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In November, 2007, Muhammad Akram received an invitation from the organizers of the "International Conference on Accessible Tourism" to share his experiences as a deaf person in tourism. This conference was jointly hosted by the Ministry of Tourism and Sport, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), and Disabled Peoples' International Asia Pacific (DPI-AP) at the United Nations Convention Center (UNCC) in Bangkok, Thailand.

At the conference, he presented a paper, "Accessible Tourism from the Perspective of Deaf and Hard of Hearing People". This booklet is the improved version of that paper.

The needs of deaf people have generally been ignored in the disability movement. And unfortunately, hard of hearing (HOH) people are almost invisible in the movement. It is hoped that this booklet will raise awareness about the needs of deaf and HOH people, not only in the general public and tourism related industries, but also in the disability movement itself.

This booklet is not copyright protected. You may copy and share the information after giving proper credit to the author and organization (DANISHKADAH)


Author's Introduction

 Photo of Author Muhammad Akram is from Pakistan,and he is deaf.. He has been in the Information Technology (IT) field since 1992. In 2000, he started supporting Persons with Disabilities (PWDs). Because he himself is deaf, he understands very well the problems and barriers that the deaf community is facing.

He has worked with deaf and other disabled people for the last 7 years. He travels frequently and has visited 9 countries in Asia, Middle East, and Europe. He has attended various national and international seminars and conferences. And he voluntarily supports many local and international organizations of PWD's.

In 2004, he went to volunteer in Indonesia. In 2005, he was selected by the Asia-Pacific Development Center on Disability for a course on "Accessible Web and Web Base Networking" In 2006, he again was selected for a refresher course and also had the opportunity to give a presentation at a UN ESCAP seminar. In 2007, he got selected for a leadership study session arranged by the International Federation of Hard of Hearing Youths in collaboration with the Council of Europe. Now he is promoting information accessibility for Person with Disabilities in Pakistan and has also written a book on the topic.

In 2006, he established his own organization named "Danishkadah" and is working to establish a "Knowledge Park" where the power of Information Technology will be utilized to empower Persons with Disabilities and Deafness.

Organizations he is working with:

Founder chairman - Danishkadah - (Pakistan)

Co-Founder - Sindh Disability Forum - (Pakistan)

Assistant Director - Deaf Friends International - (USA)

Advisor & Special Projects Coordinator - Pakistan Association of the Deaf (PAD)

Volunteer - Matahariku - (Indonesia)

Volunteer - Deaf Tour Assistance Philippines (Philippines)

Volunteer - Heaven Care Resource Center Inc. (Philippines)

Also served DPI-Pakistan as Secretary Information for 1 year


1. Barriers at embassies & consulates

    1.1 Dark windows
    1.2 Pay more if you are Deaf!

2. Barriers in Flights

    2.1 Safety Instructions
    2.2 In-flight entertainment

3. Barriers with Land Transports

    3.1 Negative experience at train station
    3.2 Negative experience abroad (in Bus)
    3.3 Positive Experience

4. Barriers in Lodgings

    4.1 Safety & Accessibility
    4.2 Communication barriers in Lodgings

5. Is it "HALAL ?



1. Barriers at embassies / consulates

Tourists often have to visit embassies for visa processing or for information. Therefore, for international tourism, accessibility at embassies / consulates is important.

1.1 Dark windows

In my country, I faced communication barriers in at least at two embassies because they have "dark windows" at the reception desk. As we cannot see the person on the other side of the window, we cannot read lips and see body language. This is a big problem for deaf and hard of hearing persons.

What we can do?

We understand the security issues, and embassy officers are usually kind and cooperative. However, the problem is at the level of the general staff. Therefore, orientation of staff is suggested.

1.2 Pay more if you are Deaf!

The 2nd problem is that because many embassies exist only in the capital city, when deaf persons have to visit the capital city for visa processing, they also have to bring their interpreters. This puts an extra burden on deaf persons because they not only need to buy air / train tickets for their interpreters but also have to pay for hotel accommodations and meals.

What we can do?

Of course, governments should offer free interpreting services for the deaf or the embassies should call interpreters at their own costs. Also, national associations of the deaf / HOH should try to set up interpreting services.

2. Barriers in Flights

2.1 Safety Instruction

Safety comes first and all airlines give onboard flight safety instructions. Many of us may not place much importance on those instructions, but they are essential in case of emergency.

Although visual and printed flight safety instructions are also available in the flights, I doubt that many deaf persons can understand those instructions because our native language is sign language and not spoken language. Therefore it is important to give those instructions in sign language.

What we can do?

Flight safety instruction videos should be given in sign language. I am happy to tell you that there are some airlines (such as TURKISH AIRLINES) who show flight safety instruction with sign language interpreting (in video). But most of the airlines do not have this practice.

I personally believe that "IATA" can develop such instructions in International Sign Language with consultation of World Federation of the Deaf (WFD). Also "IATA" and governments should make some policies / laws on this issue for the safety of the deaf community.

2.2 In-flight entertainment

While preparing this presentation, I was talking with my hard of hearing friends, Karina (president of IFHOHYP *) and Christi Menheere from Holland. Hard of hearing persons depend on their residual hearing and use hearing aids or cochlear implants . They need clear voices without background noise to understand clearly. Christi comments, "In the airplane for long trips, there is a small TV at the front of your seat with a plug for headphones. But it doesn't work with a loop system." Airlines can make HOH toursts more comfortable by using movies with subtitles (captions) and a loop system".

