La Girobussola Association Italy: International Agency of the Month

Date Posted: 06/13/2017

by Maribel Steel, VisionAware Peer Advisor and International Correspondent

The international agency we feature this month is an association based in Italy who design custom-tailored travel tours for people with a visual disability, and who research destinations worldwide that offer an experience of cultural inclusion and accessibility.

An Innovative Beginning

La Girobussola is an a ssociation based in Bologna, Italy that was founded in 2013 by a 27-year old graphic designer, Marta Giacomoni. She grew up in a family where both her father and uncle had been blind since childhood due to glaucoma.

"I developed a sort of 'attention' about them concerning blindness," said Marta. "And, with my father Paolo as President, we began the association and looked at how to organize the concept of an 'all inclusive' tour for people with a visual disability to travel using all the senses. We knew we wanted to take care of the travelers for the whole trip so they felt entirely safe – and we are proud of this personal feature."

two people exploring statue by touch

Making Travel Accessible

The most important aim of the association is to break down the barriers that can exclude people with a visual disability from enjoying cultural experiences. La Girobussola provides carefully researched and organized non-conventional itineraries, specifically designed tours that open up a whole new world of travel opportunities. "Being a carer during our adventures around the world, part of my role is to get in touch with other associations, museums and people who can give us advice when visiting their country."

In each destination around the world, La Girobussola plans unique cultural itineraries which focus on giving the traveler a multi-sensory experience of each city as well as providing an in-depth awareness of architectural and culinary highlights. For example, groups in Italy have enjoyed visiting the Ceramic Museum in Faenza, and participated in a bakery cooking class in Ferrara.

Tactile Maps

hands reading tactile map

As well as being a graphic designer, Marta also specializes in producing tactile maps using a Minolta method and dedicates many hours to carefully study specific routes in countries where La Girobussola can offer an accessible travel experience. "We furnish our guests with a set of tactile maps in order to help people who can’t see to gain a fully comprehensive mind-map of the spaces we visit to feel more integrated."

Accessible Travel with La Girobussola Tours

In 2016, La Girobussola won first prize in IT.A.CÀ Festival of Responsible Tourism. Many guests have enjoyed accessible group tours to:

  • Italy – Bologna, Verona, Venice and Naples
  • Europe – UK (London), Ireland, The Netherlands and Poland
  • Asia – Sri Lanka
  • Central America – Mexico
  • South America – Peru

Teens Tour New York to New Orleans

When I interviewed Marta, she was finalizing details of a custom-tailored tour for a group of Italian parents and their visually-impaired teens to visit the US. It was a sensory-packed tour for an entire 15 days!

"We start in New York,” Marta explained, "where we will have 4 days to explore, beginning with a walk from Lower Manhattan to Brooklyn Bridge; then touch the Charging Bull, explore the unworldly Trinity Church cemetery; remember what happened in 9/11 at a multi sensory memorial and listen to the sea at Battery Park."

Marta continued, "Then take a boat across the East River to Brooklyn; walk along the Brooklyn Bridge and through China Town, where people practise Tai Chi and Chinese Chess in Columbus Park; feel the atmosphere of the Buddhist Temple, and smell and taste so many different Asian delights"– all on the first day!

La Girobussola: More than Travel

The organization also offers:

  • Training classes – for sighted tourist guides to be more aware of a multi-sensory approach to operating tours
  • Typhlology Seminars (Tactile Maps and 3D prints) for teachers, educators and relatives
  • Braille classes
  • Inclusive school trips – where sighted and visually-impaired children learn and have fun together
  • Seminars on how to design tactile tools and tactile paths in museums

Funding the Tours

"Unfortunately," said Marta, "as yet, we haven’t received funding from sponsors but we are continually seeking to open dialogues with local authorities. For the moment, travel costs are met by our guests. On the other hand, owners and managers of Museums and Galleries provide the costs of audio-tactile paths in their venues."

Ambitious Goals

"Today, our most ambitious goal is reaching people and organizations abroad, who are interested in our services and wish to collaborate on future tours in their city." Marta said, "Italy is already famous for its beauty and culinary delight, so it’s time to give people who are blind or visually impaired the opportunity to discover the hidden beauty in other countries too!"

Further Resources

To learn more about travel destinations, tour groups and events: visit the La Girobussola Association Website (English)

Visit their Facebook page,

Watch the Venice video.

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