Universal Access (UA) in tourism – or tourism that can be enjoyed by everyone regardless of their abilities – is one of Cape Town’s eight responsible tourism priorities. In fact, the City of Cape Town wants Cape Town to be a premier Universal Accessibility tourism destination. They’re working on this too. They’re designing public spaces and facilities that are easy for everyone to get to and use.

But if we’re to make Cape Town accessible for all travellers, the tourism industry will need to make their offerings accessible too. Deirdré Gower from the Warrior on Wheels Foundation is a regular visitor to Cape Town’s accessible tourism attractions. Warrior on Wheels is a NPO that consults with tourism businesses to improve universal access. Here Deirdré gives us some insight as to how a tourism business can become accessible.

Cape Town as an accessible destination

In 2016, The World Health Organization estimated that in 2011 there were approximately one billion people with disabilities in the world. That is roughly 15% of the total population – no small number. According to the South African Census of the same year, the statistics of people living with disabilities was 7.5% of the total population, which is 2 870 130 people, of which 222 333 live in the Western Cape. The domestic universal accessibility tourism market is estimated to be approximately 600,000 potential travellers, and with Cape Town continuously ranking on lists of top destinations, a large percentage of those travellers are expected in our city at some point.

So the UA market is sizeable enough to be good business. But just how accessible is Cape Town for tourists with disabilities? One thing we’ve discovered since launching the Warrior on Wheels Foundation two years ago is that even if Cape Town isn’t 100% accessible, many in the tourism industry are 100% willing to adapt. There is a genuine desire to be inclusive. If this journey towards universal accessibility is a combined effort, we can succeed in putting Cape Town on the map as the accessible destination of choice in the (not too distant) future.

Making your tourism facilities more accessible

Cape Town already knows how to deliver a hospitable welcome and a wealth of experiences – for able-bodied people. We now have to adapt the way we do business to make it possible for visitors of all abilities to feel welcome and enjoy our activities. This is called Universal Access (UA). UA is not limited to people using wheelchairs – it includes people with other mobility impairments or who are visually impaired, hearing impaired, mentally challenged, the elderly, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, parents with babies and prams and even travellers with language difficulties.

As with everything in responsible tourism, making your tourism offering completely accessible does not have to happen immediately. There are some quick and easy wins that requires little more than effort.

While it may be impractical or unaffordable to completely renovate your entire establishment instantly, with a bit of research into universal access standards, it may be possible to make small changes that significantly improve accessibility. The most obvious starting point is access to buildings. Take a walk around your building and answer these questions:

  • Where are the parking bays? Are they wide enough for guests to get out of the car and into a wheelchair? Can they get from their car to your entrance without obstacles or uneven terrain?
  • How do guests access the building? Are there stairs? Can you build a ramp?
  • Can you rearrange furniture to allow easy movement throughout?
  • Is there is a gate entrance that requires a person to leave their vehicle? If so, display a contact number where they can phone on arrival for assistance.

We suspect that most businesses have an inflated idea of the costs of retrofitting for UA. Also, in many cases, especially in adapting for vision and communication limitations, the costs will be lower. To get an idea of how your site and facilities can be adapted for UA, refer to the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa’s Grading Criteria. Download the criteria for your business type to find information on the minimum requirements for UA.


Planning is important for all tourists but is even more complex for people with disabilities. When able-bodied people plan they think about where they want to go and what they want to do. Disabled travellers do this as well, but the biggest factor in their decision is whether their limitations will be accommodated. As with all decisions, disabled travellers need good information about accessibility to confidently make choices.

Update your website to provide information about accessibility that will help a disabled traveller assess if their individual disability requirements are met. You can:

  • List the accessible features that are available.
  • Disclose information on what may be a challenge to some guests.
  • Give detailed descriptions because each traveller’s needs are different and what may be impossible for one person using a wheelchair, may be manageable for another.
  • Provide images of accessibility features that will help disabled travellers know if their needs will be met, example post a picture showing whether toilet access is from the front or the side.

Staff training

The most common challenges for travellers with disabilities come about from a lack of awareness and understanding of their needs. It’s worthwhile training staff to make them more sensitive to the needs of people with disabilities, and give them the ability to meet these needs.

For example, you can have a workshop to discuss how to provide service and interact with guests of all abilities. You can also train a staff member to use sign language, and have Braille menus and information sheets available.

Here are some basic guidelines for staff when interacting with travellers with disabilities:

  • When the initial enquiry comes through, check if there are any special requirements and advise of any special arrangements. For example, let your guest know in advance if there is a different entrance for wheelchair users, or if a guest needs to bring their own shower seat.
  • Offer assistance, but don’t take control unless you’re asked to.
  • Remain close by or let the person know where they can reach you in case they need help.
  • Don’t speak exclusively to the carer / spouse / parent and ignore the person in the wheelchair. If you have a question that is meant for the disabled traveller, ask them directly.
  • Don’t push  the traveller’s wheelchair unless you’re asked to.

