Disability is not a big issue for people who are differently-abled. Disabled people get used to their disability and happily lead on their lives but when it comes to travel and hotel stays, especially in a growing economy like India, many of them are left perturbed and dismayed. This is because of not only the appalling travel conditions but also the absence of accessible homestays, resorts and other forms of eco-friendly accommodation in the country. The 2011 India Census mentions that there were about 27 million people in the country who were disabled in some way or the other. This makes it to about 1,755 persons in every one lakh residents of the country. However, what is disturbing is that even after being a 2.21 percent part of the population, there are not many disabled-friendly or accessible hotels and alternate accommodation options in our country today. On the same lines, the 2011 Census estimated that India had about 104 million aged people, above the age group of 60 years. The number is expected to touch 173 million by 2026, as per a report from UNPF and HelpAge India.
What is accessibility?
The term ‘accessibility’ as per English literature means ‘the quality of being able to reach a place of amenity’. As per the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016, India, an accessible place or environment is one that does not have barriers or obstacles for people, with or without a disability. This includes indoors as well as the outdoors. Offices, hospitals, schools, hotels and restaurants, footpaths, curbs, pedestrian blocks in India, under this Act are supposed to provide for an infrastructural setup that makes it easy and convenient for people from all walks of life to access the place, per se and amenities within it. Besides, all these places need to be well-equipped with adequate lighting, signages and alarms to facilitate easy movement of disabled people. Accessible toilets and transport systems are also an essential part of creating an accessible India. The infrastructural and logistic setups in the country has not been quite supportive for disabled people and when it is about hospitality, the issue is even more challenging. Even though Tourism for All has been propagated by the Tourism Department for quite some time now, differently-abled people have been facing tough challenges when travelling and staying in homestays, farms, guesthouses, hotels, resorts, hostels or dormitories. In 2009, the Indian government passed a law wherein the existing room inventories needed to get their places compliant with accessibility features and new ones required to incorporate accessibility as an essential element.
But even after such rules and regulations, things did not change much in India, especially for disabled people and senior citizens. One interesting aspect regarding that came to the forefront after a research in India is that on an average, only 1 room in an inventory of 250 hotel rooms was equipped for differently-abled people. The international ratio, however, is one room out of every 50 rooms. Besides, there is hardly any information regarding the same as most hotel and destination websites do not cover the topic clearly.
What is expected of accommodation properties in terms of accessibility?
- Toilets and bathrooms equipped with amenities that are within reach of disabled and elderly people.
- Rooms too need to have accessible features that can be operated independently by them.
- Presence of qualified staff members who are sensitive towards disabled and elderly people. Hospitality units need to employ people who have the know-how and awareness about handling guests who do not fall in the normally abled category of people.
- Organizing guided tours or engagement activities for differently-abled people.
- Having culinary options for aged and disabled people.
Surwahi Social Kanha – Coliving in wilderness with accessibility in the Kanha National Park region
In a country like India where accessible hotels and place of stay for senior citizens and disabled people in cities and towns are rare, the chances of having such accessible facilities in wildlife areas is hardly heard of. Surwahi Social Kanha, an eco-friendly green homestay built on the periphery of the Kanha National Park is a different story, though. Besides being committed to the cause of the environment and sustainability, the management of Surwahi Social Kanha made a conscious attempt to bring up a place that thoroughly promotes accessible travel to Kanha. Every care was taken during the designing phase itself to ensure that the place provides a welcome change to differently-abled people, couples with infants and elderly people. Since, at Surwahi Social Kanha the ideology revolves around ‘Tourism for All’, co-living in wilderness with accessibility has and will always occupy a prime place here.
This homestay entails disabled-friendly stay in Kanha in two ways –
1. Infrastructural and building compatibility –
- At most part of the property, the provision of supporting handrails have been incorporated.
- The doors within the premises are all made for easy movement of wheelchairs.
- There are ramps in the corridors so that wheelchairs can be easily moved around.
- Switches, door latches and other amenities in the co-living dormitory area the first of its kind in the country – have been equipped keeping accessibility in mind.
- Washrooms in the dormitory have western toilets that are low-sitting and completely compliant with requirements for accessibility.
2. Emotional and humanitarian compatibility –
- Employing staff members who are compassionate and understand the importance of according dignity and respect to all guests alike.
- Qualified people who are sensitive towards handling aged and disable guests.
The homestay plans to open its doors to guests in coming October 2020 recently. As the project moves onto the other phases and as the entire property starts to function completely by next year, there are plans to add on more set of personal amenities that are accessible and disabled compatible.