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 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.

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  1. I always assumed with guided tours that there would legally have to be an option in print, at least. It seems like it would be too easy to have a tablet with an ASL presentation. Something I’ve noticed recently is the inaccuracy of captions on tv shows. Misspelled words or even missing words which can actually change the entire meaning of the dialogue that took place. We can certainly do better for our Deaf community.

    1. Hey Alicia,

      You are correct about the guided tours being legally required to provide a printed version of the audio tour. The important thing to keep in mind is what constitutes as “effective communication”.

      The ADA website sums it up well.

      “The key to deciding what aid or service is needed to communicate effectively is to consider the nature, length, complexity, and context of the communication and the person’s normal method(s) of communication.”

      If my normal method of communication is sign language, then providing an ASL interpreter would be effective if the tour goes “off-script” or is dynamic.

      In my experience, the dynamic part of the tour is usually a result of “Does anyone have any questions” which is where an FAQ sheet comes in handy even if no one has questions.

      Otherwise, everyone would have a script or audio recording (meaning there is no point in having a tour guide at all).

      However, having printed or audio materials alone Is not a guarantee of effective communication which is why all forms of communication must be provided for equal access.

      I hope this helps.

  2. Thank you for being part of my experience and opening your eyes to the issues I face as a Deaf person while exploring locally and abroad. It’s nice to see your support for Deaf-friendly travel and tourism because we both benefit. What you are doing here is the first step in raising awareness about the Deaf community.

    While the ADA is in force in the USA, it’s not enforced. That’s the issue. That’s why so many businesses are scrambling now to cover their bases to avoid lawsuits. It’s been in force for 30 years now and we are only starting to realize the benefits of accessibility & inclusion.

    Yes, there are “minimal” solutions as providing content in text format (printed or digital) but accessibility is about what the individual prefers as a solution. Not what the business thinks is the solution. Because of people reading this post, more people are becoming aware and I thank you for sharing our experience with your readers.

  3. I find this fascinating as I delve into learning more about the Deaf community and ASL. I used to be a National Park Ranger in Alaska where I was hired as a French Language Interpretive Ranger (in this instance Interpretive refers to interpreting nature and history rather than language but it was easier for them to hire rangers fluent in another language besides English and it is a separate job title from those who only speak English.) ASL was definitely a language that you could qualify with as a Language Interpretive Ranger, but I have never met an ASL ranger, only spoken foreign language rangers. I never gave a tour in French and only recall using my French less than a handful of times in the years I was a ranger. I imagine how many more people I could have helped had I been an ASL speaker! I have only knowingly encountered deaf people a few times on the job, but I’m sure there were many more in the crowds who may have engaged had an ASL ranger been available.

    Also none of the rangers were ever told to provide transcripts of our walking tour or other presentations for use by deaf or hard of hearing persons and I don’t know if any of us were familiar with the Deaf community to even think about that at the time–this was 10 years ago and accessibility wasn’t as much in public consciousness at that point. If we had, I know we would have been more than happy to do so. I hope things have changed or will change soon. But still, that was the federal government at a park that received over 1 million visitors annually! Times around 15% of the US population being deaf or hoh, that’s 150,000 people who could have been potentially served! It’s just mind-blowing that they didn’t have us offering transcripts.

    It was actually having an interaction with the sweetest deaf couple in Olympic National Park in Washington that triggered my desire to learn ASL. We ended up communicating fine through writing in the end, but I just thought how I wanted to provide them easier and hassle free communication because of how tiring it must be to always have to have that awkward communication delay in expressing the need to write things out and then the back and forth wait of writing and reading, when, had I been ASL fluent, I could have answered their questions in a fraction of the time. I also have since had a strange feeling my next child may be born deaf (I know that might sound a little crazy but it’s just a feeling I get) and it actually makes me feel really good to know through learning ASL I will be able to help her and others have that easy communication they deserve. 🙂 <3

    1. Hi Olive,

      Thank you for your wonderful response. It’s so great to find more people wanting to know more about the Deaf culture and especially wanting to learn ASL.

      Unfortunately, even government funded attractions don’t often provide what is necessary for multiple disabilities. It’s important that when we visit attractions and find they are lacking, that we politely inform them. As awareness increases, hopefully things continue to change for the better.

      Thanks again and good luck! 🙂

      Vicky and Buddy

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