Have you ever considered how easy it is for us to plan for a holiday or a break when we merely feel like it? It's a simple task for most of us. But what about someone who has a limitation - like a disability?
Millions of disabled people in India continue to curb their desire to travel as they face accessibility issues, not just in visiting tourist spots but also in basic mobility like using a mode of transport in a relatively not-so disable friendly country like India.
There are more than 26.8 million people living with disabilities in India. Travelling in India for the specially-abled is quite a challenging task. Travel for them means tons of research and planning well in advance. It also means ensuring that their means of transport, as well as their accommodation, are easily accessible and that their special needs are catered to properly.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2016 dictates that governments, tourism boards, and private stakeholders should all pay attention to making tourism easy and convenient for specially-abled people. This should include making tourist sites disable friendly and accessible, with facilities like ramps, buttons with Braille, wheelchair-friendly toilets and trained staff.
Disabled travel, also known as ‘accessible travel’, is well prevalent and efficiently carried out in countries like the United States, Europe, Australia, South Korea and Japan. Although nascent, travel for the special-abled in India is gradually rising.
Our country has started realising the potential and the importance of such tourism. The Indian travel industry is becoming aware of the need to look into this category of travel and thus is looking to provide special assistance and care to disabled travellers, like arranging for special transport and sightseeing options.
Some of the travel companies and organisations that are contributing to this realm of tourism are:
1. Planet Abled
Planet Abled is a travel company that makes it possible for people with special needs to experience the joy of travelling. They help bring people with different disabilities together, to form larger groups for specially designed tours - specially trained and appointed travel buddies to assist each tour.
Planet Abled ensures that both the modes of transport and accommodations booked for the tour are accessible and disabled-friendly.
Swayam is an NGO that works for the rights of the specially-abled. They have been contributing towards accessible tourism in their own way by pressuring State Governments to make sure that tourist and public places are accessible for the specially-abled and the elderly.
3. Aspark Holidays
Another travel organiser, Aspark Holidays, has successfully conducted several adventure tours for their specially-abled clients. They have designed travel programmes that help them merge the travellers' unique needs and capabilities.
Disabled-friendly destinations in India
The following destinations in India are particularly travel-friendly for tourists with special needs:
Kerala is the first state in India to become elderly and disable friendly. The state launched a project called The Barrier-Free Kerala Tourism Project in 2019, through which they put in place all the basic infrastructure and facilities at all major tourist centres. As a result, more than 100 tourist centres in Kerala are now elderly and disabled-friendly.
Fort Kochi in Kerala was declared the first disabled-friendly heritage site in India in 2016. The tourist site offers facilities for people dealing with visual, hearing, mobility and cognitive impairments.
Agra is another destination with a few disabled-friendly tourist sites, including the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, and Fatehpur Sikri. There are provisions like ramps, Braille signboards, special toilets, a defined route and even dedicated parking!
Like Agra, the capital too has provisions for the specially-abled at major tourist sites like the Qutub Minar, where a wheelchair can go right up to the Iron Pillar! The Jantar Mantar, Humayun's Tomb and the Red Fort are disabled-friendly tourist sites too.
Delhi also wins hands down when it comes to disabled-friendly modes of transportation - the Delhi Metro offers ramps to get on and off the metro, along with elevators at every station with buttons with inscriptions in Braille.
Over the past 5 years, the Archaeological Society of India has made some of the major tourist attractions across India disabled-friendly. Some other monuments that are elderly and disabled-friendly in India are:
Hemis Monastery, Leh, J&K
Ranthambore Fort, Ranthambore, Rajasthan
Jageshwar Temple, Jageshwar Valley, Uttarakhand
Rani Ki Vav, Patan, Gujarat
Bekal Fort, Kasaragod, Kerala
Golconda Fort, Hyderabad, Telangana
Fort Gingee, Ginjee, Tamil Nadu
Ajanta and Ellora Caves, Aurangabad, Maharashtra
The Residency, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
Chitradurga Fort, Chitradurga, Karnataka
Shravanabelagola, Hassan, Karnataka
Tipu Sultan's Summer Palace, Bangalore, Karnataka
Sanchi Stupa, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh
Lakshmana Temple, Sirpur, Chhattisgarh
Here are a few travelling tips for the specially-abled below:
1. While booking your tickets and accommodation, be sure to describe your disability clearly so that you have a comfortable journey.
2. If travelling by air, ask your airlines for assistance by letting them know you require a wheelchair or any other assistance.
3. Ask your travel operator to book you on a disabled-friendly mode of transport (intra-city) so that your commute is easy and stress-free.
4. When booking your accommodation, make sure to check if the accommodation provides a pick-up and drop facility with an accessibility vehicle; whether the room and bathroom have grab bars etc.
5. Ask for a guide who has prior experience with handling specially-abled people.
6. Carry your essentials - extra medicines, prescriptions, doctor's emergency contact numbers and other essential items
7. Buy medical insurance before you travel - in case you are required to see a doctor in another city.
8. Know your rights as a differently-abled tourist.
Though our country is still not quite at-par with some of the other countries in becoming completely barrier-free, there is hope that we will be there soon with the rapid progress we are making. The need of the hour is to have more travel organisers like Planet Abled in the country and for other tour and transport operators to join in and offer Accessible Tourism on a larger scale across the country.