Travel has always been alluring, but is it the same for those with special needs. “Accessible travel”, as we call it is, seeing a rise and India too is slowly gearing up, opening doors for the differently-abled to see this beautiful country.
Way back in 2006 when my friend from Bengaluru was visiting Delhi, she had expressed her wish to see the Qutub Minar. Being wheelchair bound there was no such provision to take her. But cut to today’s date and time accessible travel in India is seeing a rise in graph. Most tourism destinations are shifting focus towards issues such as sustainability, cultural richness and accessibility.
The whole concept of accessibility is reaching a wider audience. Making spaces accessible for all is an ongoing effort and working towards ensuring accessible infrastructure and transportation systems, and changing people’s attitude is simply indispensable. Adding to this Sminu Jindal, Founder, SVAYAM; a leading accessibility organization, says “SVAYAM along with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had made Unesco World Heritage Site of Qutub Minar accessible in 2008 – the first ever WHS in the country to be made accessible. Making monuments accessible is also helping in boosting revenue of a monument as there’s a spike in footfalls once a site becomes accessible. Accessibility also makes a heritage site safer and helps in its preservation while also instilling a sense of discipline among visitors”.
Not many may remember but way back in 2001 when Stephen Hawking visited India he had expressed his wish to visit the Taj Mahal, Humayun’s Tomb and others, and it was then that temporary wooden ramps were installed and these monuments got their first make-shift disabled-friendly access.
Tourism needs to be accessible to all – regardless of age, gender or physical status. With more and more specially-abled travellers moving out of their comfort zone and travelling to different locations, travel is becoming more about inclusion and India is taking its baby steps towards it.
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27-year-old Siddhant Shah, an Access Consultant, who has written the Open Braille Guide book for City Palace, Jaipur and focusses on ‘intellectual accessibility’ says “India’s visually impaired population too need to explore our cultural heritage, so that’s how I thought of my first Braille Book with Tactile Images and large fonts for City Palace, Jaipur. Anyone could easily touch, feel and experience the beauty of our sites and monuments. Seeing this, many other museums and art galleries in India, Pakistan and Malaysia approached us to provide accessibility services including Braille Signage. No one ever thought of braille brochures, why would the visually impaired be left behind”.
Accessibility initiatives are all about inclusion to making lives happier and better. States like Kerala which promote barrier-free travel are strongly working on Tourism for All — Promoting Universal Accessibility. In India, to make accessible tourism a reality, we have to ensure that the entire trip chain from airports to railways, buses, taxis, hotels, hospitals, shopping areas and tourist attractions sites is made accessible. Today upgrading the entire travel infrastructure in all regions of the country is giving every human their basic right to access to all space, that’s something fundamental.
The top barrier free global destinations are – Spain, Australia, Portugal, UK, Germany, France, Oman, generally USA, Canada, and few more.
The views expressed here are those of the author.