With the Rio Paralympic Games beginning this week, on the 7th of September, accessible tourism is once again in the spotlight. It is a movement that is continuing to grow and is attracting more and more attention from tour operators, agencies and travellers alike, all around the world. Brazil is no exception and the country has worked harder than ever to improve travel options for tourists with disabilities.

Ahead of the Paralympics, the Brazilian government has increased its support of initiatives that increase social inclusion, including developing adventure retreats and barrier-free projects that enable more people to travel to the country and enjoy the natural and cultural wonders of Brazil.

Project 'Beach without Barriers', Pernambuco

The Pernambuco Tourism Board (EMPETUR) has implemented projects to improve universal access. The major development was the 'assisted bath' on beaches for members of the public with reduced mobility. This involves “amphibious” wheelchairs, removable mats for access to the sand and assistance from qualified professionals, accommodating wheelchair access right into the waters.

Currently, the Beach without Barriers exists in five Pernambuco beaches, including tourist favourite South Eastern Beach and Fernando de Noronha. This enables people with disabilities to enjoy the waters of the Brazilian oceans at popular beaches with scenic views.

In order to ensure that the sites are suitable for users of the project, an analysis of the coastal dynamics in Pernambuco was conducted by the State's Ocean Institute, providing users with the greatest bathing security.

Socorro, Sao Paulo

The word 'socorro' means 'help' in Portuguese and the city was given this name to honour the Patron Saint 'Our Lady of “Perpetuo Socorro.”' It is fitting therefore that Socorro is a city dedicated to helping people with disabilities. As a result of Socorro's efforts to adopt more accessible forms of tourism, the Ministry of Tourism has listed the city as one of the top 10 accessible tourist destinations in Brazil.

Nearly every hotel in the city has been adapted to support people with disabilities, with many bars and restaurants offering menus in braille. Public phones offer facilities for people with hearing impairments and over half of the adventure activities offered in Socorro have been adapted to enable those with wheelchairs to participate.

Sensory experiences for visually impaired

In recent years, Brazil has also launched a range of unique projects based on sensory experiences for visually impaired tourists. Such 'sensory tourism' is a concept Brazil's Tourism Ministry has been developing in several of its major cities including Brasilia, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

The gallery at Sao Paulo's Pinacoteca Museum allows visitors to touch bronze sculptures and appreciate the size, shape, texture and aesthetic diversity of the artistic works. The Botanical Garden, Rio de Janeiro invites visitors to appreciate the aromas and textures of basil, rosemary, sage and mint seedlings, specially designed to stimulate the senses. Brasilia Zoo also offers walking tours every couple of weeks, where tourists are allowed to touch the animals.

Campo and Parque dos Sonhos

Two hours from Sao Paulo, at the foot of the Matiqueira Mountains, Campo and Parque dos Sonhos has become a leading venture for accessible tourism across the whole of Brazil. The hotel and adventure park has received honours for its provisions for people with disabilities at the renowned World Travel Market in London and awards for its responsible tourism at the World Responsible Tourism Awards.

Designed with complete access to all hotel facilities, the park also offers tactile floors, maps in braille, menus for the visually impaired, reserves for those with hearing impairments and kennels for guide dogs. Accessible adventure activities such as hiking trails and canopy tours are also on offer with adapted equipment and motorised wheelchairs. The Adventure Park and hotel offers tourists with disabilities both a relaxing retreat and active adventure in the Brazilian outdoors.