Where there's a wheel, there's a way

Four wheelchair-bound friends are kick-starting an 80-day cross-country tour today; will document difficulties faced by them and report to chief ministers and disability commissioners of each state

Travelling across India can be fun, enlightening and even therapeutic. But for the physically disabled, even the thought of a trip is sure to evoke a shudder of apprehension. Lack of basic handicap-friendly transportation facilities and a ruling attitude of insensitivity often deter the disabled from giving free rein to their wanderlust. 

Meet the Fearless Four (From left)
Sunita Sancheti (41) She works for a chartered accountancy firm, and
loves photography. She also counsels victims through spinal injury rehabilitation.

Neenu Kewlani (41)
She runs her family business. She is also an activist working to make
public places and transport accessible to the disabled.

Nishant Khade (33) 
He is director (operations) at DAS Offshore Engineering.
Aravind Prabhoo (44)
Disabled after a road accident, Prabhoo has since managed a cable
channel and founded an award-winning cab service for the
differently-abled. pic/pradeep dhivar

But instead of waiting for things to change, four Mumbai-based friends - all suffering handicaps - have decided to embark on a 'Beyond Barriers' road trip. In course of their tour, the quartet is also on a mission to raise awareness about the problems faced by the physically handicapped while travelling in India.

For the love of the road
"We love travelling, and have done so quite comfortably during our trips abroad. Travelling within the country has, however, always been a source of great inconvenience. But we have decided to overcome our fears and experience the sights and sounds of India. We hope to bring change to the existing apathy, and also inspire others to go ahead and travel," said Aravind Prabhoo, who will be leading the team into its adventures.

In course of their journey, which starts today, the foursome will travel 16,000 km by car, covering 28 states.

They will traverse the length and breadth of the nation, with their 80-day long itinerary including 40 cities dotting the map of India.

Aim of the trip
The 'fearless four' (as their webpage calls them) will also evaluate how accessible the different monuments and tourist spots are to the disabled, and upload the information on their Facebook page. When their trip ends in December, they will collate their opinions to draft an assessment report, which they will share with organisations and enquiring individuals.
They also plan to meet the respective chief ministers and disability commissioners of each state they visit, and share their evaluation and feedback with the officials.

The aim of the trip is to make travelling easy not just for the disabled, but also for the elderly and expecting women.

"If India becomes disabled-friendly, it's the tourism sector that will benefit the most. This is the logic behind our motto of 'barrier-free tourism'. Even slight modifications to heritage structures - such as the construction of proper ramps and special toilets - can make life easier for us. Our long-term objective is to make India accessible to the disabled by the year 2015," adds Prabhu.

The group spent nine months planning their trip, managing to rope in sponsors who would fund it. A team of five drivers and six caregivers will assist them. While aware that five-star hotels offer special facilities for the disabled, the group has opted for budgeted accommodations, keeping in mind that luxury hotels may not be affordable to a large sections of the disabled population.

Spurred on
Sancheti said, "Many disabled people are restricted to a homebound existence as they are afraid of travelling. So we decided to go out there, brave the obstacles and prove to others that even we can enjoy our right to travel." 

Neenu Kewlani observed, "We take pride in our temples and holy places, yet shamefully, the disabled are often refused entry to such places. At the famous Golden temple in Amritsar, and the Guruvayoor temple in Kerala, I was asked to leave my wheelchair behind at the entrance, being told that it was considered 'impure'."

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