Accessible Tourism: How Travel Can Be Accessible for All - Jose Bourdain

Accessible Tourism: How Travel Can Be Accessible for All - Jose Bourdain

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JOSE BOURDAIN: I want to thank you for the introduction. -- the invitation sent to me. Thank you to comes and all the team.

I'm going to make a presentation of my country, especially of my company, the tourism for people with some kind of disability or have some health problems, etcetera. So TourismForAll. We are a Portuguese tour operator travel agency and this comes from people who need some kind of accessibility or have some physical problems, some health problems, visual impairments, etcetera.

We also work in medical and health tourism in Portugal. Myself I work with people with disabilities since I was 16 years old, for almost 34 years that I work with people with disabilities. 23 years ago I was the founder, the main founder, not only myself, but with other colleagues and relatives who have some kind of disability, we were the founders of nowadays and since last year the major Cooperative of Social Solidarity in Portugal, we had a non-profit organization. We have continuing care units.

It's like hospitals, rehab hospitals. We have homes for people with disabilities. We give support to people, elder people, people with some kind of health problem, also people with disabilities, of course. We also have rehabilitation clinic and also beauty clinics. We manage a spa from the second biggest chain of hotels in Portugal, but only one spa, one hotel they have near our facilities.

We work with the main insurance companies. And we also provide all the supports to children at schools and children's, etcetera, of course children who have some kind of disability or mental problems also. Our main goal, our mission is to provide high quality services for anyone who needs accessibility or need equipment of course when they travel to Portugal or other countries that we work with that I will explain later. Like I was saying, we work with mainly Portugal, of course. We also do trips to Portugal and Spain and sometimes we do tours for other countries because we have license for transportation from many.

We also work in Cape Verde, I'm here with my partner, we have a nine-seat van here and all the equipment. It's summertime here north of Africa, and that's the countries that we work directly. My country, the first time that the world tourism organization created this award in 2018, the best world destination for people with disabilities it was Portugal that won. With the Portugal beaches.

We have hundreds of accessible beaches with chairs for entering the water and all kinds of facilities for people with some kind of disability. The country itself won several world destinations Awards, 2017, 2018 and 2019. And also best destination in 2018, 2019 and 2020. And also the capital, Lisbon, also won for best European World Travel Award in 2018 and also the best European city break. So as you can see, Portugal is well-known and gets all these awards in Europe and also in the world because it's a nice tourist destination. Speaking in more detail about the work that we do in accessible tourism, we have specialized transportation that you will see later in the next slides.

We have for different clients accessible accommodation in many hotels all over the country and also in the islands. We have staff that we can give support 24 hours a day if necessary to our clients, medical monitoring, physiotherapist, nurse, whatever. We do of course visits and tours, all the daily care if the client need, of course. Also various activities with all the technical aids that the client needs. For example, we can put a bed in hotel, all the equipment that the clients need.

We do almost everything. There is almost nothing that we cannot do in terms of equipment and in terms of support to our clients. We also do some other kind of supports that are not very usual in this kind of tourism like diving, horseback riding, etcetera. We have lots of possibilities and we also do it with our clients in Portugal from children to adults.

This is some pictures of the kind of work that we do, rehabilitation or sliding, daily care. The pictures say more than words. Some examples of our chairs at the beach, our equipment of support. We have one of the best museums in the world with the biggest collection of carriages, which also is prepared for a visual impairment. It's our own facilities at the hospital that I said that we have sometimes it's usual for clients who need [indiscernible], get injured and go to hospitals, etcetera, and they come to our own facilities.

We manage all things until they were rehabilitated in their countries, that kind of things that we do. These are pictures of some of the health that we work with which have good facilities, pools with ramps, rolling shower. This is our vehicles. We have nine seat -- sorry.

Last week we buy another car with five seats that clients could rent. We have a bus with 54 seats and 10 wheelchairs. We have vehicles like I said with 5, 9, 11, 16, 27, 33 and 54 seats from one wheelchair to 10 wheelchairs with many capacities. They are a big fleet as you can see. This is one of our biggest bus.

