Interview

Volume 6 Issue 6 - September 01, 2009

"Media glee over the reported accessibility of Taj Mahal may still be premature," Scott Rains

Scott Rains
Scott Rains

Scott Rains is an expert on inclusive tourism and universal design. An avid traveller himself, he runs the Rolling Rains Report, a blog on inclusive tourism and Tour Watch, a social networking forum for businesses and individuals catering to travellers with disabilities. In an interview with Dorodi Sharma of D.N.I.S. he shares his experiences in inclusive tourism and sometimes the lack of it!

D.N.I.S.: How did you get interested in inclusive tourism?

Scott Rains: I began to travel early. I was paralyzed in 1972 when I was in my final year of high school. I had already been an exchange student twice - once in Guatemala and once in Brazil and had worked two summers away from home on a ranch in Wyoming. Two years after I was paralyzed, I won a scholarship to Brazil's top university, the University of Sao Paulo, but had to return home because the campus was not wheelchair accessible.

Many years later, after being married for nearly 25 years, I decided to share my experiences as a traveller with a disability. Thus my blog, the Rolling Rains Report (www.RollingRains.com) began on January 1, 2004.

D.N.I.S.: Tell us about some interesting experiences that you had during your travels.

Scott Rains: Well, I am told that Kerala's kettuvallams were originally used for transporting rice through the backwaters. In my first experience on a kettuvallam houseboat there was brief moment when I was lifted from a jetty and passed hand-to-hand over open water onto the deck and I was certain that I had been reincarnated as a sack of rice!

D.N.I.S.: What are the major difficulties that people with disability face during travel?

Scott Rains: Specific difficulties will be related to one's disability. A broken sidewalk or lack of a ramp from street to sidewalk might stop me dead in my tracks, cause a blind person to trip, and be of no consequence at all to someone who is deaf. At the same time a ticket booth might be approachable in a wheelchair (it was not at Taj Mahal when I was there, by the way) yet some security feature such as dark glass may make it impossible for a deaf person to read the attendant's lips.

In general, the major obstacle in travel for all people with disabilities seems to be the failure of those who serve tourists to gather information appropriate for travellers with disabilities and the lack of consistent ways to make that information accessible to travellers, potential travellers and their companions.

D.N.I.S.: Do you think the idea of inclusive tourism has been able to make any inroads in developing nations like India?

Scott Rains: Definitely! I was very impressed by the receptivity of Secretary Tourism, Sujit Banerjee when we met. Shortly afterwards, he issued a policy requiring projects that receive government funds to use a portion of those funds for Universal Design accommodations and barrier-removal.

At a non-profit level, I have seen several disabled peoples' organizations in India develop great competence in design, architecture, and policy and later use that knowledge for the benefit of tourism in India.

D.N.I.S.: There have been a lot of media reports on the Taj Mahal becoming accessible to people with disability. What is your take on that and inclusive tourism (if at all it exists) in India as a whole?

Scott Rains: Reports from Indian colleagues who I trust indicate that the media glee over the reported accessibility of Taj Mahal may still be premature. True accessibility is a matter of both attitude and architecture.

In the past year, I have seen two companies being established in India that rent wheelchair accessible vans. This is a major development for wheelchair-using tourists. The organization known as Svayam has held an international conference on Inclusive Tourism. Several Indian experts were also there at the 2009 International Conference on Accessible Tourism in Singapore. I have been working to link Indian and South African tour operators to share best practices in accommodating travellers with disabilities.

D.N.I.S.: Do you see a marked change in the attitude of the travel and hospitality industry towards disability now from the time that you started?

Scott Rains: Yes. Part of the change has been as a result of laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (A.D.A.) in the U.S. and the Disability Discrimination Act (D.D.A.) in Australia and in U.K. Part has been a result of the industry grasping the implications of the 2002 and 2005 Open Doors Organization studies showing that disabled Americans alone spend an average of 13.6 billion dollars on travel annually.

D.N.I.S.: You also publish the Rolling Rains Report. What is your take on publications like D.N.I.S. and their role in creating awareness on disability?

Scott Rains: I publish the Rolling Rains Report (www.RollingRains.com) and also a forum called Tour Watch (www.tournet.ning.com). Tour Watch is an invitation-only forum that facilitates business-to-business sharing in the travel industry for those who work with people with disabilities. For both publications, I depend heavily on D.N.I.S. I would estimate that I get one or more article ideas from every issue of D.N.I.S.

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