27 November 2009

Tourism often evokes images of beaches, walking tracks through rainforests and snowy mountain ski runs.

But what does the world of a tourist in a wheelchair look like?

An internationally recognised expert in therapeutic recreation and accessibility from Illinois, in the US, will talk about just that at a conference in Brisbane in February.

The University of Queensland’s School of Tourism and The Australian and New Zealand Association for Leisure Studies will host academic, author, speaker and lobbyist Dr Norma J Stumbo.

Dr Stumbo said her presentation would cover leisure, health and disabilities and remind tourist operators and hospitality managers about the importance of accessibility.

She said there was a misconception among these operators and managers that people with a disability did not use leisure centres or visit tourist attractions.

"They say, 'we don’t have anyone with a disability come to our program or facility so why should we bother to become accessible?'

"This is a chicken-egg dilemma. Of course they serve people with disabilities. They are just unaware of the extent of it."

Dr Stumbo said most leisure centre and tourist operators did not understand the financial gains they would make if they provided services to people with a disability.

"Most professionals make an implicit assumption that people with disabilities are not interested in , or capable of, health – so few attempts are made," she said.

"Health facilities are often not accessible to get into, the equipment is not usable and the staff is unsure of what do to with a person with a disability."

Among the success stories worthy of note was a Rails to Trails movement in the US, which had made walking tracks more accessible to people with a disability, Dr Stumbo said.

The main obstacles were a lack of knowledge, a lack of effort and resources to provide services for people with a disability and not having accessibility as a priority, she said.

Dr Stumbo spent almost 30 years teaching in higher education in Illinois and lectured at The University of Queensland and the Southern Institute of Technology in New Zealand.

She has written and edited several books, presented more than 300 research and educational sessions and was awarded the Distinguished Fellow award from the American Therapeutic Recreation Association in 2008.

Dr Stumbo will speak at the 2010 ANZALS Biennial Conference at the Hilton Hotel from February 2-4. Visit www.staff.vu.edu.au/anzalsconference

Media: Erik de Wit (0417 088 772)