We have two, one that seats 10 wheelchairs and another one for eight wheelchairs. This is our 33-seat bus that take five wheelchairs. We have two Mercedes for VIP clients, one with 16 seats that take three wheelchairs and another with eight seats that also takes three wheelchairs. And another van with nine seats that will take four wheelchairs. It was this van that works especially with cruises because you have small groups.

This is one of our clients, and the most famous is of Stephen Hawking and we did some tours with him in Lisbon. Here is a comment of the team of Stephen Hawking. And more comments. And that's our location. I think everyone knows where is Portugal, but you never know. This is our contact.

Of course you can take a look at our website. And that's my presentation. I hope it was making good time, not too rushed, not too slow. And I'm here at your disposal for some kind of questions if you want to have any. CAMERON CUNDIFF: Sure.

Thank you, Jose. Yeah. To start, what's your website so I can pop it in the chat? JOSE BOURDAIN: CAMERON CUNDIFF: That's easy. And I'm curious, so your program is it part of like a municipal or state program or do you get funding from the government? JOSE BOURDAIN: No. We receive funds from the government to work in homes of people, in the continued care units, etcetera.

Not in tourism. In tourism it is a private company that belongs to the non-profit organization. But it is a private company like any other company and we don't get those funds.

we live with our clients CAMERON CUNDIFF: What kind of work does Portugal do around accessibility in general? You said the beaches have ramps and it's well-known as an accessible location. Is that private, like private beaches or is it more government sponsored. JOSE BOURDAIN: No, all public. And all the services are for free. CAMERON CUNDIFF: Super cool.

JOSE BOURDAIN: Any people with some kind of disability could go on the beach, use the chair and other equipments to go to the water, wherever, and everything is free. CAMERON CUNDIFF: What inspired that work? Where did the funding and the motivation come from for the government to do that? JOSE BOURDAIN: Well, our government -- last governments, all of them, left/right governments, all of them, have a commitment since more or less 15 years, have a great commitment to put Portugal with more accessibility everywhere, we have a law that applies to all the buildings, the new ones, of course, since 15 years, like I said, all of them have accessibilities, and the others who don't have it to transform and give them the rights to transform the buildings and put in all accessible to people. Also in the streets, in the buildings and the beaches, everywhere the country is more and more and more accessible everyday, which is great of course for everyone. CAMERON CUNDIFF: That's amazing. I'm thinking about -- we're the New York City accessibility meet-up -- and thinking about ways that we can advance accessibility in New York. What do you think? What steps can we take to advance accessibility in New York City? JOSE BOURDAIN: I never been in New York.

I was going to a fair, but because of restrictions of the COVID -- maybe I'll go next year, I hope. But some people that I know that of course have already been in New York, they say wonderful things about accessibility in the United States and generally. But of course everywhere, also in Portugal, there are some companies, some public facilities that don't have accessibility or it's not the best one. And of course by law in Portugal and the U.S. and everywhere in my opinion it must be by law that people must have the obligation to put everything accessible, of course. And the government has to exercise fiscalization if things are going well or not.

That's my opinion. And that's here in Portugal. Of course not everything is perfect, and sometimes things don't work well, but that's the way, I think.

CAMERON CUNDIFF: Excellent. Yeah, Mark Lasser here in the chat made a really good point which I think is accurate that the MTA, which is New York City's transportation authority, needs a lot of work. And Broadway, I'm assuming Mark, you mean Broadway shows, musicals and events, need a lot of work.

And that's an area where -- that's an area where we've actually showcased some practitioners on Broadway that are doing accessible shows. some of their programs for Deaf audiences, but in general -- and you hinted at this. There are companies and organizations and structures that are older so they're like out of scope for new legislation, and that's a big problem.

I've seen -- if you go into some buildings, you go in -- it's like a beautiful interior and then you go in the bathroom. The bathroom looks like it's from the '60s, and it probably is because it costs tens of thousands of dollars to refurbish a bathroom. And if you touch it, if you change anything, you have to make it wheelchair accessible and compliant with the ADA. So it's an interesting problem, and it sounds like it's a similar consideration in Portugal. And I'm not sure what to make of it, but I'm happy to hear that there's a commitment by the government to advance accessibility.

