Breaking notions about travel & disability with accessible travel experiences for visually impaired people

This week we mark the Global Accessibility Awareness Day on 17 May. As part of our coverage, we profile a company that is making travel accessible to visually impaired people.

The atmosphere is hectic at the office of BAT Travels in Mumbai, as team members plan the next holiday trip.

Come June, BAT Travels, India’s first dedicated company to organizing accessible holidays for visually impaired people, will take a group to Sikkim in northeast India for a customized travel experience.

Unique experience

The group will be made up of people who are sighted and visually impaired, with the sighted acting as travel buddies for the latter.

It’s a unique approach, one that struck the founders of BAT Travels, Divya Saxena and Ritu Sinha, when they came across two visually impaired guests while holidaying in Italy. They realized there was nothing to cater to the travel needs of visually impaired people in India. This is because most companies base the idea of travelling on just sightseeing.

The concept was new and well appreciated amongst the sighted people since a lot of them, like us, had never interacted with a visually impaired person – Ritu Sinha, Co-founder, BAT Travels

The first trip planned was to Kamshet, located outside Mumbai. A visually impaired professor at Mumbai’s St Xavier’s College helped them connect with a few people in the community.

Fourteen people, of whom six were visually impaired, went on that first trip, which offered a complete experience, right from para-gliding to trekking. Both sighted and visually impaired travellers describe it a unique learning experience.

I had never travelled with a blind person before so yes, I was a bit nervous. However, the team is very good at putting people at ease and before you know it, you've moved past your apprehensions and self-consciousness, and are focussed on enjoying the trip together - Navin Chawla, Sighted traveller

All the three trips that I went on were fun. I made many friends and we understood each other. The sighted people in the group understood how the visually impaired go about their daily lives. I think such trips will help bring about a change in society and the specially-abled community will also be able to come out of their homes and enjoy different places with good people. We want BAT travels to come up with more such trips – Shubham Arora, Visually impaired traveler

Breaking stereotypes of travel & disability

Each trip is designed in such a way that it offers a unique experience. Like at Benares, the group got to experience the local cuisine like lassi, paan and poori kachori. They were also taken to watch the Ganga aarti and observe the weaving of Benarasi sarees.

Our trips consist of handpicked things which we design with the locals and cannot be bought off the internet from any other vendor. We make sure that the needs of the visually impaired guests are kept in mind. We break down a destination in such a way that it becomes highly sensorial in nature. And therefore can be enjoyed by the visually impaired guests. We also take care of things like accessible properties, meals served on the table, room orientation, sensitized staff, etc. These might sound like small things but go a long way for everyone's convenience – Divya Saxena, Co-founder, BAT Travels

Curating such unique experiences for visually impaired travellers comes with its own set of challenges. The overwhelming responses can be a ‘no’, rather than a ‘yes’. However, the team believes that the few people who are willing, are the right kind.

Through their trips, BAT Travels hopes to break the notions and biases around disability in India. Notions like disabled people should be largely invisible, or that they should be denied the opportunities that people without disabilities take for granted.

Read the other stories around the theme of accessibility for Global Accessibility Awareness Week

India's rich past comes alive in sensory ways at this accessible exhibition in Delhi

How Arun overcame his disability to help other people with disabilities

Watch in Sign Language