Accessibility Privilege in Travel and Tips to Improve

by Sojourner

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Time for accessibility privilege! Let’s Unpack That is a travel education series where we process and unpack our baggage of social identities, social issues, and travel privileges to understand how they impact our travel experiences. We cover everything from social constructs to the white savior complex. Each post focuses on a topic or social issue to dig deeper and reflect on our travel privilege(s). Whether in our own countries or abroad, understanding our impact can help us be more responsible travelers.

A few privileges we’ll be covering include passport privilege, location privilege, and language privilege. But first, we’re gonna unpack accessibility privilege. By definition, accessibility privilege is the degree and level to which services, products, or the environment is available to as many people as possible. 

Let’s unpack this travel privilege y’all!

Accessibility privilege can be reflected in ableist language and other ableism examples

How do you know if you have accessibility privilege?

I am so glad you asked! Accessibility privilege stems from your ability status. This refers to whether or not someone is living with a physical or mental disability. If you do not have a disability, your ability status would be someone not living with a disability. People, like me, who have accessibility privilege can and often perpetuate ableism. Thus, ableism is a form of discrimination against people who are living with a disability. Due to how are society isolates people who are disables, there are many ableism examples and ableist language we use often.

Examples of ableism and accessibility privilege outside of travel

Since accessibility privilege stems from ableism, they feed off each other. For those who may not recognize ableism inside or outside travel, here are some to think about:

1. Phrases such as “blindspot” are ableist as it uses being blind from a deficit perspective. It implies someone is lacking or missing something.

2. Buildings that do not offer wheelchair-accessible entrances, exits, bathrooms, etc.

3. Lack of subtitles and sign language translators on virtual webinars and in-person events. This excludes people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

4. Language addressing a person’s mental state that are spurred as insults. Examples such as “retard,” “moron,” “idiot,” “slow,” etc.

5. The phrase “falling on deaf ears” is similar to “blindspot” as it also comes from a defecit persepctive

Examples of ableism and accessibility privilege in travel

Similar to the ableism examples above, let us bring it back to travel. Here are four (of many) examples of accessibility privilege in the travel and tourism industry.

1. Booking hotels, any accommodations, or transportation without checking for elevators or without asking the staff to accommodate you.

2. Going on free walking tours and participating without worrying about the quality of care of the street or chronic pain.

3. Attending large festivals or using air travel without worrying about small and enclosed spaces or being around a lot of people.

4. Traveling without packing any medicine that is required for you due to a health condition. This can also be linked to going to a destination without checking food and water precautions.

Are all access needs visible?

No, all-access needs are not visible. However, we are socialized to think so. For example, the wheelchair sign is always attributed as the default symbol of access needs. You often see this sign outside of bathrooms and buildings, making it the standard point of reference for accessibility. In some cases that may be true. However, there are also other access needs that you can’t see such as chronic pain or food allergies.

What can we do to address ableist language and practices in travel?

Addressing your own ableism and accessibility privilege

As a frequent traveler who has been unpacking my own accessibility privilege, I’m no expert. I look back on how I’ve taken advantage of it. Have you reflected if the destinations you visited are accessible or not? I caught many flights without noticing you can’t roll onto a plane if you have a wheelchair. Moreover, as a traveling foodie who is a pescatarian, I still never plan my destinations based on my food allergies. My dietary needs are a choice and not allergies.Here are a few ways I’ve come across that I’ll share:

Speak up if you observe something

Analyze the risks around you. People who don’t have accessibility privilege shouldn’t be the only ones raising awareness. Ask an airline what they do to accommodate people who need a wheelchair. At a restaurant, suggest they put allergy warnings on their menus. Have you noticed a hotel, hostel, or Airbnb does not have enough elevators or accessible entrances? If so, suggest it on your post-stay survey. While on a tour, be mindful of the pace of the group if someone says they are struggling to keep up. If we are traveling and see someone’s needs not being met, we should address them.

But, don’t assume and speak for others

As great as it is to speak up, we should listen too. Do not assume someone needs your help. On tours, many guides ask participants to share any accessibility needs prior to the tour. If you are on a tour with someone in a wheelchair, do not assume they need extra attention or a slower pace. Some people don’t mind you asking about their needs and some do. It can be hard to tell and you don’t want to bother anyone. Occasionally you may have to wait until someone brings it up themselves. And if they do, support and back them up.

Contact the appropriate people with the issue

Sometimes we need to take our action a little further. If you notice something inaccessible, figure out how to make a more formal complaint. Sure, you can alert someone the moment it happens. However, you can also follow-up with an email or note in that post-flight or post-hotel stay survey. 

Accessibility privilege is a travel privilege. It is something that a lot of people, myself included, do not think twice about. We have to remember that just because it does not phase you does not mean it is not an issue. The more we can learn about our travel privileges, the more we can be better travelers. And the more we can support and ask people who have access to what they need, if anything from us. This will make travel become more inclusive for all of us. Accessibility is a right and should not be a privilege!


This is like homework, but better!

You don’t know what you don’t know. But now that you know, learn more! Check out the following resources to learn from travelers who have various forms of accessibility needs share their stories and adventures. They further address examples of ableism and ableist language.

Alpaca My Bags Podcast: A travel podcast run by Erin, she interviewed Andrew is a Disability Awareness Consultant, on disability in the travel space as someone who travels with a wheelchair. Also, Erin has an episode on accessibility travel with Sassy Wyatt. Sassy is a disability and lifestyle blogger that travels while blind. There is so much information to understand in their episodes that will most definitely make you think!

The Awkward Traveller: Curated by Kay, she has a series of blog posts dedicated to the variance of accessibility needs in travel. The posts are real stories of travelers who travel with chronic conditions, travel while in a wheelchair, travel with food allergies, and many more. Kay’s series of posts has personally helped me to learn more about access needs. There are so many we should be aware of in the travel world.

Want more? Click to check out the video version of this topic below and tune in every Tuesday on IGTV for a new episode (that normally comes before the blog post) for further unpacking of our travel privileges and issues in travel!

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Kay January 8, 2021 - 3:52 pm

Another thing that I really appreciate – traveler reviews!! After visiting Costa Rica with my mother (who uses a wheelchair and walker) and staying at an “accessible” hotel that wasn’t actually accessible at all, I make sure to include honest critiques of the hotel’s accessibility. It really helps out other travelers and I know I appreciate it as well! Loved this post!

Sojourner January 8, 2021 - 5:42 pm

Yessss! Shoutout to people who leave reviews. Gotta love them. And thank you!


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