UK Historic Environments, Disabled Access and Tourism
||Plimmer, Frances; Henry Russell; Gaye Pottinger; Brian Goodall and Tim Dixon
||UK Historic Environments, Disabled Access and Tourism
||Book of Abstracts: 2005 European Real Estate Society conference in association with the International Real Estate Society
||Heritage tourism in the UK depends upon a physical resource base of historic environments, primarily listed buildings, scheduled monuments, conservation areas and registered parks / gardens. Visiting heritage attractions is at the heart of the tourism experience and staying in historic buildings that are hotels, guesthouses and self-catering accommodation can also add to the visitor experience. In 2002, 63 million visits were made to UK historic attractions generating an estimated £320m in ticket sales. Keeping historic environments in economic use through tourism has become crucial to their conservation, but historic environments date from eras when access for disabled people was not a consideration. Government now promotes social inclusion via an array of equal opportunities and anti-discrimination policies aimed at widening participation. This implies access for all, including people with disabilities to historic environments, especially sites with a primary tourism function open to the general public. The 1995 Disability Discrimination Act changed the legal obligations of service providers, including owners/operators of historic environment tourist attractions and visitor accommodation. Historic environments enjoy considerable legislative protection from inappropriate change, but now need to balance conservation with public access, including for the disabled. While the DDA made it unlawful from 2 December 1996 to treat disabled people less favourably for reasons of their disability, the Act gives room for manoeuvre by requiring reasonable adjustments to either the way the service is provided (by 1 October 1999) and/or to the physical features of the property to overcome physical barriers to access (by 1 October 2004). The most recently introduced provisions concerning physical barriers envisage circumstances where building alterations to accommodate disabled visitors could be deemed unreasonable and therefore unnecessary. However, the concept of what is ‘reasonable' in the context of historic environments is still unclear and will only be determined by consulting disabled people and ultimately by the courts in response to actions brought by disabled visitors claiming inadequate accessibility. This paper reports the findings from research that scopes the current literature and establishes, from pilot fieldwork in southern England and London, access issues facing stakeholders in the heritage tourism sector, particularly visitor attractions, visitor accommodation, disabled visitors, tourism organisations and heritage conservation bodies. At the start of 2004 the availability of design guidance and advice targeted at the sector had certainly increased, but until this study there had been no systematic research to document progress in making UK historic environments accessible to disabled people. The paper shows that insufficient progress has been made and highlights differences between large and small businesses in terms of awareness of the DDA, implementing access improvements and attitudes to responding to the legislation. All businesses could do more through focusing on the visitor experience and investigating organisational and procedural changes that could enhance disabled access before contemplating potentially expensive alterations to historic environments. The research recommendations highlight the need for more and better-trained access advisers as well for improved guidance.
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