, Administration, etc) should have clear cut objectives to support people with disabilities.

<> Formalising a policy to retain employment without reduction of rank of people who may become disabled.

<> Being accessible not only to people with mobility problems but also those with visual and hearing impairments, for example barrier-free buildings, ramps, adapted toilets, Braille symbols and auditory signals in lifts, signage, etc.

<> Providing appropriate aids/technology/attendants to support disabled employees in the workplace.

<> Extending certain extra benefits like providing transport to work, rights to special leave, additional medical allowance, etc, to people with disabilities/ partners of disabled persons/or parents of disabled children.

<> Not denying promotion to people with disabilities on grounds of disability.

<> Creating a safe working environment to prevent health hazards and accidents.

<> Conducting regular orientation programmes for all the staff members/workers to encourage positive relations between disabled and non-disabled employees.

<> Stocking the latest information in the library pertaining to disability.

<> Providing opportunity for training in skill development for disabled persons.

<> Furnishing credit and support to persons with disabilities and promoting self-employment.

<> Being a marketing outlet for the products made by disabled persons/disability NGOs.

<> Sub-contracting/outsourcing activities to people with disabilities.

<> Participating in awareness-raising campaigns to sensitise the public.

<> Acting as a role model to educate and motivate other employers to follow suit.

<> Providing consultancy services to NGOs working in the area of production, management, marketing, entrepreneurial skills, etc.

<> Funding/sponsoring/donating to NGOs which are working for the cause of disability.

<> Supporting the government to establish and maintain support systems for disabled persons.


As part of its efforts to ensure accessibility and availability of public services for PwDs, India’s National Centre for the Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) monitors what is being done by both public and private sectors. The following information was included in its press kit distributed at the ESCAP conference last October:


The Indian capital of New Delhi has got its first metro system which is lauded by the NCPEDP as being “easily accessible for disabled commuters, including elderly people. It is probably the only agency involved with transportation in India that has incoporated accessible design in its facilities.” Grab rails and clear signage on the Delhi Metro make travelling easy and pleasurable.

The New Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) is ready for use by disabled people and seniors. It is probably the only agency involved with transportation in India that has thought of constructing an overhead ramp for the physically challenged. The ill and the disabled persons who cannot use the foot over-bridges or subway, can now take the ramp from St Stephen’s side at Tis Hazari station, and directly reach the concourse or ticketing area, which is on the second level of the station.

There are escalators and accessible elevators at all stations. In addition, the entry path is lined with tactile tiles to guide the visually impaired from outside the stations to the trains. Disabled commuters can also expect accessible seating on the trains, as well as Braille instruction signs and audio announcements. The Metro Sahayaks (or Metro Helpers) are present at stations to provide assistance at all times.

Some specific facilities for disabled commuters are: Labels printed in braille in the lifts to indicate floors; Elevator control buttons positioned at heights that are accessible to wheelchair users; Grip rails on the sidewalls of the elevator car; Wide doors for lifts; Ramps at the entrance of every station; Adequate landing space at the start and end of every ramp; Reservation for employment of physically challenged; Accessible toilets on every floor; Handrails inside toilets; Well lit corridors for persons with visual impairments; Ticket gate exclusively for disabled passengers; Tactile tiles on all common passages; Tactile warnings for abrupt change in height or near hazardous areas; Audible warnings and announcing devices wherever possible

The metro is offering tours to better acquaint users with the new system.


<> Jet Airways

Concessions: None

Facilities: Doctors stationed in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Hyderabad – medical queries can be immediately transmitted.

On advance notice: Oxygen cylinders, ambulifts, wheelchairs and special diet.

Stretcher cases, accompanied by qualified attendants, permitted only on the Chennai-Port Blair-Chennai sector.

<> Indian Airlines (Economy Class, Domestic sector)

Concessions: For locomotor disability to the extent of 80% and above: 50% of normal economy class Indian Rupee fare or point-to-point fare; 50% of Indian rupee fare level applicable to foreigners resident in India for travel on domestic sectors; Commission: 5% (on fare component only).

