Travelling can be fun for people with disabilities with the right precautions – Guest Column by Unni Maxx
Our guest columnist today is Unni Maxx, the well-known disability rights activist from Kerala, who believes that travelling is for everyone, regardless of disability.
Who doesn’t like to travel the world? For some people, travelling to new places and meeting people is a passion. My father was a musician, so he had to travel a lot as part of his job and I used to accompany him a lot. At the age of 22, I met with an accident and was bedridden for months. During that time, I longed to check out unseen shores across the wold. Since I was not even using a wheelchair at that time, I was unsure whether I will be able to fulfil my travelling dreams.
My friends were my energy boosters, literally. Even though it was fun spending time with them, I felt I was missing something and did not know what exactly it was. After a few years, I got freedom to travel after getting a wheelchair! Travelling to my courtyard or another room on my own was a thing of joy for me
I had to wait six long years for freedom after I got my new car. It was a great opportunity because I could slowly start fulfilling my dreams of travelling on my own. I converted it to a hand-controlled vehicle and started driving around, another glad moment of my life. Gradually, I started traveling longer distances. From being confined to the four walls of my home, I started exploring. I got a life partner who is also an ardent traveller. Parvathy loves visiting new places and is always willing to come out, anywhere at any time.
It was during those times that I started thinking of people who had to confine themselves into their homes due to a disability. People tend to ask why a disabled person has to go out, and that is the society’s perspective towards us. When I got my car, the first thing I did was to go to houses of many other people with disabilities to inspire them to come out. In fact, we formed an association with like-minded people by conducing several camps and job training.
Change is in the air
Today, there are many NGOs and organisations that are working towards creating that change. Disabled people are even able to get a driver’s license which is a great thing! We have more accessible places and new laws to protect our rights.
In spite of all this, majority of the places are not accessible the way it should be. I feel that the government is yet to recognise and work towards our needs. India must learn from other countries. Honestly, visiting foreign countries has been easier for me due to their great accessibility. Last year I visited South Africa and the facilities for disabled people surprised me. Some countries are more wheelchair friendly than others. Singapore, where I first visited, is one among the best. You can go around freely anywhere on the chair.
For me travelling is a stress buster. It helps me realise that there are bigger problems in the world than what I go through. We have been to several places inside and outside India, and definitely have more plans ahead. I never felt disability is going to limit me from seeing the world. Accept your circumstances and know your limits and plan your trip accordingly. Don’t spoil the excitement that awaits you.
I can share a few tips for a disabled traveller. Firstly, try and get an idea about how accessible your travel destination is. Get details of facilities offered there. In some places there might be accessible buses, trains, and taxis. Make sure that the room where you stay is accessible, including toilets.
There may be some organisations or agencies exclusively working for disabled persons. Get details if they are available.
Always be prepared to embrace the unexpected. Things might not be as good as the comfort of your home. But trust me, challenges are fun. The world is not a dark place, There are many people who wants to lend you a helping hand at time of need.
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