Accessible options now bring scenic destinations to the differently-abled
“Do you know that sign language — even in English — is different in many countries,” says Alim Chandani, associate vice president, Centum Learning. Despite his hearing impairment, Chandani has travelled to 44 countries, and is eager to compare notes. Bhutan, he says, is his favourite. “It’s a small place; so everything is easy to locate and the people are very helpful.”
An equally ardent traveller is clinical psychologist Divyanshu Ganatra, who lost his sight at 19, but didn’t let that stop him from following his love for adventure. He was the first blind person in India to complete a solo paragliding flight.
Meeting Chandani and Ganatra brings home the fact that you don’t need five senses to enjoy travel. It’s by no means easy in India though — not many monuments or tourist spots have ramps, accessible toilets or Braille signages. But the good news is that today, there are several agencies trying to bring scenic destinations within reach of people with disabilities. Earlier this month, Cox & Kings launched Enable Travel, accessible holidays that have been curated with the help of people with different disabilities, including those with multiple sclerosis. To begin with, it is offering customised experiences in 14 cities. Sizeable investments have gone into equipment like collapsible ramps, specialised wheelchairs that can negotiate beaches and water, as well as trained guides who can handle a range of disabilities.
The entry of a large mainstream tour operator, into inclusive holidays is significant, as till now in India, it has only been offered by niche outfits or passionate social entrepreneurs. Take Neha Arora, who quit her job at Adobe to start Planet Abled, to bring destinations within reach of those with disabilities. Today, Planet Abled offers comfortable tours to 20 Indian cities, spanning the Golden Triangle, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Kerala. She says during the course of the last year, she has served nearly 100 travellers with disabilities, and a big hit is her river rafting itinerary. A few years ago, Chennai-based Travel Another India, which specialises in rural holidays, had tried offering sightseeing to destinations such as Ladakh to those on wheelchairs. This was a collaborative effort with Himalaya On Wheels, an initiative by Vidhya Ramasubban, who had years of experience working at the Spastic Society of India and with NGOs in Ladakh. When Ramasubban started her journey into inclusive travel, she recalls how the struggle began with sensitising State tourism agencies to put up accessible infrastructure at tourist spots. Today, the Government has at least started talking about inclusive travel, and is putting up accessible toilets and ramps at UNESCO heritage sites, though the execution and design leaves much to be desired. Train journeys are still unthinkable, with only air and road offering accessible options. And while hotels in the higher star category have disabled-friendly rooms, it’s tough to find these at budget levels.
People like Arora and Ganatra would rather talk about the exhilarating aspects than dwell on the hurdles. The sensory pleasures of inhaling the aromas at spice gardens in Kerala, feeling the spray of the water as the raft hurtles down the Ganga. Ganatra excitedly describes how his company Adventures Beyond Barriers has taken people with disabilities para sailing, cycling through the mountains and even helped some scale summits. Infrastructure challenges can be surmounted, but Arora feels the hardest part remains convincing people to break through the mental barriers, telling them that yes, accessible travel is possible. A good start may be the Disabled Travelers Guide, a free and inspiring online resource by Nancy and Nate Berger, that covers a lot of ground, including India.
Chitra Narayanan is an editorial consultant with Business Line who writes on consumer behaviour but keeps an interested gaze at the travel and hospitality sector
Source: The Indu