14 March 2017
Tourism makes an important contribution to the Scottish economy and, if we want to protect that, we need to have world-leading facilities.
Other countries recognise the benefit of their tourism industries and look constantly to upgrade their facilities to meet customer needs.
I like getting out and about to see different parts of Scotland and have no problems recommending it to domestic and foreign tourists.
However, getting around some of our most beautiful parts proves challenging for disabled people.
Someone who has mobility problems and depends on a wheelchair can find it challenging because thought has not been put into the design of our tourist attractions.
However, it is not just about wheelchair users. We need facilities to take account of different disabilities.
People who have limited vision need colour contrast to find their way around facilities.
How often are disabled toilets and bathrooms all white?
The porcelain, the walls and floor, even the grip handles, shower curtains and, worst of all, the toilet seat are all white.
That might be accessible to someone with sight but it is not to someone with impaired vision.
The same is true of audible fire alarms in hotels, which are not very reassuring for people who are profoundly deaf.
The use of written signs does not work for people with cognitive impairments.
The list goes on.
Such basic design considerations should be incorporated into the design of visitor attractions.
What makes somewhere accessible to people with disabilities also makes it accessible for everyone.
Easily understandable information alongside physical accessibility creates no barriers but allows everyone to enjoy our wonderful facilities.
Euan and Kiki MacDonald set up Euan’s Guide—a Trip Advisor for people with disabilities.
I am proud that Ryan McMullan, who helped to pioneer the Inclusion Scotland internship programme in the Parliament, now works with them too.
Euan’s Guide is a really useful tool.
I ask members to imagine their frustration if they decided to go out with family and friends and discovered that they could not access the venue that those friends and family had booked.
Euan’s Guide gives people the confidence to plan a trip, a meal or simply a drink with friends.
It was good to see Euan, Kiki and Ryan in the Parliament last week encouraging MSPs to feed in reviews on accessibility to make it easy for people to plan social events.
Another advocate for accessibility is Mark Cooper, who headed up the barred campaign that fought for legislation to promote accessibility.
As other members said, that measure is now in statute, and has been for many years, but is yet to be enacted.
It is a simple piece of legislation that forces licensees to think about how accessible their premises are for disabled people.
The people who have driven the greatest change often have a disability.
It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention, but all that those people are asking for is fairness, equality and the ability to enjoy what the rest of us take for granted.
Gordon Aikman’s work to bring practical initiatives to the attention of the people in power has been mentioned.
His writing was really powerful.
One piece that especially struck a chord with me described when he was able to get on to the beach with a specially designed wheelchair.
The sheer pleasure of being able to do something that we all enjoy and take for granted came across.
I turn to public transport.
People need to be able to travel to venues and attractions.
I ask members to imagine how it feels if the bus simply drives past because the driver sees a person’s wheelchair and cannot be bothered to spend the time to lower the ramp.
I know of someone having a day out who was left behind by the last bus 30 miles from home because the ramp did not work.
That would put paid to anyone’s confidence and the question is whether they would risk going out again.
We have all read about high-profile cases in which wheelchair users have been left behind because of bikes and buggies taking up disabled spaces on buses.
We need to provide space for bikes and buggies, but people in wheelchairs are especially vulnerable and, therefore, they must have priority.
People who have vision impairment have difficulty using buses, because there are no audible announcements.
People who can see can tell where they are, and there are often signs on buses saying what the next stop is.
However, someone who cannot see has to depend on the driver telling them.
Train travel can be just as bad.
Trains have only a couple of wheelchair-accessible spaces, and people need to buy their ticket and then book a wheelchair space—they cannot just turn up, because someone needs to be there to fit a ramp and get them on the train.
Even if they book a wheelchair space, there is no guarantee that they will get on the train, because, if someone else in a wheelchair is there before them, they cannot get on, as there are limited spaces.
I know of people who have booked correctly and have still experienced problems.
It is easy to see how people’s confidence can disappear and how they can become isolated because of a lack of access to transport.
The Liberal Democrat amendment takes that issue further by asking for affordable ferry fares for all, noting that disabled people are more likely to face poverty.
That is correct, but they are also more likely to have to travel with an assistant or family member, due to the barriers that they will face.
People with disabilities need to enjoy the same freedoms that the rest of us take for granted.
When members are out and about, they should assess their journey and experience from the point of view of a disabled person.
If members see something that works well, they should put a review on Euan’s Guide so that others can use their experience.
I was told last week that Euan’s Guide does not have enough reviews from the Highlands and Islands, so my mission is to get more people to review facilities in that beautiful region.
The issue is not just about holidays and social interaction.
The same principles apply to day-today life and access to work.
Rhoda's speech was made in the Scottish Parliament debate on Inclusive and Accessible Tourism