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Monday, July 15, 2024

Improved accessibility at The Crystal Caves

PROMISING a gem of an experience for visitors of all abilities, award-winning Tablelands attraction The Crystal Caves has spent the past 12 months upgrading facilities for greater accessibility and inclusivity.

Inspired by Queensland’s Year of Accessible Tourism 2023-2024 and taking a cue from the accreditation framework that informs Queensland Tourism Industry Council’s (QTIC) Accessible Tourism program, The Crystal Caves’ raft of changes includes greater mobility support and wheelchair access along with a suite of interpretive resources for visitors who are neurodiverse, hearing, and vision impaired.

Crystal Caves manager Ghis Gallo said that despite The Crystal Caves notching up 40 years of operation in 2024, tourism has become increasingly sophisticated over the years, and today’s perception of an accessible tourism business has changed.

“Knowing this, we set about securing the support of local wheelchair users and their carers whose experiences and advice paved the way for a series of structural changes to promote ease of access and visibility,” she said.

“From learning that every person’s wheelchair and ability is different to navigating the tight spots within the Caves, the practical advice we received was invaluable, and we are so grateful to every one of them for helping us achieve our goal of a more user-friendly and inclusive experience.” 

The Crystal Caves worked collaboratively with wheelchair users to improve ease of access and movement in the museum.

An initial review with wheelchair user Joanne Fowler identified which “tight” spots needed widening.

“The exhibits are spectacular and, overall, very accessible,” Ms Fowler said.

“All the staff are wonderfully helpful, knowledgeble, and enthusiastic, which is an excellent, inclusive experience you would not be able to do easily in nature.”

Joanne fowler conducted an initial review of the crystal caves and found them to be very accessible overall Image liam mcdonald blank studios
Joanne Fowler conducted an initial review of The Crystal Caves and found them to be very accessible overall IMAGE Liam McDonald Blank Studios

Four-year-old Spencer, who has cerebral palsy, and his carer Melvin from Valiant Hands in Cairns were also happy to experience the attraction and offer advice.

“It was a fantastic family day out and surprisingly very accommodating for Spencer, who has cerebral palsy and requires a ‘special needs’ pram,” Melvin said.

“While some corners were tight, the Caves were relatively easy to navigate – Spencer had a great time, smiling as he passed the vast collection of sparkling crystals.”

With this feedback, the team at The Crystal Caves secured the most comprehensive wheelchair available to check accessibility while navigating the attraction at its narrowest points.

Tablelands local Jeff was happy to try the Caves for size in his fully electronic chair.

According to The Crystal Caves manager Ghis Gallo, Jeff was determined to find all the tricky points.

“There was one space we refer to as ‘Phantom’s Pocket’, where Jeff struggled to turn around,” she said,

“‘Split Rock’ and the exit to ‘Fossil Gallery’ also proved too narrow.”

The Crystal Caves team marked the areas as inaccessible and went about cutting the cave walls back before embarking on a full refurbishment of the space.

Another local wheelchair user, Ben Daley, was then enlisted to make the final check.

Mr Daley’s journey through the attraction proved he could easily access all museum areas except ‘Phantom’s Pocket.

“Ben enjoyed reaching out and touching many of the specimens, and one of our staff was happy to assist the support worker in returning through the attraction before exiting via the entry ramp,” Ms Gallo said.

“We have thoroughly enjoyed meeting Joanne, Spencer, Jeff, and Ben, and we thank each of them for their support in helping us achieve our goal of a more accessible and inclusive experience.”

Ben daley tests out the attractions at the crystal caves Image liam mcdonald blank studios
Ben Daley tests out the attractions at The Crystal Caves IMAGE Liam McDonald Blank Studios

Tourism Tropical North Queensland Chief Executive Officer Mark Olsen congratulated The Crystal Caves on making their experience more accessible to visitors.

“Accessible tourism is about allowing everyone to participate in a tourism experience with choice and confidence,” he said.

“It is also about communicating effectively to the consumer through so they can easily determine whether a venue will be accessible and it is great to see The Crystal Caves has introduced an accessibility page to achieve that.”

In a snapshot, The Crystal Caves’ range of new accessibility resources:

  • Detailed guidebook for hearing impaired
  • Audio guide for the vision impaired created by Vacayit developed with support from the Accessible Tourism Elevate Fund grant
  • A social script for neurodiverse visitors that includes a detailed map and option for early access to a self-guided tour
  • Removal of physical tight spots in the museum to create smooth navigation for wheelchair users
  • Introduction of an accessibility page website featuring an accessibility widget

The Crystal Caves is an ATEC-accredited Inclusive and Accessible Host and QTIC Accessible Tourism Destination.

Since 1987, the Crystal Caves attraction in the Tablelands’ town of Atherton has immersed visitors in its thrilling and fascinating underworld of crystals and fossils.

Keep up with the latest news in Cairns and the Far North, and check out some of our top stories this week: Kowanyama police help family and CIAF celebrates 15 years of catapulting careers.

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