* International Federation of Hard of Hearing Young People

What we can do?

Captioning for movies is essential. This is the responsibility of the movie producers. Airlines can demand captioning for their deaf and hard of hearing passengers.

I talked with Mr. Neil Bauman, Ph.D., from the "Center for Hearing Loss Help", about loop systems on flights. He said, "The easy solution to this problem is a neck-loop. Just plug the neck-loop into the earphone jack, turn the t-coils on your hearing aids on and listen to your heart's content." According to him, not many Hard of Hearing People know about assistive devices that will help them hear better. It is not always others who have to make things accessible for us. Sometimes people should do what they can for themselves -- and getting a neck loop or Music Links is not all that expensive.

It reminds me that we should not only complain. We also need to check for possible solutions that are available. Disabled Peoples Organization (DPOs) and others need to educate PWD's about assistive devices and available solutions.


3. Barriers with Land Transports

3.1 Negative experience at train station

Since I became active with PWDs, I often have to travel in trains. That causes frustration because there is no visual display system at stations. The last time I had to visit a deaf association, the return train was late. I could not wait and relax in the waiting room because I was afraid that I would miss the train as I cannot hear the announcement on the speakers and had no information as to what time the train would arrive. So I sat on the platform for 3 hours waiting for the train instead of relaxing in the waiting room

3.2 Negative experience abroad (in Bus)

I was abroad and to save money, I decided to use the bus. I knew where I was, where I had to go, and the number of the buses that I had to take.

The first problem I faced when I got on the bus was that I didn't know how much I had to pay the driver. I tried to show him on the map where I had to go and tell him that I am deaf. I asked him to let me know how much I have to pay, but the driver was very impatient, and he did not try to help. It made me feel bad about my deafness. Another passenger next to me realized the situation and took a few coins from my palm and put them in the ticket machine.

I took a seat, but the next problem was waiting for me. As it was my first time in that city, I could not visually recognize the stop where I had to get off the bus. Every time the bus stopped, I was thinking, "Where am I? Is it the stop where I have to get off?" It made me uncomfortable.

3.3 Positive Experience

After that negative experience, I avoided traveling alone in buses or trains abroad. But last year I was in Hong Kong and traveled a lot in their in-city train without any problems. They have a very clear display system in the trains that showed where we were traveling, what direction we were going, and which station we would be arriving at next. Such a visual display system helps a lot, and I suggest that all the buses and trains must have one.


4. Barriers in Lodgings

4.2 Safety & Accessiblity

Hotels and Guest Houses are of great concern in accessible tourism. "Are we safe in this hotel room?" Being deaf, very often this question rises in my mind, especially after the Tsunami and earthquakes. Honestly speaking, in any case of emergency, deaf persons are not safe in hotel rooms. There is no alerting system for deaf persons. And it seems that none are giving any serious consideration to this dangerous problem.

Another problem is that there are no visual bells in hotel rooms. This makes barriers for deaf persons. In 2004, I was in Malaysia. Someone had to pick me up for a city tour, and when he arrived, he knocked on the door. But being deaf, I couldn't hear the bell and door knock. He had to call the security to help him get me out of the room (smile).

What we can do?

The solution is very simple, easy, and inexpensive. There are visual bells and vibrators available on the market. Even wireless systems can be developed easily and implemented in the rooms where there are deaf guests. We just need serious consideration from the hotel industry and from governments (for law / policies).

4.2 Communication barriers in Lodgings

There is always an in-house telephone service in hotels that lets you call the reception desk and other rooms. But deaf persons cannot utilize this service. Should they need anything, they have to go to the reception counter. If they need to contact afriend in another room, they have to go to their room.

What we can do?

Now a days, telephones with text messaging are on the market. A wireless telephone with text messaging service is available in my country that cost only $32, and it allows FREE text messaging. Hotel may consider to have few such telephone sets handy for deaf guests.


5. Is it "HALAL"

This last point does not relate directly to disability, but it is also an important point when we talk about tourism. There are many likes or dislikes, or dietary restrictions, such as "Halal", "Kosher", and Vegetarian.

Being Muslim, I have to make sure what I am eating is "HALAL". When I am traveling abroad, it is a big problem for me. For example, a certain food may possibly be HALAL, but if I cannot verify the ingredients, I cannot eat it. Maybe a similar problem is faced by others who follow dietary restrictions.

What can we do?

Most food items are "HALAL". Even so, we must review the ingredients before we eat them. If the food was marked as "Halal", this would help us to relax. We would only need to see the mark instead of making research about all of the ingredients used in a product. This also benefit the food industry as it would raise their sales.

A Suggestion

When I went to Indonesia, I didn't know there was a special counter for PWD's at the airport, so I wasn't able to utilize that. Similarly, there might be some special accommodations for PWD's in different countries, but the tourists might be unaware of them. For this reason, I suggest an "Accessible Tourism Portal". Although there are already some websites, we can focus on Asia-Pacific countries. If any of you would like to work on this suggestion, Danishkadh offers its support in any capacity and in whatever way possible.

Photos from the International Conference on Accessible Tourism
Please click on thumbnails to see full-size photos