<> Air-India

Concessions: None

Facilities: Follows special procedure for briefing of disabled passengers; besides the safety booklet and live demonstration, shows audio/video film; Announcements in various regional languages; Persons with disability seated near an exit (but not in an exit row seat). Will consider the use of Braille for flight safety instructions.

<> KLM Airlines

Concessions: None

Facilities: Flight safety instructions booklets in Braille and large print; Using an embossed plan, cabin attendants point out the seat’s location, emergency exits, aisles, galleys and toilets to visually impaired passengers.

<> Indian Railways

Concessions: Subject to validity, discounts provided are 75% for persons with leprosy; 50% for persons with hearing and speech impairment; 75% for visually impaired persons; 75% for “mentally retarded” [sic] persons; and for persons with physical impairments: Lower class – 75%; 1 AC/2 AC – 50%

Facilities: None.

Concession forms can be downloaded and used from the Indian Railways website.

<> India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC, a hotel company)

Concessions: 50% discounts on room rate; accompanying person/attendant will not be charged extra, that is, ITDC will charge 50% on single room tariff for a double room; 30% discount on food on a-la carte menu.

Facilities: Ramps in Hotel Kanishka and Ashok Yatri Niwas in Delhi, and Ashoka Hotel in Bhopal; Modifications made in rooms, bathrooms, restaurants and lifts in Hotel Indraprastha in Delhi; Decision taken to make at least one room, out of 50 rooms, accessible and disabled-friendly.


Realising that people with disabilities (PwDs) are highly challenged in India due to missing infrastructure, lack of training facilities and job opportunities, the ITC Welcomgroup has taken what it calls “a humble step in enunciating a policy to ….make PwDs inclusive in the work place.

According to Niranjan Khatri, GM, Welcomenviron Initiatives, ITC Welcomgroup, the following steps have been implemented:

Each hotel has 1or 2 rooms for PwDs, toilets are PwD-friendly in the front of the house; access has been made PwD-friendly by providing ramps, although more improvements are needed; Two visually impaired pianists have been hired in ITC Grand Central, a mobility-impaired lady for handling engineering telephone operation in the Marriott hotel in Delhi, and a girl with cerebral palsy in Rajputana Sheraton in Jaipur, who handles the linen room task (see below).

By networking with a textile export house, ITC Welcomgroup helped find a suitable job for one girl who is speech/audio impaired. It is also working with the Confederation of Indian Industries and advertising agencies about taking further action in the field of employment and communications to boost opportunities and awareness.

Says Mr Khatri, “Today, companies of all sizes and sectors are striving to integrate social considerations into strategic business decisions and create more environmentally sustainable systems of commerce – while improving financial performance, enhancing reputation, and achieving competitive advantage.

Mr Khatri has also prepared a paper with a grid outlining clearly the hotel units and departments that would be appropriate for people with various kinds of disabilities. Please contact him at <NIRANJAN.KHATRI@welcomgroup.com>. He also cited the following case study at the WelcomHotel Rajputana Palace Sheraton, Jaipur:

Ms. Sonali Shah has mild cerebral palsy leading to hypotonia and mental challenged. She was recruited as an assistant linen room attendant in house keeping department on 9th May 2005. After understanding her skills, we at Rajputana tried to place her in the job which could suit her in the best possible way.

She belonged to an institute for the mentally and physically challenged called “DISHA”. This institute was established in March 1995 with just 18 students and became the first centre in Rajasthan to provide an umbrella of services under one roof for persons with cerebral palsy and other neurological, physical and mental challenges. It has now more than 165 children. Its long term goal is to provide equal opportunity for rehabilitation through education, vocationalisation and mainstreaming. It also facilitates empowerment of the disabled, their families and support services and also their social acceptance.

Today, Ms. Shah has become a part of Rajputana Family. She has picked up her work nicely and is trying to prove her efficiency in her own way. She is has become a special member of the staff with whom everyone is friendly and caring. She joined the annual staff picnic on 23rd August 2005 and she enjoyed it thoroughly, even dancing with the staff.

