New initiative aims to ensure smooth trips for disabled travellers across India

Mar 24, 2017, 06:39 IST | Shraddha Uchil

A new initiative steered by disabled travellers ensures smooth trips across India for those bogged down by accessibility issues

Think hard. On your last big holiday, did you spot anyone with a disability share the same space as you at any of the sites you visited, or on any mode of transport? No?

Does this mean those with disabilities detest travelling? Turns out, much as they would like to explore the world, various barriers keep them from doing so.

A new initiative, Enable Travel, powered by Cox & Kings, aims to make travel across India barrier-free for those who are wheelchair-bound, or vision, hearing, or speech-impaired. Currently, the website lists destinations like Goa, Coorg, Kochi, and Jaipur, among 10 others. All of these have been researched and recommended by experts, who themselves are disabled. This means every aspect, from trained guides and specialised staff (care-givers, sign language interpreters) to equipment (hiking chairs to visit forts, amphibian wheelchairs to take a dip in the sea) has been thought of.

Among these experts are Mumbai-based filmmaker and writer Rustom Irani, who has been wheelchair-bound since age nine, and Divyanshu Ganatra, a clinical psychologist from Pune, who is visually impaired. Both are avid travellers, with Irani having explored four continents, and Ganatra having gone tandem cycling from Manali to Khardung La.

Rustom IraniRustom Irani

Point A to B
It's common knowledge that India has a long way to go before it becomes completely disabled-friendly, but, according to both Irani and Ganatra, there is some improvement.

"In India, travelling by bus or train is near impossible, because the toilets are not fully accessible, and buses stop wherever they please. Air travel, on the other hand, has become easier," says Ganatra.

Echoing his views, Irani says that today, several airlines have dedicated sections on their websites to help passengers with disabilities. "That said, it's still a task. I am 6'2" tall and weigh a lot, so it's not easy for assistants provided by the airline to help me onto the plane and into my seat. I've had my shoulders pop several times, and also suffered a few injuries," he laments.

Divyanshu GanatraDivyanshu Ganatra

Destination woes
The duo adds that it is important to take the type of disability into account while curating a trip. Ganatra shares that he enjoyed a visit to a spice garden as he could soak in his surroundings using his sense of smell and touch.

But it's not just about zeroing in on the right itinerary. Once you arrive at your destination, there are more challenges to be dealt with. Ganatra says that even if a hotel has accessibility, it can be found lacking in other areas. "Most don't have Braille menus. So, I have to call and ask, 'Khaane mein kya hai?', which is met with the standard response — one paneer dish, or one chicken dish. This, when the actual menu is larger," he shares. Irani, meanwhile, highlights how for the disabled, fringe benefits like spas, gyms and pools are the last priority while booking a room due to their inaccessibility.

He adds that at monuments and heritage sites under the purview of the central government, the situation is slightly better, although Braille signage and audio announcements are still missing at several places. Ganatra sums up, "Things will get better but, in the meantime, we have to keep adapting."


How to plan your trip

  • To begin with, chart a thorough itinerary from start to end, from picking your airline to your transport and accommodation.
  • Call each of these to check if they are equipped to cater to a person with disabilities, and whether they have had similar guests in the past. Also enquire about accessibility — shower, doors, elevators et al. 
  • Explain your disability in detail, so arrangements can be made to suit your needs. Also specify the kind of assisted devices you use (crutches or hearing aids, for instance) and inform the hotel if you need care-givers.
  • Be aware of your limitations and convey the same clearly. This includes information on whether you prefer travelling by car or by air, and how many hours you can spend outdoors, among other things.
  • Do your homework. For instance, if you are wheelchair-bound, check whether the hotel has technicians to help you out in case your wheelchair breaks down.
  • If you’re travelling solo, connect with someone (could be a community, too) at your destination to help you out in case you’re stranded in any way. 
  • Lastly, it would also be helpful to find out if others with your disability have been to that particular destination, and ask them how they planned their trip.

Also check out these websites

Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation, started by Divyanshu Ganatra, engages persons with disabilities and able-bodied people to participate together in adventure sports.

Planet Abled conducts trips to several destinations in northern and central India, including Jodhpur, Khajuraho, Bandhavgarh, Nainital, and Rishikesh.

Umoja helps you find accessible accommodation. Fill out information on your preference while moving around and interaction with a space, and the website finds hotels to meet your needs.

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