Accessible tourism: A long way to go for Incredible India

Doors closed for disabled & elder tourists in destination India

Tourism

April 22, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Accessible tourism: A long way to go for Incredible India

Planet Abled aims to give specially-abled tourists freedom to travel irrespective of the kind of disability they have(Image Credits: Planet Abled)

While for most tourists, Covid-19 restrictions in place for over a year have perhaps been the worst limitations on their travel plans. But millions of disabled persons in India have long faced and continue to struggle with challenging accessibility to not just tourist spots but also the various modes of transport.

For 16-year-old Ekta Manjari of New Delhi, visiting Attukal Bhagavathy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala in September 2019 was an experience of a lifetime. So elated is she by her experience that she is already planning her next trip to a destination that could welcome her as nicely as Kerala did.

Her enthusiasm is not surprising as it was Manjari’s first trip outside Delhi in the last seven years after she lost her ability to walk followed by a health complication.

She says that many public places and tourist spots are still unwelcoming for her. It was Kerala where she felt that she could explore the state and its capital city, just like any other tourist there.

While Manjari is excited about her next trip and praises Kerala for enabling her to experience what her home state does not allow her, 14-year-old Nandan Sharma, also from Delhi, is far from happy.

“I cannot walk. I have been in this wheelchair all my life. I feel utterly disappointed whenever I see that my family planning to go on a tour. I do not express my anger and sadness because I know there is no way they can carry me to a beach or a monument. I listen to their stories of adventures, different places and look at their photographs, but I know I will never be a part of those,” explains Sharma.

Sharma is one of the 21 million Indians, who suffer from disability, according to the 2016 data from the ministry of home affairs, India.

While the disabled in India suffer from many basic inadequacies and lack of necessities that deny them their basic rights and dignified life, they say that their desire to explore and entertainment is totally ignored.

Planet Abled is working towards making tourism accessible to all (Image Credits: Planet Abled)

“I can barely go to school. I have to be carried during my exams. Forget about visiting different places and tourism for people like me,” adds Sharma.

Tour operators would agree. They feel that throughout the year, they barely receive requests for a special arrangement for some specially-abled or elderly by families.

“I never thought about it earlier but now that I think of it, I cannot remember a single instance when families going on trips have asked me to plan a disabled-friendly or elderly-friendly trip. In fact, many of those who come here, also leave the elders and specially-abled people in hotel rooms as most public in Delhi are not accessible to them,” says Pramod Dayal, a Delhi-based tour operator, working with Dayal Tour operators.

As a result, Dayal says, tourism remains almost completely out of the reach of those who are physically disabled or those who have aged. He points out that most public places in India, including in the national capital, are not disabled or elder-friendly. “You take any public place from your local street market to monuments and from restaurants to temples, you will rarely find a disabled person there. Why? Not because they do not wish to explore places and see new things like you and me, but only because they do not have the access to these places,” he explains.

For those specially-abled persons struggling to fulfil their dreams of travelling, a silver lining has emerged as Kerala becomes the first state in India to become elderly and disabled-friendly by putting in place all the basic infrastructure and facilities at tourism centres.

The project called ‘Barrier-free Kerala Tourism Project’, which was launched in 2019 but had to be halted due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic last year, finally completed its third and final phase in January 2021, with more than 100 spots turning elderly and disabled-friendly. With this, Kerala has also become the first state in India to implement UN World Tourism Organisation’s (UNWTO) call for ‘Tourism for All’.

However, the dark clouds of inaccessibility have a silver lining because of organisations that have been working to make the national capital more accessible for specially-abled tourists. Planet Abled, is a Delhi-based organisation that provides accessible travel solutions and leisure excursions for people with different disabilities. Planet Abled recognises that there are over a billion people with different disabilities in the world, but the percentage of them travelling is minuscule, owing to lack of accessible travel options available. “Planet Abled identified this gap and came forward to give them the freedom to travel no matter what their disability is. Whether they want to experience a small facet of the city they are in or they want to travel across multiple cities of their interest, we have something unique, safe and enjoyable for them,” reads their website.

Svayam is another NGO that works for a similar cause, the rights of specially-abled citizens. A member of Svayam says that they have been pressurising the state governments to make their public places accessible for the elderly as well as for the specially-abled.

“For many people, when thinking about disabilities and what it is like to live with one, adventure and active travel may not be something that comes to mind at first, but when you talk to people like me, most of us, like most of you, just want to explore the world. Of course, there are other more important needs to be fulfilled, but that does not mean that disabilities should look bigger in comparison with desires,” says Manjari, who is already dreaming of her next trip.

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