Two other PwDs have also been hired recently:

<> Mr Navroz Desai, Visually impaired. Plays piano at ITC Grand Central Parel four days a week. Graduate and a Business Management Diploma from Davar’s College, Mumbai. Also has several Diplomas’ in Computer Software, latest one being in Oracle.

<> Ms Shirin Irani, Visually impaired. Plays piano at ITC Grand Central three days a week. She is an arts graduate from St Andrews, Mumbai.


BANGKOK (U.N. Information Services) — UNESCAP is asking the media to consider how it may be stereotyping people with disabilities as part of its annual observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons held on 2 December at the UN Conference Centre in Bangkok.

The observance included a half-day panel discussion on the topic, “Persons with Disabilities in the Media – towards Dispelling Stereotypes.” Panellists include Mr. Krissana Chairat, TV programmer for Thailand’s Channel 3, Mr. Lance Woodruff, Thai News Agency, Mr. Marwaan Macan-Markar, Inter Press Service, Mr. Torpong Selanon, Executive Committee of Thailand Association of the Blind, and UNESCAP disability experts.

The panel discussion focussed on role of various media -TV shows, films, radio programmes, newspapers, magazines, and literature – in portraying PwDs. The discussion presented realities of media portrayal of persons with disabilities from both regional and global perceptions, and forward-looking efforts made by media to change negative perceptions of persons with disabilities.

The annual observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons promotes an understanding of disability issues and mobilizes support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.


Travel Impact Newswire Executive Editor Imtiaz Muqbil heard the following two speakers at the U.N. ESCAP conference last October. Both are exceptionally well-informed and articulate and well worth inviting to future events on this subject.

<> Monthian Buntan (Mr.), Executive Director, Thai Blind People’s Foundation. Contact address: Thailand Association of the Blind, 85/1-2 Soi Boonyoo, Dindaeng Road, Samsennai, Phayatai, Bangkok, 10400 Thailand. Telephone: +66-2-246-2287; Facsimile: +66-2-246-2278. E-mail Addresses: mbuntan@tab.or.th, m_buntan@yahoo.com or mbuntan@anet.net.th.

Master of Arts in Music Theory and Composition, from University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA. Bachelor of Arts with honors in Music from St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN, USA and Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy from Chiangmai University, Thailand; Founder and Secretary, Thai Blind People’s Foundation. Founder and Vice Chairperson, Thai National Institute for the Blind; Executive Committee Member, World Blind Union (re-elected in 2004). Member of the executive committee, Asia-Pacific Development Center on disability. Representative from the Thai government to the UN ad hoc committee for the elaboration of the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. Awarded the Most Outstanding Person with Disabilities in Thailand from Council on Social Welfare in 1995.

<> Javed Abidi, Executive Director, National Centre for the Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP). Founded the Disabled Rights Group (DRG), India’s first cross-disability advocacy group, in 1994. He activated Disabled People’s International (DPI) in 1996 and has been its Secretary General since 2000.

Born in Aligarh, India in 1965, Javed Abidi has been pivotal in creating political and social visibility for an invisible constituency and empowering it legally and economically. He has catalysed India’s first cross-disability movement. His lobbying activities led to the passage of the Disability Act in 1995, after which Javed Abidi lobbied further for its effective implementation. He has worked with bodies as diverse as Government agencies, the Industry Sector, Indian Universities & Colleges, the Council of Architecture, the Historical Monuments, Customs Services, etc… in order to raise disability awareness in every aspect of social and public life. Contact details are available at http://www.ncpedp.org/


Of the thousands of media releases and press kits that cross my desk every year, rarely has there been one that outlines the services and facilities for PwDs. This is a golden opportunity for travel & tourism communicators to do something different: Talk about what your company does for PwDs –how it caters to them, hires them, buys products and services from PwD-owned and operated companies. Do it with the same vigour and enthusiasm that you talk about what you do for the environment. Make it an important part of your corporate social responsibility platform, and watch the competition trying to catch up. The end result will be good for all, especially the PwDs. We can all do our share.

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