As a blind person it is never easy to visit a tourist attraction and enjoy it to its full. This is obviously even harder when the place is bustling with other frenzied visitors during the peak season. In my experience, the worst thing however is for staff members to have absolutely no training in how to interact with a blind visitor. This was unfortunately the case in my interaction and visit to the Two Oceans Aquarium.
I was excited to have my sister-in-law and her husband visit along with their daughter, my 2 year old niece. I set up an agenda and scheduled visits to many of the highlights and tourist hot spots that the mother city has on offer. I was well aware that during this peak and crazy holiday time, everything would be really busy and manic. I was prepared for the worst. The crazy season is not impossible, just a little more of a challenge than usual. I was up for the challenge. After all, South Africa has recently run a big advertising campaign promoting itself as an accessible destination for visually impaired visitors. I was more than willing to put it to the test.
From visiting the crowded beaches to the penguin colony at Betty’s Bay, from the shops and markets scattered around the Western Cape, I was very impressed. Staff everywhere were kind and courteous, always making me feel comfortable and safe. Then we visited the Two Oceans Aquarium at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and everything went balls up. Not because of the selfie snapping crowds, not because of the wild children running amok, not because of the access, but because of the poorly trained and rude staff.
It is almost as if they did not prepared to deal with a blind person and would have rather been at home watching the television or sleeping. Very disappointing.
From the first contact by email asking when the best time to visit is and informing the aquarium that I would be blogging about my visit, to the actual visit, the interactions were challenging.
My email enquiry was to ask whether they charged for a blind visitor. Yes, they do. This is unusual as I obviously cannot see the exhibits. I was however told that my guide, aka wife, would not be charged. So I booked three tickets for the two visitors and myself and left the booking for my wife and niece out (children under 4 years old are free). On the 28th of December, we, informed by the recommendations in the correspondence we had had, arrived in the late afternoon.
It was crazy busy and perhaps would have been easier had we come first thing in the morning, as per my original idea. This was a question I had asked the recipient of the email, but she had said that afternoons were better. As I said, the crowds were not the problem anyway, this was expected.
At the door the staff member told me that I was misinformed and that neither my wife nor I needed to buy a ticket. Well, she actually told this to my wife as she refused to speak to me, commenting “He can’t see anything anyway”. It was as if I was not there in fact. I inquired about a refund for the one extra ticket we had paid for and she just brushed it off and ignored me while saying to my wife that there was nothing she could do as they do not refund online tickets. Like water off a ducks back she just refused to deal with us. Even leaving us standing at the counter while she disappeared for a long time to go and deal with a different issue that another client was having.
At the gate we were shoved through like cattle coming off a truck at a slaughter house. The lady that had to stamp my arm, did not speak to me but grabbed my hand and hit it a few times in the way that I imagine a cow would be branded before shoving me and my visitors through the door and turning her back on us.
Into the flow of visitors we moved feeling rattled and overwhelmed.
I asked my family to get me to a place to sit out the crowds where I could wait while they wondered around. The predator tank would be perfect. No wait, this was not open. Unusual as it is peak season? I was informed that their was a sign at the front door informing the patrons of this. But perhaps this was just a maintenance issue and not poor communication?
Eventually a sticky seat was found and I sat to catch my breath. The noises and smells were overwhelming and unpleasant, but hey I was there for my niece and would just bite my lip and chill for a couple hours while she was shown around by her folks. My wife bought me a disturbingly sweet and not very icy slushy. I folded up my white mobility stick and sat to wait. Then someone walked right into me. Guess what? It was a staff member. Sigh.
After a few minutes more we just got up and left. Not without more obstacles and rude inconsiderate staff avoiding us en route to the door that is.
My visit to the Two Oceans Aquarium was an overwhelming and disturbing low point of an otherwise great holiday with my family. The sad part is that the crowds were not the issue, the hectic traffic and tight parking was not an issue, the loud noises and overwhelming odour were not an issue either. This was all expected. The problem was the staff and their total lack of competence when dealing with a blind visitor. A little accessibility training would have gone so far to make this experience an enjoyable one. I put it down to miss management. Unfortunately, at this stage, I would not recommend the aquarium as a spot to visit for a visually impaired person. They don’t care about the business we bring (I had still paid R405 for my family to enter). Never mind the 285 million blind visitors they are inaccessible to, their families and friends coming along with them are obviously also not important.
Next time, I will try a different attraction and let’s hope that the staff are a little more aware. My recent TEDx talk is all about the challenges of sight loss and how, in a accessible world, a #BlindManCan do anything that a sighted person is able to. Well, the Two Oceans Aquarium is not part of this accessible world.
#Accessible #Blind #BlindScooterGuy #BlindManCan