Here are some extra guidelines for accommodation establishments:

  • Ask if you can escort your guest to their room to help if any furniture needs to be rearranged.
  • Remove all loose mats that pose hazards for the visually impaired and wheelchair users.
  • If possible, adjust the height of the shower head before arrival.

Test your facilities

Invite disabled travellers to experience your facilities and provide first-hand feedback so that you can improve and adapt. They can also help you draft accurate information so that you give future guests realistic expectations.

Know your city

Here in Cape Town, #wedotourism. We’re all tourism ambassadors, and our role doesn’t stop with selling our own offerings. Working in tourism, we become travel consultants as travellers constantly ask us what else they can do. Disabled travellers are no different, so it’s important that we learn about what is accessible in Cape Town. If we’re able to knowledgeably answer disabled travellers’ questions about what they can do, we improve their experience as a whole.

Here’s information that you can readily share:



Whether arriving or leaving on an international or domestic flight, the Passenger Assist Unit of most of the airlines ensures a streamlined process from arrival to departure. When booking tickets, it is vital to book passenger assistance, which means a passenger assist crew member meets the disabled traveller at check-in and escorts them to the boarding gates, assists with the boarding pass and transfer onto the wheelchair truck that transports passengers to the plane, with use of a slipper seat if necessary – and the same on arrival at the destination.

universal access in cape town

Once in Cape Town, we are actually fortunate with a few options of transport that are accommodating for travellers with disabilities:

Car hire

A number of car hire companies have disability vehicles available for self-drive hire – whether a passenger just needs a vehicle that can accommodate their wheelchair, or a driver with a disability is able to drive using hand controls, Avis, Drive South Africa, Wav Hire & Cape Town Car Hire all have options available in their fleet.


The increasingly popular mode of transport, Uber, now offer Uber Assist in Cape Town – providing extra assistance for people with mobility challenges. Simply download the app on a smartphone, create a profile and start requesting rides – choosing Uber Assist as the preferred option.

MyCiti Bus

The  MyCiti Bus has been recognised as a world leader in universal access. The buses run throughout central Cape Town with routes extending as far as Hout Bay, Century City and Melkbosstrand, making daily commuting accessible on this innovative public transport system that is universally accessible. Buses have boarding bridges, allowing wheelchair userslevel access from platforms or pavements. They also have tactile paving for visually impaired travellers to locate platforms, and induction loops at kiosks for the hearing impaired.


An all-time favourite tourist activity, the hop-on hop-off bus is an ideal way to explore the mother city, with most of the buses being wheelchair accessible with a fold out ramp. The longstanding City Sightseeing routes, which visit popular tourist attractions like the V&A Waterfront, Long Street, Kirstenbosch, the World of Birds, Mariner’s Wharf and the ever popular wine route, have now been extended with new trips going to explore Franschhoek, a Sunset Bus to Signal Hill for a picnic as the sun dips below the horizon, and a brand new Cape Point day trip.

universal access in cape town


Cape Nature is a prime example of the commitment and willingness to adapt and become accessible to all travellers. They have invested in accessible design in their reserves after consulting with experts. A number of their cottages were built with wheelchair access in mind. Reserves also have boardwalks to bird hides and picnic areas. One reserve has braille information boards on trails. Warrior on Wheels Foundation have also entered into an agreement with Cape Nature to visit a number of their reserves and provide experience-based feedback on access and how best to implement change. You can follow these experiences on our blog.

universal access in cape town

There are also numerous hotels and guesthouses around the city leading the way towards universal access. Epic Guesthouse in Noordhoek or Hotel Verde at the Airport Industria have wheelchair accessible rooms, while Park Inn by Radisson Newlands opened their doors with a staff compliment of 30% who are deaf or hard of hearing.


There is no shortage of activities in Cape Town and surrounds, but for the disabled traveller it is not always apparent at first glance what is available and accessible. While exploring our city, we are conscious of mobility challenges, like pavements in some areas, and inaccessible buildings in others, but we also become increasingly aware of how universal access is coming to the forefront of design in tourism.

V&A Waterfront has an abundance of activities, shopping, restaurants and sights, the waterfront is accessible with ramps wherever there are stairs, as well as elevators, sliding doors and accessible toilets.

Cape Wheel at the V&A Waterfront has two wheelchair accessible cabins, giving disabled travellers a 360° view of Cape Town from the sky. The cabins have emergency buttons and speedy response to bring passengers back down if needed.

universal access in cape town

Sea Point Promenade is a must for sea lovers. It also offers wheelchair users opportunity to join the promenade’s walkers, runners, cyclists and dog walkers.

Green Point Urban Park has something for everyone. The pathways are easily manageable and it has an outdoor gym for fitness enthusiasts, an inclusive playground for families with young children, numerous picnic areas and some interesting gardens. There is also a quiet, zen-like space with a labyrinth tucked away. While the curving paths of the labyrinth are not wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, carefully considered resting benches are situated at points around the labyrinth, each with a space created for a wheelchair and a ‘touch labyrinth’ for a sensory experience while tracing your fingers along the paths. A tea room in the centre of the park provides access with ramps for some refreshments.