That's super cool. And one other thing that made me think of that, you said there was specific legislation, there's laws in Portugal around accessibility. is that fairly recent? JOSE BOURDAIN: 2006. 15 years ago. We have the same problems in Portugal, monuments, etcetera, but most places are very creative.

We have portable things, portable toilets, portable ramps. We tried to look around and be creative with those kinds of obstacles, but of course not 100% because there are buildings which are quite impossible to change because of buildings, some of them are world heritage and it's quite complicated to do some improvements in those kinds of buildings, in general. CAMERON CUNDIFF: I would imagine, and correct me, that Portugal has a large tourism industry. Does that impact the accessibility at a state level? Is the government thoughtful about tourism as a driver for accessibility? JOSE BOURDAIN: Yes.

The last two secretaries of state for tourism, they were very committed with accessibility and tourism, very, very committed. They give funds to city halls and other public monuments and also public companies, etcetera. They give specific funds to make things more accessible, which of course it was and is great. They still do that. CAMERON CUNDIFF: How does the legislation apply to digital accessibility? This is a personal interest of mine, but online accessibility? So website accessibility, application accessibility. JOSE BOURDAIN: We also have legislation for that, but the fiscalization is not so good and it's not so good in the web, but there is legislation also for that.

CAMERON CUNDIFF: I love this idea of making tourism a driver for accessibility because accessibility is about inclusion and tourism is very much driven by inclusion and being welcoming and inviting. So I think maybe that's one answer for New York City is how do we make a welcoming environment. Unfortunately travel restrictions make it a lot harder, but I look forward to seeing tourism as a driver as we move through travel restrictions and health concerns in New York City. I really love that framework. JOSE BOURDAIN: One of the things that I see is that the main problem is with transportation, especially in aviation. That's the main problem for people who want to travel.

And every person that I know they complain about that. That's really the main problem. It's really the main problem. CAMERON CUNDIFF: Yeah, there's really an unfortunate case recently, tragic case of an accessibility and disability advocate passing away as an indirect result of the airline damaging her wheelchair. So it's such a fundamental issue to travel and it's distressing.

One other question from the chat. How about accessible booking? How does someone who is blind or who is Deaf work with you to book travel? I use blind and Deaf specifically because those are obstacles that may impact communication. JOSE BOURDAIN: Yes. That's our main challenge because we don't have many places in Portugal that -- we don't have such a huge offer that we have for people like in a wheelchair, for example. But we have some kind of monuments, like the photo that I showed you, and the military museum in Lisbon and other monuments that people can touch on the-- it's forbidden for everyone except people with some visual impairment.

And they can touch things, which is nice. We also have descriptions of the monument, we have municipals in restaurants and hotels. It is quite less than for people in wheelchair, of course, but we have such kind of offer and we organize trips according to the impairment that people -- that clients have. Some people travel with oxygen needs, for example.

It's not very usual, but sometimes happens. We also provide that. We try to provide everything we provide almost everything. It's possible to travel with dialysis, for example. You can do dialysis during the day, you could do dialysis at night, for example, between 8:00 PM and 12:00 PM and don't do it during the day.

Almost everything is possible with us. Like I told you, we work with people with disabilities for many, many years, we have doctors, nurses, we have our own staff in the organization. We work 240 people. We are a big team, in all the organization. In tourism we are a team of six, but we provide almost anything.

And we also have partnerships with hospitals and health center in general. CAMERON CUNDIFF: That's great and I'm really happy to hear about that commitment. What about if I wanted to actually -- let's say I'm blind or -- and I want to actually book travel with you.

What -- is the website -- do you have a similar commitment to digital accessibility? Can I go on the website and actually book travel with you? What's the best way to reach you if I'm -- if I'm using a screen reader or if I'm using other assistive technologies? JOSE BOURDAIN: We must make some improvements in our website, but as an example the best ways to call us or send us an email. It's the best way to contact us. CAMERON CUNDIFF: Okay. JOSE BOURDAIN: And we speak with the client, see what the client wants and needs.

