Publicado por: Ricardo Shimosakai | 11/07/2014

Japanese Travel Companies Just Discovering Disabled Clients

People with disabilities may have a better use of their tours through travel agencies qualified specifically for this segmentPeople with disabilities may have a better use of their tours through travel agencies qualified specifically for this segment

Compiled and translated by the Japanese Society for Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities (JSRPD)

“Oh, I would like to go traveling!” All people, whether they have disabilities or not, seem to have this desire. However, in reality, lots of people with disabilities have to give up the idea, despite their strong wishes to the contrary. We wanted to know about the current traveling environment for people with disabilities who have strong needs and desire for travel. We conducted an interview with JTB(Japan Travel Bureau) Barrier Free Plaza, the largest traveling company, and Beltempo Travel and Consultants Ltd., a private travel agency.

Private and group tours
JTB Barrier Free Plaza takes advantage of its well-known name and provides a wide array of services to customers, which is their selling point. In addition to private tours, they also provide group tours supported by experienced tour conductors and volunteers assisting people with disabilities. Approximately 1000 people participate in their domestic tours and tours abroad, both of which are carried out about 4 times yearly. They also have a special counter for people with hearing disabilities who cannot use the telephone, so that they can communicate by writing or using sign language. Most of the participants so far are wheelchair users.

“Traveling inspires me,” says Ms. Noriko Kamiyama, who joined in several JTB tours. Ms. Kamiyama loves traveling but she had given up her plan so many times because she could not arrange such things as securing a taxi equipped with a special lift and finding toilets for wheelchair users during a trip. It was beyond an individual’s ability to make all the necessary arrangements without assistance. However, she happened to read in the newspaper about JTB’s tours for people with disabilities. Although these tours are rather expensive and do not give a lot of choices, participants are very happy because they do not have to worry about their problems any more. “We are encouraged by the smiles and warm kindness of the local people we meet during a trip. By traveling to different places, we also get self-confidence that we can go on a trip despite disabilities.” It is the meeting with local people during a trip that makes an unforgettable memory. “Never give up, even though you have a disability. Traveling is really a wonderful thing that gives you courage and hope. Just take a step forward and go out. I am sure you will be able to find a new ‘self’!”

Customized tours
Custom trips can comply with the requirements of tourists with specific needs
On the other hand, Mr. Takahagi of Beltempo Travel and Consultants Ltd. provides custom-made tours, which meet the needs of each traveler. Mr. Takahagi handles each person’s plan conscientiously and gives valuable advice. He even visits customers all over the country if requested and makes records of each customer’s personal information, such as preference of seats on airplane, tastes and the way to cut foods, and how much assistance is required, in detail beforehand. Thus all the anxieties and complaints of customers can be removed before departure. It takes enormous time and effort to make this record at the first trip, but a next trip is much easier because the former record can be used again. In this way, Mr. Takahagi guides about 1000 people every year. Since Mr. Takahagi himself accompanies the trip, customers feel very relieved, for they come to have strong trust in him by the time of the trip. “My role is to increase the customers’ opportunities to go traveling. The biggest problem is that customers do not have many choices. Anyway, it is the customer himself/herself who actually travels that finally decides whether to go or not to go.”

Travel for disabled tourists not well established
Unfortunately, traveling environments for people with disabilities are not well established in Japan. Therefore, some get worried and discouraged about traveling by themselves. Then they go to travel agencies to join in group tours, but in many cases they are tired of being rejected. As a result, the number of people with disabilities who have given up traveling is surprisingly large.

Mr. Takahagi commented: “I believe that we, together with these customers, have to consider how people with disabilities, even with severe disabilities, can travel. I would like to create environments so that a person who wishes to travel can actually go. I hope the more people with disabilities go on a trip, the more awareness in the whole society toward them is raised. In order to achieve that, I am sure that it is important for people engaged in traveling business to understand more about people with disabilities.”

Some of the participants whom Mr. Takahagi helped have gained self-confidence after taking a trip and have determined to travel by themselves next time.

Tour director challenges society
Travelling brings many benefits to the disabled person, from development of physical condition to improved self-esteem
People are certainly changing by receiving Mr. Takahagi’s message that more and more people with disabilities should experience the pleasure of traveling. Unfortunately, it is true that Japanese society still has some prejudices against people with disabilities. However it is necessary for each person with disability to become independent, actively go out and present him/herself to society. When society “realizes” what people with disabilities actually need, it will not only be able to improve the environments but also to remove barriers in people’s minds. “My role is to tell and let those who are not aware of the disabled people know about their presence,” Mr. Takahagi says.

Let each one of us start by recognizing and understanding the presence of people with disabilities, in order to create a society where we can treat each other always in the same way, whether having disabilities or not.

Information for disabled tourists coming to Japan
Now, would you like to travel in Japan and delve into the beauty of this county? Here is a tip for you to make your trip to Japan easier. There are several volunteer groups to give useful information in English to people with disabilities from abroad. One of the groups of its kind is the Japanese Red Cross Language Service Volunteers. They provide” Accessible Activities” on the internet which gives you the information about the accessibility of buildings and facilities in Tokyo, Kyoto and Kamakura, three major attractive cities for travelers in Japan. (

Source: Disability World


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