The Day Before, By Rustom ‘Rusty’ Irani
Am I ready?
Bags packed? Check.
Wheelchair charged? Double check.
Denim trousers, cotton shirt, check for strength in case they lift me using my pants again? Triple check.
It’s almost a ritual now prior to each long journey I take. Especially flying. Many of you wheelchair-bound folk know what it takes to fly, so I’ll spare all the details and just sum it up in four short words, transfers, tears (not the eye secretions but muscles being ripped), transports (rickety wheelchairs) and toilets (lack of).
But flights, like vaccines, must be sometimes endured for the continuing of one’s progress. I’ve always wondered out loud, discussed with friends, experts from aviation, i.e. friends and relatives who work for flight companies, about why our entire segment of disabled travelers still continues to be stuck in the dark ages of transport when even a hot air balloon can be made wheelchair friendly?
So years go by, I continue to grumble and rant and fly, rinse and repeat; until one warm summer’s day I get an e-mail. It has not only altered my life with regard to travelling with my disability, but more importantly (after all the Karmic rants I sent out into the big bad void of able-bodied thought), I had a signal, loud and clear.
“Tell us, how we can help you and all folk with multitudes of disabilities, get out of their homes, see the world and never have to be reminded of what they won’t or can’t do, but rather what’s next in line to enjoy and add to their life’s experiences?”
Those early days were spent in disbelief, I spoke, they listened. I shared my travel tales, pointed out must-haves and don’ts, horrors and joys, agony and ecstasy. They continued to listen, emboldening me further.
So, it was on, but it was slow. This was unthinkable, unfathomable, never been attempted before. There’s no handbook for disability travel because no two disabled people have the same issues, and importantly, little to no current infrastructure in the travel industry caters exclusively to the disabled traveler. Case in point, my introductory paragraph on flying.
After months of back and forth, with much researched but little executed, the pivotal moment occurred. An exclusive team was created, I would now only work with them and at long last, the drawing board was placed before us to start the journey.
We’d need more disabled experts? So, we approached hundreds, picked a handful. Some of them thrive on adventure, some are wandering poets, others get things done and some crack wise. I crack wise.
We mapped disability types, travel requirements for each, their personal assistive devices, customised stay preferences, transport options, caregiver assistance, activities pertaining to travel by the able-bodied which were modified for the disabled traveller, the works.
We, the experts, bickered and researched, were sent on recces, across towns, hotels, homestays, restaurants, parks, places of worship, palaces and monuments, bazaars and beaches. We taught our able-bodied bodied team members what to look out for, what to avoid and always to ask us for feedback before going ahead with a decision which will impact disabled travelers. Again, rinse and repeat.
Nine months of this. Fixing what didn’t work, creating access where even the able-bodied would think twice before venturing, conversing with heads of transport and hospitality, converting thought and perception towards the disabled travellers. Plan Z which didn’t work would be shelved for a bit till Plans B, C and X were fixed, and then it was back to Z as a solution was always found.
Getting the word out but still holding back, that toughest of all business practice was put into motion. Marketing and web design, media and information all joined in, we were now a fully self-sufficient entity, client untested but expert customised. We now open our wide doors for you to step or wheel in and go beyond.
Can I say it’s the perfect and final solution for disabled friendly travel? I’d only say, it’s a solution for disable-friendly travel and we’re always listening because we made the time and effort to listen and do something about it. We’ll continue to do so. And for the first time in many years, I actually am looking forward to my flight to attend the launch event tomorrow.
Am I ready? Yes.