If they want to go to some monuments, they wants to dive, they want to go to the beach, have some of those experiences in a museum, etcetera, etcetera. CAMERON CUNDIFF: Yeah. I know that that commitment that you're describing to digital accessibility, the -- at least the desire to improve will be well received by the blind community and people with motor impairments being able to use your digital content. So I support that. Are there any other questions from the chat? I'm just so happy that you joined us today, Jose.

And I said in the chat earlier, I'm ready to book my flight because it sounds like Portugal is just like a beautiful place and the commitment to accessibility and inclusion extends to all of us. Being inclusive is not limited to people with disabilities, it's an expansive quality that I think signals a really positive aspect of the Portuguese culture and the Portugal's infrastructure and commitment to accessibility. So that's super cool. There was one other question. Oh.

Someone missed the first few minutes. They're asking about other locales, if the travel is limited to Portugal? Remind us where else do you operate? JOSE BOURDAIN: We operate in all country. And also you usually do trips Portugal and Spain also. And sometimes we also go more to north and to France, Belgium, etcetera.

But usually Portugal, of course, whole country. And sometimes Portugal and Spain. CAMERON CUNDIFF: To that point do you know of other companies that are doing similar work in other parts of the world? Do you have partner companies in like, I don't know, Thailand? JOSE BOURDAIN: Yes. I know lots of companies that -- many countries in the world do similar things that we do. And then one of the things that I have lots of proud, sorry to say that, don't misunderstand me, but many people who work this kind of tourism for more years than us, they give us congratulations because we have a very, very complete service. Because most companies, they have transportation, they of course -- they have the tourists, the hotels, etcetera, but don't have the -- all things that we have, you know.

And sometimes they just have the transportation. They have the transportation of another company, they have the guide, etcetera. But we have our own transportation, we have our own treatment, we have hospital facilities, we have the staff, we have the equipment. We have everything, you know.

Which is best for the clients, easier for us. We don't depend on other companies, which is not bad, of course, but it's allowed us to organize better things and give a faster answer to the clients. And usually companies don't have everything like we have. And that's one of the things that we have lots of pride is on that because we have almost everything. JOSE BOURDAIN: We work with many companies in all the world that have services like we have in Portugal. Also in Thailand.

[Laughter]. CAMERON CUNDIFF: I'll do some research and find out what we have in New York City. I imagine we have something like that -- JOSE BOURDAIN: In New York I don't know.

In New York I don't know. CAMERON CUNDIFF: That's my homework. JOSE BOURDAIN: I know in California, but not in New York. CAMERON CUNDIFF: New York is difficult again because of the older infrastructure and it's just very dense, things are much more compact. So in particular for wheelchair users it can be challenging. It's not easy.

I don't want to discourage anyone from coming to New York. I think the commitment and the -- there's such an abundance of generosity I find in New Yorkers. People have a stereotype about New Yorkers as being edgy or like unwelcoming, and I find that as entirely untrue.

I feel that in general New Yorkers will help you when you need it. That can be a problem too in general if you don't want help, but that's not the kind of help I mean. I mean like being welcoming and inclusive.

So if you're not in New York, this is the New York City accessibility meet-up, come to New York and then go to Portugal. JOSE BOURDAIN: Next year I will, maybe May, June. CAMERON CUNDIFF: June is better, early June. JOSE BOURDAIN: Yes, I think so. CAMERON CUNDIFF: Perfect weather.

Well, if there are no other questions from the group, again, thank you, Jose. JOSE BOURDAIN: Thank you for the opportunity. CAMERON CUNDIFF: Yeah. Visit And I want to say thank you again to our captioners, to Equal Entry, Adobe, Fable technology and Google for being generous sponsors of our event. Thank you to everyone for joining.

JOSE BOURDAIN: Thank you. CAMERON CUNDIFF: And that's a wrap. Take care.

2021-12-11 11:25

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