FEMA initiative promotes accessible tourism
By John McPhaul
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has initiated the first federal and state project in Puerto Rico to eliminate accessibility barriers and help achieve tourism with greater equity and inclusion for people with functional diversity.
This initiative, created by the FEMA advisory team from the Office of Integration of People with Disabilities (DI), has impacted several municipalities with strategies such as the installation of signs and menus in Braille writing, qualified tour guides in sign language, removable ramps to adapt them to various facilities, and floating wheelchairs for use in spas and water parks, among many other options.
In addition, the DI team provides suggestions for the identification of grants and recovery funds that include measures so that survivors with disabilities and access and functional needs can enjoy tourism on an equal basis.
“Puerto Rico’s recovery is very broad and goes beyond the allocation of funds for reconstruction works,” said José G. Baquero, the federal coordinator of FEMA disaster recovery in Puerto Rico. “The ongoing efforts to help the island recover give us the opportunity to collaborate with the government in this type of initiative for the good of all equally.”
In order to have a greater impact and promote joint efforts, FEMA worked with the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (PRTC) and the Puerto Rico Destination Marketing Organization to analyze statistics on the tourism economy and reaffirmed that improving accessibility reinforces the performance of the industry.
Carlos Mercado Santiago, executive director of the PRTC, said one of the main objectives aligned with the vision of the Puerto Rico government is to promote inclusive and accessible tourism.
“As part of the initiatives that we have been carrying out in that direction, we are pleased to join the efforts made by FEMA to educate and create awareness among our tourism entrepreneurs, entities, and communities in all the municipalities of the island,” Mercado said.
DI is currently working directly with municipalities and agencies to guide them on the importance of accessibility, its inclusive benefits and possible alternatives for acquiring funds that make accessibility feasible. Also, statistics are provided from the population census that identify the communities with disabilities in each municipality as an element to visualize how much they can improve their inclusion alternatives.
In Ponce, the municipality’s director of Tourism Development, Iván “Yuye” Rodríguez, said the issues of accessibility and inclusion within the mayor’s work plan and public policy are of the utmost importance. “Workshops like the one we received on Accessible and Inclusive Tourism serve as a guide to develop strategies and achieve social cohesion while we work to promote the economic and tourist growth of our city, without losing focus on the general well being of the community,” he said.
The measures also support other areas such as sports tourism, as shared by Jaime Rosado Villa, father of a young sports fan who for 10 years has participated in 5-kilometer races with his walker.
“In 2018 he walked two and a half miles in the Miami Marathon, and in December 2020 he walked 21 kilometers in 30 days,” Rosado Villa said about his child’s experience. “This year after the pandemic, the project of doing sports tourism was born, with races that run through all the municipalities and the scenic beauty of our country so that we all have the opportunity to enjoy what Puerto Rico offers as a tourist destination.”
Development of the Accessible and Inclusive Tourism project began in 2018. During that year, FEMA had the opportunity to participate in accessibility evaluations of various public facilities in Puerto Rico, and since February of this year it has been working with different municipalities, such as Aguadilla, Arecibo, Bayamón, Isabela, Maunabo, Ponce and San Juan with the purpose of advising on accessible tourism.
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