Accessible Travel Mongolia
We understand that accessible travel issues are more than just mobility challenges – everyone’s needs are different and include those with sensory disabilities, hearing disabilities and medical conditions and people with invisible disabilities – including those living with long-term illness and severe allergies such as coeliac disease. We are aware that disability is any physical, sensory, psychiatric, neurological, cognitive, or intellectual condition that restricts everyday activity.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2023), about 16% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability and we appreciate that a percentage of people with disabilities want to travel. We agree that travel – including adventure experiences – can and should be for all. That’s what has motivated us to start the conversation around accessible travel to Mongolia. Ensuring equal access to travel is simply the right thing to do.
We are a small business and not a specialised disability tour operator. But, we work solely in Mongolia and also live in the country so have local knowledge and can provide support and guidance. We have welcomed guests with Parkinson’s Disease, MS, early-onset dementia and Prader Willi syndrome on both our small group and tailor-made experiences.
A Personal Story
This is Keith – my Dad (this is Jess writing – the founder of EL). Dad died in November 2021 but lived with advanced Parkinson’s Disease for many years which impacted how and where he could travel.
The photo was taken at Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park in Mongolia during Dad’s second visit to Mongolia – his first since his diagnosis.
Prior to Dad being diagnosed, I didn’t give accessible travel much thought – especially not in terms of Mongolia. But over the years, as Dad’s Parkinson’s advanced and impacted on what he could do, I began to view it in a different light. I noticed how people were quick to marginalise him. Also, at airports and in cafes or restaurants, he was often seen as a nuisance – someone slow who was holding up the line.
However, as long as Dad still wanted to travel, I wanted to be able to help him do so. We knew there were limitations in place but travel, although it has its challenges, is a joy and should be available to all that once the opportunity to experience it.
I personally think that in the travel and tourism industry we don’t put enough emphasis on assisting those with disabilities or accessible travel issues. We are a small tour operator and not a disability lobbying group. However, we want to go beyond accessible travel just being a box-ticking exercise to comply with legislation or to look good on the website.
Yes, Mongolia has its challenges but that doesn’t mean that those with accessibility issues cannot visit it. Although those needing support may choose a specialist company, we are happy to get the conversation started.
What we need from you is clear guidance on :
- What you can and cannot do.
- What you need.
- How you would like to travel.
We will then look at what we can realistically provide and whether we can provide something suitable for your disability. We will also look at whether we can provide the support you need.
We offer small group and tailor-made options. Depending on your level of disability, we might request for you to travel with a companion – someone that knows you and your limitations. For those who do choose to travel with us, we do provide detailed Pre Departure Guidelines although these are in written format.
Our small group trips are not specifically designed for travellers with disabilities and as they are set-date, they cannot be adapted. But, if your level of disability allows you to join a small group but you feel you need additional support we can arrange for an additional member of our team to join you. This allows you to travel with additional yet affordable support. Some of our disabled guests have joined on our small group experiences.
Our tailor-made experiences can be adapted for ease of travel and to suit your individual needs and are organised with your own driver/trip assistant (guide). What we can arrange is also dependent on your available budget. You might want to bring your own carer (or we can provide one of our team members). If you do bring your own carer, they travel at cost only – just covering their accommodation and meals.
As mentioned, we’re not a specialised disability tour operator but we will do our best to help. We’re a small company but always open to feedback and if you have any ideas on how we can help travellers with accessibility issues experience Mongolia, please do get in touch.
Mongolia is one of the largest and most remote countries in the world with a limited infrastructure in place. Although disability within Mongolia is no longer invisible, there remain significant challenges ahead for the local disabled population and therefore for any international travellers with accessibility issues.
Here are a few examples of the challenges you can face. Please do not be put off though. This is just to help you see the bigger picture. Please get in touch so we can start the conversation.
Wheelchair users or those with mobility issues
- There remains poor pedestrian access with uneven pavements and no ramps.
- Tour vehicles typically do not come with wheelchair platform lifts so currently we can only take wheelchair users that can (with assistance) get in and out of the vehicle without relying on a mechanical lift. This would apply to a majority of tour companies.
- There are limited options to rent wheelchairs in Mongolia so you would need to consider bringing your own – with spare parts.
- There are no electric buggies available to rent at the sites.
- A majority of accommodation is not adapted to wheelchairs. Not all hotels have lifts and ger camps have steps leading into the ger and the toilet/shower block is separate (typically 15-30 metres away from the ger accommodation and often with steps). The cubicles can often be small and not suitable for wheelchairs).
- You might not get low-level baths, standalone showers or lowered light switches.
- Outside of a few hotels in Ulaanbaatar, there are no public toilets in Mongolia which are adapted to those with accessibility issues.
For those who are blind or with limited vision
- Menus are rarely large print.
- Information in braille is not available in Mongolia – whether that be in hotels, museums or restaurants.
- All pre-departure information before the trip is provided in a written format (we are a small business and do not have the resources to provide the information in braille).
- All information provided during the trip itself will be delivered verbally by your EL team.
For those who are deaf or with limited hearing
- Our EL team are not trained in sign language.
- Hearing loops are not available in Mongolia – whether that be in hotels, museums or restaurants.
Free from food
- We can cater for vegetarians and vegans, and those on gluten-free or other specialist diets. However, if you have any form of allergies please highlight these clearly during your enquiry as we need to assess whether it is something we can accommodate.
- For anyone with food restrictions, you book knowing that there will be limitations in place due to what is available in Mongolia although we do provide clear guidelines as to what style and type of meals we can provide so you would know in advance of booking what to expect.
Although disability in Mongolia is no longer invisible, there are some significant challenges but, although progress is slow, there are changes. As an example, for the first time, the 2010 state census included specific questions related to disability in a drive to gather better information and to be able to see the bigger picture of people with disabilities in Mongolia.
Although several laws have been written on rights for those with disabilities, few methods exist to implement or monitor them. Discrimination also remains an obstacle. One positive step was the creation in 2012 of the Department for People with Disabilities at the Ministry of Population Development and Social Protection.
A majority of people living with disabilities in Mongolia could live independently if they had proper access to public facilities and essential services. Unfortunately, most don’t. There’s a desire for more autonomy and to be able to contribute to the economy and society in general.
Although frustration still abounds, advocacy groups and NGOs in Mongolia such as the Independent Trade Union of Disabled Persons of Mongolia, the Association of Parents of Disabled Children (APDC), and the Mongolian Association of Wheelchair Users have been working to raise awareness about the challenges people with disabilities face participating in their communities.