Businesses Ready to Welcome Paralympic Athletes and Travellers As B.C. Prepares For the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games

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Hundreds of athletes with disabilities are on their way to Vancouver for the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, and 2010 Legacies Now is helping to ensure they - and all visitors with disabilities - will feel welcome at hotels, restaurants and other businesses in B.C.

Using the 2010 Winter Games as a catalyst, 2010 Legacies Now, the Province of B.C. and Tourism BC have led the development of the Accessible Tourism Strategy to help make B.C. a premier travel destination for people with disabilities, and to establish the province as a global leader in accessible tourism. Numerous tourism and disability groups throughout B.C. have also been key partners.

"With one in eight people worldwide living with a disability, travellers with disabilities make up one of the fastest growing tourism markets," says 2010 Legacies Now CEO Bruce Dewar. "In North America alone, people with disabilities spend more than $13 billion each year on travel. This creates a real opportunity for B.C. businesses, and the Accessible Tourism Strategy is inspiring hotels, restaurants and other businesses to look at their accessibility and make improvements."

2010 Legacies Now and its partners offer free accessibility audits to help businesses discover simple, inexpensive improvements they can make to attract and accommodate visitors with disabilities. Participation is voluntary, and businesses are rated on their accessibility for people with mobility, visual or hearing impairments. Businesses which achieve positive accessibility ratings receive icons to display on location and in marketing materials. These icons help to convey accessibility information to people both on-site and those worldwide who are making travel plans. Nearly 3,700 businesses in British Columbia have now received accessibility ratings in three categories (wheelchair, visual and hearing accessibility), with 64 per cent receiving a positive rating in at least one category.

"Business owners are becoming increasingly aware of the need to make their businesses more accessible for travellers with disabilities, and even small changes can make a big impact," says Dewar. "Visitors to B.C. during the Paralympic Games will certainly benefit, but many more people will benefit in the years to come as communities continue to make their businesses more accessible for visitors and residents of all abilities."

The Accessible Tourism program aimed to make British Columbia a premier travel destination for people with disabilities. The program evaluated tourism businesses on how accessible they are for people with mobility, visual and hearing disabilities, and provides accessibility-rating icons to market the businesses to travellers worldwide. The program also recommended simple, inexpensive changes to improving accessibility and offers training to staff on providing more inclusive services.

The program was established in 2007 with funding from the Province of British Columbia. The founding partners included 2010 Legacies Now, Tourism BC, Tourism Vancouver, Tourism Richmond, Tourism Whistler and the BC Hotel Association.