Pitch for Canberra to host Asia Pacific’s very first accessible tourism conference and Expo

With the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability commencing public hearings this week, the general public will be forced to confront how we have often failed to create a safe, inclusive and supportive community for people with disabilities.

It is vitally important to shine a light on where the system is failing people with disabilities and work out how to respond to this issue structurally.

It is likely that part of the job ahead will be what we can all do to create communities that are more accessible, inclusive and welcoming. It’s exciting to imagine a world where there aren’t barriers in place that exclude people with disabilities from living typical lives. We want to work towards a world where activities such as getting around the city on public transport, visiting parks and cultural events and being able to travel can occur for people with disabilities without the need for painstaking research.

The work of a local social enterprise working to improve accessibility, Getaboutable, has been profiled before. It is a local business set up by local Yasmine Gray and is now supported by technical co-founders Andrew Vassili and Steven Diep. Getaboutable is working to identify and promote accessible travel and recreational activities – an activity that most of us enjoy, but for many people with disabilities is a daunting and overwhelming prospect. Getaboutable is working to create a community of travel-savvy people who just happen to have accessibility challenges who can their knowledge and experiences about great places to travel and experience.

It’s an organisation I am excited to be involved in, and an initiative that is working to connect people with disabilities to great recreational and travel experiences. Listings on the website are growing with information about accommodation and experiences around the corner, around the country and around the world.

The vision and innovation of the organisation even caught the interest of Microsoft Australia, winning the AI for Accessibility Challenge, resulting in a meeting with managing director Steve Worrall a few months ago to talk about their ideas about how technology can be harnessed to improve accessibility and mobility.

Now Getaboutable is looking at other ways to engage businesses and communities to get passionate about the opportunities around accessible tourism. To this end, they have launched a crowdfunding campaign to assist in hosting the inaugural Asia-Pacific Accessible Tourism Conference and Expo (#APATCE) in Canberra in late 2020.

These types of conferences are held in most other global regions, but the Asia Pacific region hasn’t yet established a conference of this type. This seed funding will provide a foundation for Getaboutable to get the project off the ground. The crowdfunding initiative is running on the startsomegood platform, and only has a week to run. While the group has successfully raised half the funds needed, this is an opportunity to provide a small contribution to a great initiative that will support people with disabilities connect with accessible tourism and travel operators.

With Canberra’s vision of being an inclusive and welcoming city for all, the potential of Canberra being the host of the very first #APATCE is exciting. There are already great organisations doing great work and lots of innovation is occurring due to the passion of adventurous individuals –both with disabilities and without. There are already some great examples of local businesses going the extra mile to ensure their activities are open and welcoming to everyone. One great example is local business Vertikal that has invested in technology that means that people with limited vision, mobility or impacted by autism can now experience indoor snow sports and build confidence in a controlled environment.

However, while there are great examples of inclusive travel and adventure experience, inclusion is still the exception rather than the norm. A key driver of the #APATCE initiative is to increase the momentum for change by showcasing great examples of inclusive travel and leisure and busting stereotypes about people with a disability and travel and leisure.

It’s about inspiring tourism bodies and businesses who want to become more inclusive, and providing them with an opportunity to learn from people who are doing this well, and inspiring and enabling people with a disability to try some new experiences.

I think it is a great opportunity to show our support for businesses that are working to be more accessible and welcoming. Do you know any businesses that are working to improve accessibility and inclusion?

Rebecca is the chair of the Getaboutable Advisory Panel.