ADVOCATES said the government and the private sector need to invest more on accessibility for the country to become a preferred destination for persons with disabilities (PWDs).
Swiss national and Circle of Friends Foundation Inc. (Coffi) founder Margaretha Gloor said companies lack the awareness needed for them to look at the needs of PWDs who are living and visiting the country.
“I do not think there is a stigma. There is simply a lack of awareness that it is simply necessary to have accessible rooms. We need to have accessible hotels and transportation. The facilities for PWDs, it is simply normal for other countries. We are just lagging behind,” Gloor said.
However, she sees a fast-tracked development from here with the incentives given to companies whose establishments are following the accessibility specifications, but more help from the government is needed.
“I think, we can see a lot within the next three years. The only thing we need is the DOT [Department of Tourism] and the government to support us financially, because we have been surviving through events, corporate orders and sheer belief. We need to hire more people in order for us to continue what we are doing. We need support,” Gloor said.
Coffi provides accessible transportation and other livelihood training for PWDs. It was also responsible for launching Wheelmobile in 2003, the first transport service in the Philippines for people in wheelchairs.
Meanwhile, Adela Kono, a universal design expert and president of the Advocate of Barrier-Free & Inclusive Environments, said a problem in the Philippines is the lack of a law implementing a universal design for accessibility that includes measurements and aesthetics that suit PWDs.
Kono said correct implementation of barrier-free tourism (BFT) can generate a greater return on investments by reaching out to the untouched PWD markets. She said 15 percent of the world population, or 785 million, are PWDs and that they can increase businesses and tourism traffic.
“If you are big or you are a chain, for example, it will be definitely worth it, because you are tapping each and every one out there. When you effectively leave 15 percent out of the market, it is a big chunk. It is not wise in terms of business. You are incurring an opportunity loss if you do not tap everyone,” Kono said.
Kono said the Philippines is still way behind in terms of accessibility but hopes more hotels, restaurants and establishments will move toward PWD-friendly infrastructure.
According to Kono, it is the PWDs, especially the senior citizens, who have the time and the purchasing power to lengthen their vacation stays and would most likely spend more.
“Do not underestimate. There are so many NGOs that are offering PWDs the chance to travel, and many conferences are being joined by PWDs, which offer them the opportunity to travel. They are given travel allowances. They are just looking for barrier-free destinations,” Kono said.
She added: “It is the elderly and the senior citizen who have the time and the money to spend, unlike businessmen who are very busy. It is the PWDs who really stay and take their time. These are the people who are bringing in dollars to our country. Without BFT, it is a quantifiable opportunity loss.”
Kono also said the Philippines should benchmark itself to what Japan has been providing in terms of accessibility.
“Only Japan has perfected it, going way back to 1989. Can you imagine what they have more than 25 years later? And we are still behind what they had in 1989. Can you imagine how late we are?” Kono said.
The Department of Tourism stated that it has already integrated BFT into the National Accommodation Standards for Hotels, Resorts and Apartment Hotels to encourage establishments to follow the universal design or specifications for accessibility.