Are tourist sites accessible by disabled people?

Persons with disabilities are complaining that some tourist sites are not accessible. File

Tourism is increasingly becoming part of the lifestyle in Rwanda after aggressive campaigns by the Rwanda Development Board through Tembera u Rwanda, which had special packages for different sections of Rwandans.

Through tourism, one can broaden their prospects, explore, have fun, learn about different cultures and at the same time get educated, yet it is an industry of importance for the economy of any country.

Tourism can even be more fun if customers receivedto their expectations the services they paid for. It is however devastating for a client to feel dissatisfied in any way

This is why people with mobility impairments, wheelchair users or visually impaired persons have to be catered for in all aspects possible. The question is, how?

“My life turned upside down when I became sick and lost 75 per cent of my sight; however that didn’t hinder me from enjoying life normally, since I enjoy adventuring, this year I got a chance to visit Rwanda for the first time where I got a warm welcome. When my colleagues and I visited the Genocide MemorialCentre, we were led by a guide who vividly explained the history of the genocide with videos and audios, this enabled us know what happened many years back,” says Babita Saroj, a tourist from India.

However, she explained that some of the hotels she visited only had stair cases which hindered her movements. Since the stair cases were in the same color, she said it was tricky to know the begin of the next step due to her poor vision. She said ramps are needed in public places.

Moses Mutabaruka, the Managing Director of Karisimbi Ventures, said that through collaboration with the government, the private sector and tour operators needs to develop technology that can help the disabled move and communicate freely as they tour, just like normal people, explaining that government needs to put roads accessible for all.

“Tour operators need to have professional staff capable of informing and advising about accessibility issues, they need to have booking services and related websites plus provision of adapted and accessible hotel rooms, restaurants, shops, toilets and public places”.

Sunny Ntayombya, the Head of Communications and Marketing at the Rwanda Development Board, said that disabled people deserve to feel comfortable when at different tourism sites adding that Rwanda is open to all regardless of sex, age and physical impairment.

Our aimis to ensure that everyone is able to enjoy not just the hospitality facilities, but also the national parks and other sites, according to the tourism law, entities such as restaurants and hotels are mandated to have access ramps and toilet facilities for people who use wheelchairs, he said.

“For those who trek gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, we have porters who, for an extra cost of $200, carry trekkers in a special sedan chair, visually and hearing impaired people are given special attention by our guides,” Ntayombya explained.

For the visually impaired, he says that porters help them move in the park and the deaf are given explanations using sign language, with no extra fees paid.

However, Samuel Munana, the executive director Rwanda National Union of the Deaf (RNUD), contends that communication barriers with the deaf are still poor in different tourist sites, as the tourism operators don’t know sign language.

He added that at times, there are no interpreters to ease communication yet it is expensive for the deaf to hire personal interpreters.

Donatille Kanimba, the Executive Director of the Rwanda Union for the Blind (RUB), advised that says that guides can help explain different animals and the sounds they make so as to paint a picture in the minds of the visually impaired about how different animals look like.

“There should be molds of different shapes of animals that the visually impaired persons can touch to feel how the lion, zebra, gorilla, snake, and other animals look like,” she stresses.

Kanimba added that engraved maps should be provided in different tourists sites, for the visually impaired to know how Rwanda looks like.

Some of the tourists attractions that Rwanda is blessed with include; memorial sites, art centers, national parks, hotels, museums, volcanoes, forests, cultural sites, waterfalls, research centers, among others.