Presenting: Scott Rains – World Traveller, Disabled Travel Advocate & Expert on Universal Design

10. You have written quite a bit on the impact of Hurricane Katrina,
particularly with a view to the disabled population in New Orleans. What
are your thoughts on this topic?

New Orleans is a world-renowned tourist destination. Inclusive Destination Development is an evolving approach in the field of designing tourist destinations. It has special appropriateness to post-Katrina reconstruction.

There is a danger that New Orleans, and other tourist destinations destroyed by Katrina, could be rebuilt in a way that recreates exclusionary spaces and practices. That would economically harm Louisiana’s multi-billion dollar tourism market leaving them uncompetitive as other locations modernize using Universal Design. It would also diminish the leisure activity and employment opportunities for residents with disabilities.

Natural disasters return the land to its pre-modified state. We make conscious, value-laden choices as soon as we begin to imagine them as rebuilt.

New England towns were built around lands left in their natural state to be enjoyed by all – a public asset known as “the Commons.” There is a phenomenon referred to as “the tragedy of the Commons.” This is when access to a public good such as this universally accessible space is usurped by a subset of the public – a “special interest” if you will.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, just as the aftermath of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, wiped the slate clean of the built environment and infrastructure. It has created a de facto Commons.

The individual parcels of land may belong to private citizens, businesses, or municipalities but they exist within a community that has a shared interest in how that land is utilized.

After a disaster there are practical consequences to the ethically-charged act of not using Universal Design. I suggested this when I wrote “Theme Parks, Imaginary Worlds, and Real Access” (http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/travel_with_disabilities/112537 ) Without Universal Design you have made a choice to rebuild only for a “special interest group” – the temporarily able-bodied.

I am working to influence those responsible for rebuilding after Katrina, just as I am working with crews on the ground rebuilding after the tsunami, to see that they understand the far-reaching implications of their decisions and to help them acquire the technical assistance necessary to implement Universal Design principles in their solutions.

Let me thank you, Scott, for explaining some of these terms to us and for sharing some of your philosophical insights with us. We look forward to working with you regularly to provide specific information to travellers with disabilities.

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