Is India prepared to welcome disable tourist from other countries in its land? Does India have the infrastructure to accommodate disabled tourists (e.g. people on wheelchairs, etc.)? Is Accessible tours in India possible?
“For most people, accessibility makes things easier, for people with disabilities, it makes things possible.”
We went all the way from Jaipur to Chennai for a day to personally receive our special guest from Australia, a wheelchair-bound woman in her late fifties, accompanied by her husband. They had come to India for a vacation. In India, generally such people are home-bound and refrain from going out of the shelter of their own homes, leave taking a vacation overseas. Accessible tours in India is only a concept for many people here. Only after our director Rahul had returned from Chennai and was sharing his experience with me, it drew my attention to the importance of accessible tourism, a phrase used to describe suitable travelling conditions for persons with disability (PWDs) and how important it is for us, as responsible citizens, to think and care for this specially-abled people and their desire to be able to see the world like other normal beings.
When I thought of writing on this subject, the first thing I did was posting the question on Quora to know what other people think of India as being disable friendly. It wasn’t shocking to see the answers. One gentleman very clearly replied that disable people should stay away from India. Upon research, I found that in India, accessibility and inclusion of the disabled remains a challenge. While the world has taken giant steps towards inclusion, India still has a lot of work to do. Inclusion is a problem that needs urgent government action. The sad reality in India is the lack of understanding and indifference. Bus-stands and railway stations are almost impossible to access for the disabled. Visiting retail stores and other public places like markets are still a nightmare for specially-abled people. Even basic amenities like public toilets are unfriendly for these people. Quite unnerved with the findings, I decided to further research on this.
Problems likely to be encountered by Tourists with Reduced mobility/Disability while travelling in India:
Lack of proper information, Non-availability of personal aids/ equipments at station/ in vehicle, Lack of disability awareness among ground staff, Inadequate signage on Facilities, Locating affordable & accessible room, Travel between residence and transport station, Lack of auxiliary services at Terminals, Unfriendly co-travellers, Problems of boarding and disembarkation, Rules and regulations for carrying equipments & aids, Locating medical facilities/centres, Equipment loss and damage, Toilets for Physically challenged not available/ available but unhygienic, Non-availability of public utilities- telephone, toilet, water tap etc.- at convenient places etc. Disabled people are clearly not common visitors to India, and everywhere such people with special needs go, they might become the centre of attention. Trains, taxis and coaches form major part of the surface transport. But, these are not accessible to disabled persons particularly wheel-chair users, thereby, limiting the scope of their outdoor activities and visiting tourist places even if they may have sufficient resources for such purposes. This could also be a reason for not finding many wheel-chair users at the tourist sites.
Most of these problems can be sought out if one selects a good and experienced disabled travel specialist tour operator.
But, in recent years, some concerted efforts have been made to provide a better living environment for persons with reduced mobility. Many inter-governmental agencies have already enacted specific laws to enable their empowerment as well as to mediate with the multi-faceted problems.
To my delight, many establishments in the country are contributing towards making necessary changes and are focussed on inclusion and accessibility for the disabled. Ramps, elevators, hydraulic lifts and Braille signage are there to help these people. New hotels are coming up with wide door and easy bathrooms. Some Airlines (E.g. Indigo) have replaced the step-ladders with slanting ladders (aerobridge) or Forklift Platforms for easy carriage of wheel-chairs. Recently, a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Bangalore launched their new project KickStart Cabs on 28th Nov 2013. The social enterprise provides taxi services that are designed to provide personalized and accessible transport to those with any kind of mobility restrictions and charges standard rates. Already Indian organizations like Svayam, AccessAbility, and the Disability Rights Initiative of the India Centre for Human Rights and Law, and Design for All – India have done the initial preparation.
Ashoka holidays, connects travellers with people from the local community in India in order to offer detailed and specialised experiences and trip itinerary services. They have some experience with accessible tourism and maybe able to help disabled with their requirements. Ashoka holidays have also teamed up with many like minded organisations who deal with only such specialised tours arranging disabled equipment, adapted excursions, transfers & assistance at ports. They have identified certain places, hotels and sightseeing places that are wheelchair friendly or equipped for disabled people and hence be able to advise and provide travel assistance for the differently abled. “The wheelchair should not be a limitation to carry out their tours and trips. Our wheelchair accessible vacations in India are specially designed for travellers with wheelchairs, slow walkers, their families and their friends. We have hand-picked our accessible hotels that have wheelchair-friendly features like doorways with a width of 70-90 cm, a slope rather than a step separating the bathroom from the bedroom, a special bathroom layout so wheelchairs may be maneuvered easily, wheel-in showers etc. for barrier free access plus our experienced guides are locally trained and work effortless to ensure all goes well”, says Rahul Sarawgi of Ashoka holidays, who also sensitized taxi drivers about how to interact with travellers with special needs. “They (wheelchair-confined people) may not partake in adventure sports but they should have the opportunity to enjoy the camaraderie at a campsite. At Ashoka Holidays, we are focused on delivering a customer service tailored to the individual needs of our clients. From guaranteed accessible room booking, arranging adapted taxi transfers, to booking flights with airport assistance, our aim is to take the stress out of organising a holiday for disabled people” Rahul believes.
“With a potential market of 500 million domestic tourists and ambitious projects underway to upgrade train and air terminals India is poised to demonstrate world leadership in the social inclusion of its own citizens by targeting the disability travel niche if it follows the example of other countries and applies Universal Design in destination development,” says Dr. Scott Rains publisher of the travel industry Rolling Rains Report. Universal Design is a set of seven principles outlining, according to Adaptive Environments, a framework for the design of places, things, information, communication and policy to be usable by the widest range of people operating in the widest range of situations without special or separate design. Most simply, Universal Design is human-centred design of everything with everyone in mind.
A few words of caution are necessary when contemplating a journey to India. India is on its way towards accessibility despite the scarcity of their resources, and the tremendous challenges related to its infrastructure. Indian’s have made a firm decision to open their country to people with disabilities and our local hosts have made huge efforts to provide the best service to people with disabilities.
An excerpt from one our clients – “On route to Jaipur we stopped off at Fatehpur Sikri which is about 40km outside Agra and an abandoned city of the Mughal legacy. Our guide accompanied us here and I was extremely glad he did as he was able to negotiate with the guards on the gate (who were adamant we could go no further) for us to take the car right up to the monument – otherwise it would have meant a bus ride and it’s fair to say that the buses are by no means accessible.
However, once we drew up outside the monument there was a very large parking notice stating that this was parking for the “differently abled person”. It seems India has the same issue often encountered back home where there are provisions made but people don’t always know about them!”
Nonetheless, India is a developing country and this is a rigorous trip. Tourists must be flexible and willing to accept situations where access in India remains limited.0