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Travel 'missing a trick' by under-serving disabled clients

Today’s disabled youth will not accept being treated differently to others by travel companies.

That was the message of Ruth Owen OBE, chief executive of disabled children’s charity Whizz-Kidz, speaking to travel leaders at the first in a series of diversity and inclusion-focused breakfasts by TTG.


The campaigner kicked off by insisting “real accessibility and equality” of attitudes was still a long way off.


“Wheelchair users are still not proportionately reflected in advertising,” Owen – a wheelchair user herself – said.


“Images on the glossy [travel] brochures still reflect a healthy, smiling, nuclear family, usually white, overwhelmingly young, but never, ever with a wheelchair.


“What does that say about the travel industry and its attitudes to us as potential paying customers?”


“There are millions of people who want to travel and who are currently being under-served,” she said.


“The service industry took many years to wake up to LGBT+ and Bame (black, Asian and minority ethnic) customers, yet it still misses out on the million-plus travellers on wheels.”


Owen described as “elusive” the travel companies that have actually mapped out how wheelchair-users can get from A to B, or have considered the holiday “pinch-points” for disabled travellers.


However, she added: “Times are changing and, yes, equality is becoming the expected norm.”


Owen pointed out that many of the young people Whizz-Kids has helped have been tech-savvy, bright and inquiring.


“This generation is asking for equality of rights, access and attitude,” she said.


“They will expect to be treated just like any other paying customer. Better the industry makes changes now than in 10years, because the next generation won’t ask, they will demand.”




Ruth’s tips for helping improve wheelchair users’ experience

  • Signpost services better. Have a disability button on the website. Add more subtitled and audio-described video content showing disabled access. Include floor layouts, where possible.

  • Train staff how to better understand what it feels like to be a wheelchair user and the appropriate language to use. Focus on courtesy and treating people with respect, as you would any other customer.

  • Encourage employers to take on staff from all sectors of the disabled community. Don’t be scared to highlight where organisations are falling down and failing to be inclusive.

  • Make wheelchair users visible in your advertising.

  • Ask yourself: What is your organisation doing to change entrenched attitudes? What practical steps are you putting in place to make accessibility a reality? Do you consider disabled people, and particularly wheelchair users, when you are recruiting staff?

Owen encouraged those seeking guidance and advice to contact Whizz-Kidz. To find out how you can support the charity, visit


For more on diversity and inclusion, visit our hub.

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