Accessible tourism isn’t a new concept, but it is unheard of by many tourists who don’t have to navigate a city while also coping with a disability. So what is it?
“Accessible Tourism” (also known as “Access Tourism”, “Universal Tourism”, “Inclusive Tourism” and in some countries such as in Japan “Barrier-free Tourism”) is tourism and travel that is accessible to all people, with disabilities or not, including those with mobility, hearing, sight, cognitive, or intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, older persons and those with temporary disabilities.” – (Takayama Declaration – Appendix, UNESCAP, 2009).
In terms of what makes a city accessible, it involves the removal of barriers in society that limit the access to physical environments, methods of transportation, information, and communications. Though many cities take advantage of crosswalks and handicapped parking, there are only a few cities that intentionally incorporate methods of accessibility that address physical handicaps, as well as mental and emotional disabilities. It is so rare, in fact, that Europe has created an award for it.
Every year, the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT) grants The European Award for Accessible Cities to the city they feel meets the goals of Accessible Tourism. According to their literature, the award is given to a city that:
- has demonstrably improved accessibility in fundamental aspects of city living:
- the built environment and public spaces;
- transport and related infrastructure;
- information and communication, including Information and Communication Technologies (ICT);
- public facilities and services.
- is committed to continued improvements in accessibility in a sustainable way;
- can act as a role model and encourage the adoption of best practices in all other European cities.
In 2019, the Access City Award Winner was Breda, The Netherlands and in second place was Évreux France. We could have easily covered either city in this article as a destination, but the 3rd place winner, Gdynia, Poland caught our eye for its attention not only to physical accessibility but to people with invisible disabilities (e.g. visual, auditory, and intellectual disabilities).
In a recent article, Deputy Mayor for Life Quality of Gdynia, Bartosz Bartoszewicz, spoke about some of the strategies Gdynia has implemented to address people with disabilities. Among the long list, he mentions that the National Rugby Stadium and the City Stadium have both been designed in order for people with various kinds of disabilities to be able to support their team. The Gdynia Central Railway Station and Gdynia’s Marina have also been fully modernized to meet the needs of the disabled. “People in wheelchairs can get to the downtown or Orłowo beaches by means of a wooden platform which can also be used by families with children or the elderly,” he says. Further, “all trolleybuses and buses are low-floor vehicles. For people who cannot use public transport, a door-to-door transport service was launched, as a specialised transport service. Specially profiled curbs which make it easier for low-floor buses to approach, making bus bays fully accessible. Apart from polymer concrete curbs, the new bays have textured tiles in contrasting colours which direct blind and visually impaired people to the entrance and warn them about getting closer to the edge of the stop’s platform. Most car parks are accessible in a similar way.”
The mayor also makes note that individual cultural institutions are also making changes. For example, the Music Theatre has a special system of hearing facilities and a sign language interpreter and movie theatres and sporting events are available with audio description services provided for the blind. Additionally, all festivals/outdoor events are accessible to the disabled. The city goes beyond these improvements by also promoting social and educational campaigns that teach the public about tolerance, sensitivity, and respect. They also take an active role in helping companies create roles for disabled people. As a tourist, jobs may not mean much to you, but as a tourist in Gydnia, you will definitely come into contact with more operators and service people with various disabilities while touring.
In creating an inclusive environment, the mayor states:
“The increased presence of people with disabilities also benefits the able-bodied who start to notice a real value of the disabled, respect them and regard them as equal. The disabled are no longer treated as curiosities but as rightful citizens who can contribute to the society. This new approach additionally benefits people with disabilities who have a higher self-esteem and become more and more independent.”
So what is there to do in this modern-day Shangri-LA?
There are many things to see in Gdynia, as one of the popular Polish Tri-cities – cities that are partnered together including two other cities: Gdansk and Sopot. These cities are located in Northern Poland by the Bay of Gdansk and are famous for their architecture, as well as their beaches.
Gdynia, in particular, has huge historical value for the Polish. Not only was it a large port city that turned into a highly visited beach and holiday resort – it was also historically the point of emigration for many of the Polish people that left to find new opportunities in the United States of America. This is all information that can be found in its Emigration Museum that opened in 2015, housing photos, journals, sound and various other forms of archival footage for all to come and learn about the journey for the Poles that left to find new opportunities in the Americas.
A unique thing to see, while visiting Gdynia, is the Dar Pomorza, a fully rigged ship with a great history docked downtown. Starting from 1909, this ship sailed all over Europe while flying high the polish colors. In 1935, she was taken on a trip around the world before finally being docked in 1985. Now Dar Pomorza welcomes all visitors to come inside and take a look and learn more.
For a photo memory worthy trek, Kamienna Góra is the highest point in the city that is accessible not only by a short hike up to the top with a view of a huge cross. Visitors with mobility issues can also enjoy the view by using their free funicular shuttle which takes you to the top and back.
For a short stroll and moment of introspection, be sure to check out the Skwer Kościuszki, dedicated to the memory of the Polish revolutionary who lead the uprising against Russia in the 1700s. It s a great place to meet with friends, make plans for your day or use as a starting point before finding a great restaurant or cafe in the surrounding areas.
For the animal kingdom lovers, The South Piers Aquarium is a great place to spend your afternoon with one of the most diverse collections of the Baltic Coasts’ aquatic life. For those interested, it also has a theatre to watch underwater films curated by the aquarium.
One of the great things about Gdynia is its very accessible beach only 10 minutes from most of the hotels around town. This beach is known to be a bit more packed than the two other beaches, Gdynia Orłowo and Redłowska Beach. Gdynia Orłowo is the most popular beach for paragliding aficionados and it is more on the quiet side. While Redłowska Beach is a beach hidden by a luscious leafy green forest.
Whatever you end up doing in Gdynia, it is sure that you have many options to choose and enjoy with very little worry about being able to gain access to the areas!