Every PWD has a right to live with dignity and grace. He also has the right to move out independently with least assistance. India is a land of vast magnitude and socio-economic, religious and cultural diversity. Disability knows no barriers as it concerns the problems and hardships to be faced in an inaccessible environment. And, it is our firm conviction that barrier-free tourism for PWDs can play a crucial role in integrating the PWDs into the mainstream of the society.
Role of Barrier-free Tourism
Addressing a function in New Delhi on 14th September 2000 Hon’ble Union Minister for Tourism and Culture Shri Ananth Kumar announced tat a new Tourism policy is being formulated. He laid down four goals of tourism namely Swagat (Welcome) (ii) Suchna (Information) (iii) Suvidha (Facilities) and (iv) Suraksha (Security). He also said that about 2.48 million foreign tourists and 178 million domestic tourists visit various places of tourist interest in India.
However, the prime question is whether the four goals stated by the Tourism Minister have been laid down keeping in mind the requirements of PWDs. Statistics and the data about foreigners and Indians PWDs visiting places of tourist interest are not available. Does it mean PWDs are not taken to visit places or are not potential consumers. It is basically the inaccessibility of tourist places, which deters PWDs to venture out.
Role of Samarthya – Yatra with a Difference
SAMARTHYA – Yatra with a Difference founded by Anjlee Agarwal National Coordiantor and Sanjeev Sachdeva, Programme Cooridnator started with a mere pleasure trip for PWDs in 1996. However, SAMARTHYA soon realized that visits of historical religious and tourist interest are a strong tool to promote the cause on PWDs. SAMARTYA – whose main motto is “Let’s make the world accessible” has so far organized 29 Awareness cum excursion tours to various cities of India. The places include Kurushetra, Shimla, Jammu, Amritsar, Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine, Chandigarh, Nainital, Dalhousie, Chamba, Haridwar, Mussorrie, Mathura, Agra, Bharatpur, Jaipur, Udaipur, Lucknow, Calcutta etc.
The experience gained through these visits are as follows.
- The awareness trips for people with disabilities can be used as “Travel Therapy”. At home PWDs have arrangement as per their needs and family members and relatives are always there to take care. However, when one goes to unknown terrain, historical and inaccessible places, one learn more and a confidence is instilled in them to fight against all odds. Since, SAMARTHYA travelers are persons with diverse disabilities, it gives an opportunity to know more about other disabilities and spirit of “oneness” is inculcated.
- There are many families whose children suffer from severe disabilities. Due to their occupation, they do not get the chance to “live” their own life or socialize. SAMARTHYA has found that sending ones child to participate in such a group activities gives them a much desired break.
- It gives an opportunity to interact with PWDs and NGO’s in other cities, thereby creating a network of various persons involved with the disability movement.
- The visits also sensitise the Government and society at large about the hidden potential of PWDs and raising the disability related issues like, education, and accessibility among others.
In fact, it is not that easy as it may appear. Barrier-Free Tourism for all does not mean that the premises of the tourist interest are accessible but includes transport, accommodation and tour programmes.
- Inaccessible transport: Public transport is not at all disabled friendly. It includes, State Roadways, coaches and railways.
- Inaccessible accommodation: It is the another obstacle. The hotels are not friendly. Inaccessible toilets are a major stumbling block.
- Tourism service providers including the travel agents do not provide flexible packages for PWDs.
Asia Pacific Conference on Tourism for People with Disability – A New Initiative
Anjlee Agarwal and Sanjeev Sachdeva, Founder-members of SAMARTHYA attended the Regional Training Workshop on Promotion of Accessible Tourism (24-28 September 2000) organized by the United Nations Economic and the Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP) which was held in conjunction with the Asia Pacific Cnference on Tourism for PWDs.
The workshop-cum-conference was held at Denpasar, Bali (Indonesia). Anjlee and Sanjeev attended the Conference with UNESCAP funding support. The conference was attended by over 200 participants from 15 countries from the ESCAP region. The participants included PWDs, tourism officials, tourism industry representatives and human resources development experts from hospitality management institutions.
