This piece is co-authored with Dikanaya Tarahita. She is a freelance writer on social issues in Indonesia and a graduate from the University of Manchester.
The number of tourists travelling from the UK to Indonesia has increased exponentially in recent years. The data compiled by Indonesia’s Ministry of Tourism reveals that the UK has become one of the countries from where tourists have increased most notably in 2017. Arguably, the driving factors behind this rise include the visa-free policy for UK passport holders and the increase of direct flights between the two countries.
However, it is not only the UK. This upward trend of people visiting Indonesia can also be observed in other countries worldwide.
This is unsurprising. Under his government, the current Indonesian President Joko Widodo mandated tourism as the country’s biggest source of foreign exchange earnings. The industry is anticipated to contribute to boosting the economy and absorbing numerous labor forces. With the target of 15 million foreign tourists in 2017, the government has exerted various efforts to attract people globally by increasing tourism promotions and improving tourism-related facilities.
In midst of all this, nevertheless, the issue of disability has been relatively ignored by policy-makers in Jakarta. Amenities to facilitate disabled tourists have not been given priority. Consequently, these individuals continue to encounter many difficulties and challenges in visiting and enjoying many of Indonesia’s tourist destinations.
Unfriendly Tourist Attractions for the Disabled
It can be said that almost all popular tourist attractions in Indonesia are not designed to be accessed by those with disabilities. Indeed, places such as fortresses, art buildings, and museums are still not applying the layout and buildings that are friendly for the disabled.
Although efforts have been considered, they remain relatively limited; for example, the Museum Vredeburgh in Yogyakarta. The need for ramps and disabled toilets has become the center of attention recently. However, the need for audio, braille text, information boards, and the suitability of angle and height of display remains lacking; thus, rendering them barely accessible for people with disabilities.
Likewise, in the Borobudur and Prambanan temples, the former is a UNESCO world heritage site, although ramps have been made in the main building of the temple, many areas within the sites are accessible only via a very steep staircase.
Moreover, Uluwatu Temple and Taman Ujung, which are famous tourist attractions in Bali, have the same issue. Most parts of the temple can only be accessed by stairs. Furthermore, the roads around the sights are bumpy and uneven; thereby making it difficult for wheelchair users, even when accompanied by trained assistants.
Even though some tourist destinations have back or side entrances that are stairless, the entrance is not open to the public. Moreover, it is difficult to obtain permission to pass through the gate if individuals are travelling independently without a licensed travel agent.
Another common problem is the absence of dedicated parking areas for the disabled. In these crowded tourist attractions, the availability of parking space is crucial, especially for disabled visitors. Long queues, large numbers of visitors and limited parking space, often make these individuals reconsider making the trip.
The Lack of Transportation Facilities
Although regions renowned for their natural beauty and cultural exoticism are equipped with airport and seaport facilities to increase the number of local and foreign tourists, little effort has been made to make them inclusive for disabled.
This refers not only to the lack of ramps or the absence of escort personnel provided by airlines that can be arranged upon requests, but also issues that are common to many Indonesian airports; , the dearth of passenger bridges to and from the aircraft. Even for large and busy airports, such as Adi Sucipto International Airport in Yogyakarta, which is one of Indonesia’s most popular tourist destinations, this airport still does not provide bridges, or mobile elevators/ambulift for wheelchair users to board and disembark a plane. The only scenario available is for the disabled individual to be carried aboard with the help of for aircraft personnel.
In addition to air transportation, land transportation has numerous issues that must be addressed. It is no secret that when travelling in Indonesia, people prefer to rely on private vehicles rather than using public transportation. This is not only because public buses do not provide special disabled seats, but also the bus stops are often too high for passengers with mobility limitations.
Tourists are faced with several challenges when travelling in Indonesia. The limitations they endure are multi layered. With the number of disabled people in Indonesia in 2017 reaching 21 million, accessibility to the fulfilment of a decent life can only be enjoyed presently by a handful of this minority. Millions more remain trapped by the invisible wall that segregates them from the outside world. The tourism industry is among them.
Jokowi’s decision to move the country towards the betterment of its tourism industry may be good news for the country and beyond. However, for people with disabilities, the situation remains static. Efforts are required by the government in Jakarta to cater for not only its own disabled population, but also the prospective disabled foreign tourists, the number of which is expected to increase in the coming years.
Tourists with disabilities from the UK, or elsewhere, who plan to visit Indonesia should consider these factors before they travel. If necessary, it is better to postpone their trip until the issue of disability in the tourism sector is addressed seriously by the Indonesian government.