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Effort to improve disability access

Hosting the World Triathlon Series Grand Final in 2021 could be a springboard for improving accessibility, with the Bermuda Tourism Authority aiming to welcome more disabled visitors in time for the event's grand final.

A BTA statement said the two-year deadline was “significant because Bermuda will welcome a number of triathletes in 2020 and 2021 who have visual impairments or use a mobility device like a wheelchair”.

Two disabled teams participated last month in MS Amlin World Triathlon Bermuda: Team Ladybugs from Britain, Stephan and Chloe Couture, and ThumbsUp International, consisting of Kerry Gruson and her coach, Erinne Guthrie.

Both were interviewed by an Accessibility Working Group assembled under the National Tourism Plan to draw up an accessibility plan to be released to the public this autumn. The WTS Grand Final is set for October 2021.

Tinée Furbert, the Progressive Labour Party MP and chairwoman of the group, said it aimed to “leverage the triathlon events to focus the country's attention on solving a longstanding deficiency in our infrastructure”.

Ms Furbert added that improving accessibility would leave the island with a “legacy benefit” after the races end.

Aided by the BTA, the group will examine accessibility at local hotels and restaurants this month.

Its surveys are to show how many establishments can cater to customers of different ability levels, allowing the group to set a target for how many accessible facilities the island could work on for 2021.

Transport and vacation rentals, as well as attractions and excursions, would also get a review.

At present, visitors arriving by cruise ship faced limited options ashore, and difficulties in getting around Bermuda were also likely to deter potential air visitors, the BTA statement added.

LaKiesha Wolffe, an accessibility consultant and activist, called the announcement “awesome”.

But she added: “Why wait all this time and then fix things only because an event is coming to Bermuda? Why just wait for a tourist event?”

She said there were popular restaurants too small for patrons in a wheelchair, adding that many supermarkets had wheelchair ramps that were “far too steep”.

“I would love to be contacted,” Ms Wolffe said.

She called the 2021 deadline a realistic one and said: “Many of these things are not as costly to fix as you think. It's not stuff that takes a long time.”

Glenn Jones, the BTA's chief experience development officer, said that “a more accessible visitor infrastructure equals more visitors”.

Mr Jones said: “If local businesses lay out the welcome mat for this audience, they will come, they will spend money and they will bring their families.

“But if there are barriers to a good experience for one member of the family in a wheelchair, the whole family chooses to go elsewhere.”

The working group's findings are to be posted on the GoToBermuda.com website, and highlighted in the authority's marketing materials.

Keith Simmons, the vice-chairman of the working group, said that equal time would be given for solutions as well as defining “where the issues are”.

He added: “Oftentimes a solution is less costly than business owners think and can generate more revenue for them once the improvements are in place.”

Chloe Couture, 13, with her father, Stephan, who competed in MS Amlin World Triathlon Bermuda (File photograph supplied)

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Published May 08, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated May 08, 2019 at 9:03 am)

Effort to improve disability access

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