The Conference provided a forum for the discussion on major issues related to accessible tourism for PWDs, senior citizens and families with younger children with a view to identifying key policies and strategy arrangements for promoting barrier free tourism for all.
The Conference provided an excellent opportunity to share views, experiences and learn from other participants. The Conference deliberated threadbare on certain recommendations and adopted the Bali Declaration (View the full report).
Among other recommendations, it stresses on importance of access surveys, creating local access guides for ‘in country’ and ‘foreign visitors’; strength craft production and marketing skills among PWDs as an economically viable interfce with the tourism industry. It calls upon Government to train custom officers in a way to communicate with PWDs especially the hearing impaired. The Government, tourism service providers and tourism training institutions can have PWDs with requisite experience to serve as resource persons to formulate better policies for promoting barrier free tourism.
In Indian perspective, the Government has taken some initiatives. The Indian Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) gives concessions to PWDs in room rents and have special tour packages. The New Delhi Youth Hostel, which comes under Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, has ramp, lift and toilets for wheelchair users. It also provides suitable concession on boarding and lodging for PWDs in New Delhi, Youth Hostel.
How to promote Universal Tourism
- Ministry of Tourism and other concerned Ministries/departments should include PWDs in tourism policy formation.
- MoT and Culture, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) should make the monuments under its jurisdiction accessible for PWDs. It may be a gigantic task. As in case of Jantar Mantar (Delhi) which is given to one group, Private Sector can be approaches to cooperate in this endeavour.
- India has about 40 Youth Hostels located at places of historical religious and tourists interest. Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports can issue directions to make them disabled friendly.
- Tourism operators like Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) can request all its agents to arrange flexible tour programmes. IATO should involve PWDs in chalking out the tour.
- Transport: A. Tourism Departments in every state can have at least two disabled friendly coaches (to start with Agra, Jaipur, etc.)
Till a new accessible coach is available a specified coach in the middle of the train can be earmarked. With little modifications like big size door, seats for severe disabled persons near the toilets (two rows can be removed) and an accessible toilet. An aisle chair can be kept in the coach.
The airports should be made disabled friendly Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi has one lift which carried luggage and wheel chair users!
- The Railways should extend the concession to PWDs in Rajdhani and Shatabdi Express which take less time other trains.
- The Indian Airlines gives 50 per cent concession to the PWDs with 80 per cnet or above disability. However, people with severe disabilities cannot travel on their own. The concession should be given to accompanying person/escort. It will reduce the physical stress on PWDs.
- Accessibility should be used as a criterion in ranking of hotels. The tourism departments should conduct access surveys involving PWDs, tour operators and publish a list of accessible tourist spots.
- Several places of worship do not allow wheel chair users. The authorities can keep their own wheel chairs with plastic or cloth wrapping on the wheels.
- Workshops, seminars, simulation exercises can beheld with focal theme “barrier-free tourism” for PWDs.
- To strengthen craft production, projects like Dilli Haat (Delhi) Shilpgram (Udaipur) can be set up in economically backward places of tourist interest. They should have accessibility features.
- Media can bring up stories on accessible places. Programmes on Travelling Private Channels (Star etc) can show accessible places.
- Tajmahal is visited by maximum number of foreigners and domestic tourists. If temporary makeshift ramps, accessible toilets and trained tourist guides for deaf and hard of hearing person are there, it will boost the flow of foreigner and Indian PWDs.
Our country which is facing economic crisis, where education and employment for PWDs is not available, where schools and places of work are not accessible, to critics talk of barrier free tourism may sound crazy. However, given that the fact Barrier-Free Tourism gives PWDs confidence, chance to interact, mingle with diverse cultural back grounds leading to integration in the mainstream society. Samarthya, firmly believes that a beginning can be made in this regard by making one or two places of tourist interest accessible for PWDs in each state. It will encourage the invisible minority to come out and see the world and also fight for their rights.
SAMARTHYA – YATRA WITH A DIFFERENCE
B-175 Mansarovar Garden