Employees of the Malawi Council for the Handicapped (Macoha) have demanded disability-friendly tourism to make tourist destinations accessible to persons with disabilities.
The failure to align the tourism attractions with the Constitution as well as the Disability Act came clear on Saturday when the Department of Tourism shuttled people with disabilities from Macoha headquarters in Blantyre to Majete Wildlife Reserve.
At the home of the big five, sightseers, who use wheelchairs and clutches, grappled with steep steps to access a restaurant, toilets, swimming pool and other vital spots as the majority of the buildings in the middle of the picturesque jungle have no disability-friendly passageways.
Speaking in interviews at the place, some of the excluded visitors said they were happy to visit the wildlife reserve for the first time in their lifetime, but decried that “being carried on the lap of helpers as babies” was humiliating and in violation of their freedom of movement.
After an hour-long game drive complete with sights of elephants and other smaller animals, Thaddeus Matera said: “This was supposed to be a memorable experience for most of us, for I have lost about 48 years without visiting any of the game reserves that I learnt in school. However, those who run these facilities can do better to ensure all parts of the park are accessible to all.”
Regional tourism officer (South) Christine Chimangeni said the plight of the father of four, who has been confined to a wheelchair since age three when he survived polio, highlighted the need for all tourism facilities to ensure no one is excluded.
She said: “We took our colleagues to Majete to offer them an opportunity to sample the country’s tourism product. Surely, there is need for all players in the industry to put in place disability-friendly infrastructure to make sure their facilities are accessible to all.”
Reacting to the concerns, Majete Wildlife Reserve heritage site manager Jackson Vega said the shocking experience was an eye-opener for the institution which receives clients with disabilities once in a while.
The ‘Tourism for All” tour was part of the National Tourism Month in the count down to the World Tourism Day on September 27 which focuses on promoting accessibility for all.