We need to spread awareness about Deaf Travel and the need for Deaf Friendly Tourism. Inclusivity means everyone deserves a chance to travel.

Deaf Travel And Deaf Friendly Tourism

We’ve always believed that anyone can travel. Sure, there might be obstacles, but if traveling is something you really want to do then you will figure out a way to make it happen.

A few years ago, we met Mark “Deaf” McGuire. We initially met through social media because of our blogs. A few years later, we were finally able to meet in person while we were both in Miami. That was our first time interacting with a Deaf person.

We thought his story was an interesting and inspiring one; he never let the fact that he was Deaf stop him from traveling. We interviewed Mark so that you all could learn more about him too. It was important for our followers to see that travel is possible, even if there are challenges along the way.

We kept in touch and, fast forward a year, Vicky and Mark are now dating and house sitting together. Our awareness about Deaf Travel and Deaf Friendly Tourism has now increased exponentially. We want to pass on what we’ve learned so that others are also aware.

We still believe that travel is possible for everyone, but we also now know that it shouldn’t be so difficult for some. Hopefully this information leads to more inclusivity in the travel industry…

Vicky and Mark in front of the ASL sign for "I Love You" in Columbia, South Carolina
Vicky and Mark in front of the ASL sign for “I Love You” in Columbia, South Carolina

First Things First

The first thing everyone needs to be aware of is that there is a difference between lowercase deaf (or more commonly known as little d) and uppercase Deaf (a.k.a. big D). The difference is based on identity where the uppercase D in deaf represents the Deaf community. The Deaf community is a cultural identity where sign language is the main form of communication.

The Deaf community consist mostly of deaf people but also includes hard of hearing people and hearing people who are typically family members, friends, and sign language advocates.

While the Deaf community communicates in sign language, they also share the same assistive technology and tools that deaf, hard of hearing, and even hearing people use.

Such technology includes captions and speech to text transcriptions. In addition, there are services such as the telecommunications relay services and sign language interpreters. These services and technology allow everyone to communicate with each other.

Deaf Travel

Now that we’ve been traveling with Mark for a few months, we’ve learned more about some of the obstacles that come with Deaf Travel. These are things that hearing people don’t usually notice or don’t put much thought into.

For example, if a Deaf or Hard of Hearing person is traveling by plane and there is an announcement over the PA, they have no way of knowing. Imagine that they announce a gate change. Suddenly the Deaf or Hard of Hearing person sees everyone around them getting up from their seats and leaving. They have no idea why and it’s frustrating to say the least.

Another example would be on an airplane, when the message “An announcement is in progress…” comes on the small screen. What is the announcement? This is where live captioning would really come in handy. That way a Deaf or Hard of Hearing person can easily stay informed.

Deaf Travel is challenging because of a lack of awareness. People that are Deaf or Hard of Hearing often go undetected due to a lack of education about accessibility. It is important, however, to acknowledge their presence in the world.

We need to acknowledge the challenges of Deaf Travel
We need to acknowledge the challenges of Deaf Travel

Deaf Friendly Tourism

So what is Deaf Friendly Tourism? Deaf Friendly Tourism is when destinations, attractions, and tour operators are accommodating to Deaf and Hard of Hearing People by providing all audio information through either sign language or text (written or digital).

Most of us have been on a guided tour of some sort. It could have been in a museum, historic home, or outside somewhere. A Deaf traveler can’t experience guided tours in the same way as others; they can’t understand what the guide is saying.

Some Deaf people can lip read, but the speaker has to be facing them directly. Even then, statistically, lip-readers only achieve 52.3 percent accuracy.

Tour guides and docents are constantly moving. They move as they talk about specific things or are continuously turning to face everyone. Lip reading becomes impossible.

Even in a one on one setting, however, not all Deaf people can lip read. This means that they rely on sign language or text.

These posters created by Action Deafness raise awareness about communication challenges
These posters created by Action Deafness raise awareness about communication challenges

Why Is Deaf Travel Important?

Really, what we mean to ask is, “Why is inclusivity important?” Everyone should have an equal chance of traveling comfortably. We’re focusing this article on Deaf Travel because it’s what we’ve been learning about over the last few months. In reality, however, inclusivity is important for anyone with a disability whether they are deaf, blind, or in a wheelchair.

