Think. Think hard. When was the last time you shared space with a disabled person when on a trip, or going to someplace exotic, or any mode of transportation for that matter?
Ever thought about why disabled people find travelling so drab? They don’t. It’s just the many barriers that keep them from exploring the world on their own. Well, for one Indian state, that might not last long – because Goa is on its way to becoming disabled friendly soon.
A new program called Enable Travel, powered by Cox & Kings, is attempting to make travelling 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 probed and are recommended by experts who are themselves disabled. This means that every facet, 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 taken care of.
Also, the famous Candolim Beach in Goa recently became wheelchair-friendly. UMOJA, the first travel website in India that supports travel plans for the disabled, collaborated with NGOs ADAPT and Drishti to organise a beach festival that was accessible to the disabled.
The festival included water sports like Aquatic Beach Chair and beach bowling, as well as wheelchair cricket, kite flying, sand castle competitions, and wheelchair dancing. Dozens of wheelchairs were acquired for the event.
“We have always believed that every individual has equal right to access public spaces,” said Mr Yeshwant Holkar, CEO, UMOJA, at the event. He also stressed that the festival aims to raise awareness of UMOJA’s online petition to the Goa government to make at least one beach, if not all, easily accessible to the disabled.
“As India’s leading State in socio-economic development, we have always supported every initiative that endeavours to provide the differently abled their rightful position. The office of the Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities supports the festival. We hope this event will serve as a model that can be replicated across the State and the country,” remarked Anuradha Joshi, Goa Commissioner, Disabilities.
A wheelchair user’s guide to Goa was also set up, which covered over 35 hotels, restaurants, and popular tourist attractions. #BeachFest2017 trended during the festival. Hopefully, the government takes notice of this successfully conducted initiative and replicates this by creating more disabled-friendly tourist destinations throughout the country.