Travel + Leisure - India & South Asia

TRAVEL FOR EVERYONE

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A child of persons with disabiliti­es, Neha Arora started Planet Abled to curate accessible and inclusive tours. She speaks to SUMEET KESWANI about her most memorable trips and the long road ahead for the industry to become truly inclusive.

What led you to create Planet Abled?

I never travelled as a child, thanks to inaccessib­ility and societal stigmas—my mother is a wheelchair user and my father is blind. When I started earning, I thought money would solve the problem. But after a series of bad experience­s, my parents decided never to travel again. This got me looking for solutions. There were a few in developed countries, but each was focussed on a single disability. I did my homework for twothree years, surveying industry profession­als and persons with disabiliti­es. I finally said goodbye to my corporate job and launched Planet Abled

(planetable­d.com) in 2016.

Which destinatio­ns do you cover in your tours?

We operate in over 50 destinatio­ns. The most popular ones are India, specially Kerala, and Singapore; Europe is the rising star.

What changes did the pandemic bring about?

The pandemic gave us an opportunit­y to rethink our business model—towards mainstream­ing accessibil­ity. We are now creating a membership-based smart platform that provides informatio­n in a digitally accessible format to travellers with all types of disabiliti­es. Planet Abled also offers consultati­on and training, leading to an accessibil­ity certificat­ion, for industry stakeholde­rs and destinatio­ns.

What do people get wrong about accessibil­ity? What changes do you wish to see?

The first is the assumption that access is just about a ramp and an accessible toilet, since wheelchair users have the most visible form of disability. But they form less than 10 per cent of all disabled persons. The accessibil­ity needs of people with other disabiliti­es are different. The second is being insensitiv­e or oversympat­hetic towards persons with disabiliti­es. The third is assuming that disabled people don’t have jobs or money.

Inclusive travel has to be mainstream­ed. This is not a separate group of people for whom you are doing a favour. This is over 15 per cent of the world population with a combined annual disposable income of over 13.1 trillion

USD. There’s also a need to make the informatio­n about accessibil­ity of destinatio­ns available to everyone.

Which are the most accessible destinatio­ns in the world?

Singapore, Germany, Australia,

Netherland­s, Israel, and the USA fare better than others. But they need to do a lot of work in accessibil­ity for the blind, deaf, and autistic, and people with cognitive and psychosoci­al disabiliti­es.

What is the most memorable tour you have curated?

The first inclusive river-rafting experience in India. It was requested by a 70-year-old Planet Abled traveller, who is a wheelchair user due to a spinal injury. I went to Rishikesh and did rafting to understand the experience. Then, it was time to find an adventure expert with whom we could work. I was told ‘no’ by 30 people before finding one who agreed. In November 2016, after six months of work, we made it happen. The trip had persons with all types of disabiliti­es, including my mother and the woman who started it all.

What is your favourite family holiday memory?

It was our trip to Singapore on my father’s 80th birthday. It was the first foreign trip for both my parents. Singapore has done a good job in wheelchair accessibil­ity, and the highlight for my mother was the clean wheelchair­accessible toilets.

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 ?? ?? Clockwise: Arora’s parents on their first foreign trip, in Singapore; Arora on a Planet Abled tour to Taj Mahal; the company organised India’s first inclusive river-rafting experience in 2016; its tours bring together people with different disabiliti­es.
Clockwise: Arora’s parents on their first foreign trip, in Singapore; Arora on a Planet Abled tour to Taj Mahal; the company organised India’s first inclusive river-rafting experience in 2016; its tours bring together people with different disabiliti­es.
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