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APEX Insight: According to current demographic projections, one fifth of the world’s population will have some accessibility need by 2050. Based on this trend, how can airlines better cater to travelers with accessibility needs? A newly published report by Amadeus may hold some answers.

Each year, millions of people with disabilities want to travel more and do so independently. In 2015 that North American travelers with disabilities spent $17.3 billion on travel, according to estimates by The Open Doors Organization, compared to $13.6 billion in 2002. However, US Government Accountability Office statistics reveal that complaints about airlines made by disabled passengers doubled in the past decade to more than 30,000 per year. What could be improved?

A recently published report by Amadeus on barriers to accessibility across various stages of the passenger journey may hold some answers. The company’s Voyage of Discovery report identified effective communication, responsive services, standardized content and a personalized offer as four key elements that could make planning easier for travelers with disabilities. During research and planning phase of a trip, defined by Amadeus as the stage where customers research air fares and compare what services certain airlines offer, the overall accessibility of travel websites and their ease of navigation were named as two of the biggest pre-travel barriers by travelers with disabilities who were surveyed for the report.

According to eSSENTIAL Accessibility, a technology company which helps people with physical disabilities more readily access the web, a reason for this is that the travel industry needs to shift from a mindset of viewing accessibility as “the right thing to do,” to one of an opportunity to cater to an increasingly important market demographic and boost revenues.

“What we’re doing is telling them there’s a market opportunity here.” – Simon Dermer, eSSENTIAL Accessibility

“Too often organizations look at disability through that legacy lens of philanthropy and regulation. What we’re doing is telling them there’s a market opportunity here,” explains Simon Dermer, eSSENTIAL Accessibility’s managing director. “Close to one in five individuals around the world self-identify as having a disability. It’s an extremely sizable market and it’s really important that brands in all sectors, not just airlines, awaken to this reality.”

So far, Qantas is the first airline to partner with eSSENTIAL Accessibility. The Australian carrier offers the company’s assistive technology, allowing customers with difficulty reading, typing and moving a mouse to navigate its website using a range of tools including a hands-free movement tracking system, onscreen keyboard with word prediction and page reader. “Not only do we provide the service to help organizations meet regulations, but we go on an inspire them to achieve the goal of enhancing the customer experience across the board. So, we’re taking an otherwise regulatory pain away and turning it into a positive customer experience,” says Dermer.

Lufthansa has also made efforts to improve the accessibility of its website. Over the past two years, the airline made its web page compliant with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0), a single shared standard for web-content accessibility. Stefanie Kratz, a project manager for Lufthansa, was quoted as saying in the Amadeus report that the most challenging task was adjusting the airline’s website for screen reader usage because it required learning how blind customers perceive a website.

“We realized that accessibility overlaps with other best practices such as usability, design for older users, search engine optimization (SEO), improved maintainability and further system development,” she said.

While airlines are at various stages of making their websites and online platforms more accessible, Dermer says the proliferation of different devices, operating systems and user interfaces will be the biggest hurdle to making travel booking accessible to customers with disabilities. “For a long time we lived in a world where one operating system dominated 90 percent of computer platforms,” he says.