'Everyone should have the right to travel, should they choose to, and be able to explore even the farthest edge of the globe' - Global Sustainable Tourism Council
It was in the month of December last year, that I had finished working on an assignment, and reached Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station in Delhi, with two trolley bags and some smaller luggage, all set to board my train to Jabalpur. I somehow managed to drag my luggage from the drop point to the main entrance and started to look for a lift or a ramp, but to my dismay I found none. There was no way I could climb the stairs with the entire luggage because of the heavy weight of my bags. I felt helpless and turned to hire a porter (coolie), who offered to carry my luggage for ₹600. Only after a hot bargain, did we settle at ₹200.
As I settled into my seat, I was left wondering about how the unavailability of a simple walking ramp had caused so much trouble for me. So, how inconvenient it must be for those who travel in a wheelchair or with a support. That was the day when I realized that ‘accessible’ travel is not only for those with special needs, but for everyone, as we all need help at some or the other point in our lives. The Indian government is quite considerate when it comes to providing equal opportunities to the minorities in the country, and despite the strong resistance against the reservation system, it still strives to provide a platform with equal opportunities to all the communities.
The question that arises here is whether the economically and socially backward sections of the society are the only ones that need to be integrated? What about the ones who struggle to be accommodated by society every day due to their physical and mental restrictions, and have a desire and a need to be treated like regular people (you and me), with equal opportunities and easy access to basic facilities?
It is necessary that every citizen can enter and move about within a public place with dignity, unencumbered by its design and structure; and this is where the concept of accessible travel plays a vital role.
To commute or travel is definitely not a breeze for many people with any kind of physical limitation. The idea seeks to enhance accessibility to travel opportunities by making significant changes to the infrastructure, transportation, information and communication systems. The ultimate goal is to provide barrier free transport and destinations.
Surveys reveal that there are over 1 billion people living with disabilities globally (approximately 13% of the population), and their caregivers, who are directly affected, add up to more than 2 billion people, which together roughly constitutes one-fourth of world’s population. Therefore, there is a huge unrealized market that remains vastly under-served.
With the changing definition of disability, differently-abled people around the world are now coming together as a community with equal rights. There is a need of collaborative effort of the government, the stakeholders, end users, tour operators and welcoming hearts of the society to promote awareness and provide practical solutions for accessible travel.
In compliance with the Article 9 of UNCRPD (United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) on 3rd December 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Accessible India Campaign with the primary objective of making the country easily accessible by the differently-abled.
Airports, bus stops, railway stations are being made fully disabled friendly. Door-step banking facilities are now being provided to the senior citizens of more than 70 years of age and visually impaired. Awareness programs and workshops are being organized to sensitize builders and activists. The media has greatly influenced the campaign. Widely distributed and read newspapers such as Times of India regularly cover stories of the developments in the area. This keeps the government on its toes and spreads awareness.
So, while the government is doing its bit on a larger scale, let us all join hands to make our surroundings including our homes, neighborhood and most importantly our hearts easily accessible for all those who need a little additional help.
By Tanshi Sahu
Guest Author and Student of Law
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