MANILA-- The Department of Tourism (DOT) on Friday said the government is preparing a communication action plan for a barrier-free tourism in the country.

The communication action plan is expected to strengthen the coordination between the public and private sectors in creating and implementing projects to be able to develop and provide more efficient services for persons with disability (PWD) whether they be tourists or citizens.

An inter-agency group, led by the DOT, decided to come up with the plan during a consultative meeting on Barrier-Free Tourism on Monday.

The meeting, initiated by Nelly Dillera, DOT Office of Industry Manpower Development (OIMD) director, was attended by representatives from the departments of public works and highways, social welfare and development, trade and industry, health, and the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA).

The academe and the private sector were also represented and together, provided various perspectives in evolving solutions.

"It is imperative for the different line agencies to band together to ensure that the needs of the PWDs are addressed," Dillera said.

NCDA representative Carmen Reyes-Zubiaga, on the other hand, underscored the “disability-inclusive development” in the Philippines.

She encouraged both the national government agencies (NGAs) and non-government organizations (NGOs) to invest in services for PWDs since it not only promotes inclusivity and accessibility but also good business.

Zubiaga also highlighted the need for a “non-handicapping environment, and projects to eliminate physical and environmental barriers” for PWDs.

According to the DOT, discussions identified the challenges in providing barrier-free services in the Philippines.

These include the lack of awareness among stakeholders, and the lack of appropriate trainings among service providers - from assistive technology-friendly facilities to equipped and capable personnel who can communicate with clients who are speech-impaired, or with mental health conditions.

The group focused on ways to create, which Zubiaga described, as a "non-handicapping environment" through the implementation of national policies.

Last June 1, DOT Undersecretary Alma Rita Jimenez said the Philippines has relayed the country's commitment to accessible and barrier-free tourism at a forum in Papua New Guinea.

Jimenez said Manila's commitment was not only providing access to PWDs but also addressing the need for a universally-designed environments that cater to all.

During the international event, the official said the DOT intends to advance a tourism industry that recognizes PWDs' equal rights to tourism services and opportunities-- independent travel, accessible facilities, trained staff, reliable information and inclusive marketing.

"We now have standards that we hope to hard-code into our practices in due time," she said.

The inter-agency meeting also follows the DOT-led ASEAN-Japan Accessible Tourism Seminar in March 2018 in Manila.

During the seminar, participants learned that hospitality services for PWDs are often overlooked by establishments, causing hindrances during travel because of limited facilities - from sidewalks, ramps, wheelchair-lifts for cars, to bathrooms, and toilets, including audio and visual guides. (PNA)