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  • March 2018

Tourism has been recognized as the largest growth industry in the world, with multitudes of people travelling everyday across different parts of the world for a variety of reasons. Travel can be liberating, empowering, exciting, joyful and much more. The whole touristic experience is a corporeal one, centred on the senses, organs and emotions. Each traveller goes through different experiences while travelling.

 Persons with disabilities and senior citizens with health issues constitute a significant market segment of tourism. But often, disabled persons are found getting excluded from leisurely activities like travelling because of their disabilities. In Leisure of Disabled Tourists: Barriers to Participation, R. W. Smith has pointed out that “people with disabilities have the same motivations to travel as the rest of the population”. However, lack of accessibility and societal attitude often become roadblocks in the way of disabled travellers.

Thus, there emerged a new field of tourism: Accessible Tourism (Inclusive Tourism or Barrier-Free Tourism). A multi-disciplinary field, accessible tourism incorporates concepts like disability, accessibility, geography, culture, economics, public policy etc… Through accessible tourism, tourist destinations, products and services are made accessible to all, regardless of gender, age or disability. This enables persons with disabilities and senior citizens to travel independently and with dignity.

Accessible tourism is based on the idea that a person is rendered disabled not only by his bodily deformities but also by the notion and attitude of the public. Thus, a disabled traveller is created by unfriendly environment and social stigma attached to disability. Accessible tourism creates enabling environments for disabled travellers through the adoption of universal design.

The policy makers all over the world have now become cognizant of the immense potential of accessible tourism. In 2005, the UNWTO had passed its resolution on ‘Accessible Tourism for All’. Despite all these, the tourism service providers and entrepreneurs appear baulky to implement the universal accessible design because of the high investment it requires.

It is in this context that I would like to draw your attention to ‘Planet Abled’. Neha Arora, a former engineer at Adobe, was anointed to transform the travel experiences of a number of persons with disabilities, transforming their lives altogether. She has become a trailblazer by setting up ‘Planet Abled’, a Delhi-based company which provides travel solutions for people with all kinds of disabilities. “We want to open doors for people with disabilities to travel the way they want”, points out Neha in a brief e-mail interview.

Born to a wheelchair-bound mother and a visually impaired father, Neha needed no one to explain to her the challenges faced by disabled people while travelling. It was this personal experience that spurred in her mind the idea of ‘Planet Abled’. Started in 2016, this company follows the universal design and is rooted on the idea of “giving people with disabilities the freedom to travel, leaving behind social inhibitions and apprehensions about their capabilities”. It offers diverse choices like solo tour, group tour, dating trip, travelling with a mate etc… “Whether they want to experience a small facet of the city they are in or they want to travel across multiple cities of varied interests, Planet Abled has something unique, safe and enjoyable for everyone”, Neha states.

The travel recounts of disabled people brimming with words of appreciation for ‘Planet Abled’ bear testimony to its popularity and success within this short span of two years. But it has never been an easy stride. Neha says, “The hardest part I feel has been that though there is a market, those people had to be made aware at first that yes accessible travel is possible for you”. She points out that it took time to convince many parents to let their adult children travel alone. Lack of the right people to as moderators and guides has been another challenge. Lack of physical and technological infrastructure has also been a major problem. “At many places there are steps, and no ramps. To solve this problem, we have procured a portable ramp to make the place accessible for wheelchair users to some extent”, states Neha. The people are mostly insensitive towards disabled people. Neha mentions about the kind of looks on their faces seeing disabled travellers as if “they have seen aliens wondering from where all these people came from”.

With about 200 clients in its kitty, ‘Planet Abled’ has so far received many national and international accolades. The society is now slowly recognizing the position of disabled people as respectful citizens. “So once we go and tell them in detail about the need of accessibility they are welcoming but it would take a long time to put accessibility and universal design in the DNA of this country and implement it at the ground level”, avers this vibrant young woman.

By SaradaDevi. V

Tourism India,India's Travel Magazine,Kerala, India.

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