Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

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TIANZ Survey About Disability Misses The Mark

The Tourism Industry Association New Zealand is currently running a survey on their homepage. They want to know how tourism operators are doing providing services to people with disabilities. On the surface, this is good. Yet, I’m left with a bad taste in the mouth looking at the survey.

The Survey Itself

The survey question is “How well does your tourism operation look after disabled travellers?” The options available are:

  1. We make a real effort
  2. We try but it’s challenging
  3. Not enough of them to bother
  4. Don’t know

Survey’s Tone

The survey itself seems to be rather negative. I’ve asked a few people with disabilities to tell me what they thought of the survey. The response that best summed up the general feeling was:

It’s quite negative no matter which option you choose!!!

This may seem like a minor issue, but the tone used impacts both feelings and perceptions. This is not just a question of Political Correctness. Language has power and using a negative tone will negatively impact the very people this survey appears to want to assist.

Survey’s Wording

The first thing that jumped at me was the 3rd option: “Not enough of them to bother”. THEM? I assume the survey author meant “people with disabilities” when they wrote “them”. What a sure way to build a barrier between tourism operators and customers with disabilities. I am disappointed that such language is still used by major organisations in 2012.

In any case, how could anyone possibly know there aren’t enough people with disabilities to be worth bothering? Unless a service is disability friendly, the tourism operator won’t see many disabled patrons. This reminds me of my mechanic Pete who, when I asked for a ramp into his office, said I was his only customer in a wheelchair. After he build a ramp, I referred customers to him and he ended up with a dozen new customers.

The Results

When I looked at the results, 64% of respondents said they made a real effort, 18% said they tried but it was challenging, 9% said there aren’t enough of “them” to bother, and 9% didn’t know.

Self-Assessment vs. Outside Opinion

The true measure of how well an organisation does would be to ask travellers with disabilities that used their services. This survey really only reflects self-assessment, with no set guidance as to how to estimate it. The majority of respondents say they make a real effort. People who don’t have enough information to assess their performance aren’t able to make an accurate estimate of that performance.

TIANZ CEO Has Failed People With Disabilities In The Past

TIANZ’s CEO, Martin Snedden, was in charge of the Rugby World Cup 2011, held in New Zealand. There were many issues with access to the game for people with disabilities. There was very little information about accessibility of game venues online – the same information was on all venue pages until the very last moment. And if you wished to book accessible seating, you had to phone to book tickets, whereas everyone else could buy tickets online. Access Tourism NZ has written several times about these issues. My own experience attending a game proved frustrating. They did not allow cars within a couple blocks of the stadium. They let drivers with disabilities in, with prior approval. But prior approval had to be gained a week ahead of the game. Except that I was not told that my application to get a ticket in an accessible seat was approved until 2 days before the game. “Too late to provide parking permit”, I was told. Eventually I was able to secure the permission to drive to the venue and park there. But until about 2 hours before the game, it was still unsure. This did not make for a pleasant experience.

Has Mr. Snedden learned from these mistakes? I don’t know, the future will tell. But I’m not holding my breath.


I’m glad TIANZ is asking the question – this is a discussion that needs to be held. But more care should have been taken in how the survey was going to be worded. How are members of the TIANZ expected to do better when thinking about customers with disabilities if their organisation does so poorly? There is a need for disability education at TIANZ. Will they recognize it, and if they do, will they act on it? I’d be happy to go and speak to them.