That is according to former wheelchair user Ioannis Bras, MD, Five Senses Consulting & Development, who shared his views on supporting those with accessibility needs this afternoon, on the second day of the 62nd MedCruise General Assembly (May 23-26). 

He recommends that cruise lines pay special attention to the shore excursions on offer and evaluate any potential hurdles in the company of a wheelchair user. Everything from the width of corridors to restroom facilities in restaurants should be considered, he said, as well as the response time of staff in the event of a fall or other emergency. In addition, clear signage should direct wheelchair users on where to go from the moment they disembark the vessel. He went on to recommend the need for suitable training to make sure staff on board and shoreside understand how to help those with accessibility needs. 

Economic impact 

Bras went on to describe the economic impact of catering for passengers with accessibility needs. A European Union (EU) study by German research company GfK found the potential income from passengers with access needs, and their companions, amounts to approximately €174.4b.

Moderator Francesca Antonelli, SVP and professional development director at MedCruise, and the marketing manager for Port of Valencia, described the figures as ‘impressive.’ 

Ships designed with accessibility in mind 

Michele Bosco, Princess Cruises’ product and operations manager, shore excursions, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, has worked on board Princess’ ships for over two decades and has seen the design of ships change to support people with disabilities. 

He said gangways and elevators are wider, Braille is used, and special seating now exists in public areas such as the theatre for easy access. As far as emergency procedures, specific protocols are now in place for dedicated teams to help passengers from their cabins or to muster stations, if required. 

But, he conceded, improvements still need to be made: ‘Sometimes, heavy devices cannot be lifted into tenders for taking ashore; or it’s difficult for staff to remove them from the tenders. Passengers worry about the way even a folding wheelchair can be safely secured on the bus if there’s nothing to secure the wheelchair.’ He asserted, ‘I think there’s more to improve from the shoreside point of view at the moment, rather than on board.’

On hidden disabilities such as autism, Bosco said information on the individual’s needs can be shared with front-facing staff in order to provide support to meet those needs. 

Immediate actions to be taken

Asked by Antonelli what the priorities are to support cruise passengers with accessibility needs, Marco Pizzio, European Network for Accessible Tourism board member and head of accessible tourism and MICE for the Italian Multiple Sclerosis Society (AISM) suggested creating more accessible cabins.

For the immediate future, he said, ‘Give proper information about accessibility; say exactly what is accessible and how to reach the cruise ship, so that people really know how to get there and know before arriving [at the port] what they should expect. This is something easy, not costly and could be done immediately.’