Our friend Cory of Curb Free with Cory Lee is a huge advocate for inclusivity and accessible travel. He was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (type 2) at the age of two but that hasn’t stopped him from traveling around the world. We asked Cory why inclusivity was so important and this was his response:

“The truth is that no one knows when they could become disabled. By making attractions, accommodations, and transportation inclusive now, you’re not only helping people with disabilities today, but potentially yourself in the future as well. Accessibility benefits us all.”

According to the World Health Organization, nearly one in five people have a disability. Therefore, by making travel more accessible, at least 20% more people could be traveling. This includes working class people with disabilities that have money to spend. By excluding them, the tourism industry is missing out on a huge market.

And we say “at least” 20% because most people with disabilities don’t travel alone. We’ve skipped certain attractions or not paid extra for an additional tour because they were not accessible for Mark. That means they lost not only his money, but also that of his companion.

Destinations and attractions could increase their profits by making travel accessible for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people, as well as their friends, family, and significant others.

Interesting Facts: According to an American Institutes for Research (AIR) report, the total after-tax disposable income* for working-age people with disabilities is about $490 billion. Discretionary income** for working-age people with disabilities is about $21 billion.

*Disposable income is the amount of money available to a household for both saving and spending, after taxes.

**Discretionary income is the amount of money remaining after the deduction of taxes, other mandatory charges, and expenditures on necessary items. It is the money that people spend on nonessential goods or services like dining out, travel, and entertainment.

How Can The Travel Industry Become Deaf Friendly?

The most important thing for destinations and attractions to find out is what accommodations their visitors would like. If they are unable to accommodate the visitor’s first choice, then offer a second choice.

There are different aspects of Deaf Friendly Tourism. At a minimum, however, destinations and attractions should have a way to provide information via text. This could be through typed out scripts, captions, or digitally on devices such as iPads.

Caption All Videos – You’d be surprised how many places don’t have their videos captioned. Or we’ve had to ask for them to be turned on. Captions should be on all the time.

Provide Docent/Guide Scripts – Docents and tour guides memorize the information they are providing. This information should be in a text format (laminated sheet of paper or iPad) so that a Deaf or Hard of Hearing person can follow along.

The text should also have a Frequently Asked Questions section. This helps when a fellow traveler asks a question that leads the docent or guide to go off script.

Provide Transcripts Of Audio Recordings – We once visited an attraction where all of the information was disseminated through audio recordings. We’re sure kids probably love to push the buttons and hear stories, but for us it was very frustrating. There should have been transcripts available.

At the opposite spectrum, while we were in Sandwich, Massachusetts we visited the Sandwich Glass Museum. This attraction had a few interactive displays using holograms. Before even asking, we were provided with an audio transcript so that Mark could follow along with the display’s presentation. We really appreciated that!

Deaf Friendly Tourism means providing audio transcripts for interactive displays
See the hologram of the woman at the end of the table? We were provided with an audio transcript so Mark could follow along as she spoke.

Provide Sign Language Interpreters – Did you know sign language is, in many cases, a Deaf person’s first language? Written text is actually their second language.

Therefore, the Deaf community prefers that information be presented to them in sign language first before text. To go above and beyond, attractions should have a sign language interpreter at all times, not only upon request.

Provide Sign Language Tours – Aside from providing sign language interpreters, an attraction could also offer sign language tours. Attractions could contract a Deaf person to provide a weekly or monthly tour.

Additional Resources

If you’d like to read more about the financial benefits of Deaf Friendly Tourism and the rights of Deaf and Hard of Hearing people, we suggest looking at the links below:

Final Thoughts On Deaf Travel

The point of this is not to shame or bash anyone. It’s hard to know these things when you don’t have any experience with Deaf Travel or Deaf Friendly Tourism. We do want to spread awareness though.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability, turns 30 this year. It’s time more people know about inclusivity and accessibility.

We hope that destinations, attractions, and tour operators are open to making the changes necessary so that all Deaf and Hard of Hearing people can travel without difficulties.

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We need to spread awareness about Deaf Travel and the need for Deaf Friendly Tourism. Inclusivity means everyone deserves a chance to travel.