It wasn’t that Frank doubted anything he’d heard about encounters with these amazing animals. He just wasn’t sure if his experience could live up to what he’d been told. Frank is blind.
Frank was one of four members of Blind Citizens of Australia who visited Hervey Bay as guests of the city council, local businesses and Tourism Queensland.
The council’s access industry project officer, Julie Martens, said the trip was part of the city’s strategy to become the most accessible holiday destination in Australia.
“When people think of accessibility usually they think about wheelchairs and ramps, but accessibility is about much more,” Ms Marten said. “Hervey Bay is working on accessible tourist products for a wide range of disabilities, including vision impairments.”
“Having this group visit allowed us to test how suitable some of the region’s holiday experiences are for people with vision impairments and to learn where we can improve.”
Ms Martens said the visit proved that much of Hervey Bay’s tourist experiences can very easily be adapted to suit people with vision impairments.
The group experienced both resort and bed and breakfast style accommodation in Hervey Bay. They took part in whale watching and fishing and visited Yullu Rainbow Connection Centre (a multi-sensory environment of relaxation, massage and aromatherapy), local restaurants and Hervey Bay Nature World Wildlife Park.
Staff at the wildlife park gave a lesson in bird identification by describing the birds the group heard calling. And it was here Frank got to do something he’d never done before, touch a kangaroo.
“It was bloody fantastic,” Frank said. “To finally get my own idea of their shape, feel and how they are put together.”
Brendan Forde, who has been blind since he was a teenager, was full of praise for what’s being done in Hervey Bay to make holidaying easier for the vision impaired.
“Blind people won’t travel if they think they’re going to get the same experiences and hassles they have at home,” he said. “That’s where places like Hervey Bay can really set themselves apart.”
Brendan said it’s all about educating tourist operators and their staff to the needs of the vision impaired.
“When we were out fishing, at first there wasn’t much talk, but when the crew realised we needed to be told more of what was happening because we couldn’t see, it was excellent. It just takes that little bit of education.”
According to Brendan the talk combined with the feel of salt-water spray on his face made for a great day. And of course catching a few fish helped too.
“One of the blokes caught a shark and we got to feel its skin,” said Brendan. “It was excellent. I’ve already organised with Frank to come back and chase the winter whiting.”
And what was Frank’s verdict on his whale watching experience?
In his words: “It was the highlight.”
Author: Tourism Queensland (Peter Webster )
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