Travel Tales & Tips For The Visually Impaired
Despite having an issue with his vision, Sagar Baheti did not let travel take a backseat. In fact, he’s living life to the fullest as an avid traveller, who pens down tips and tricks for other visually-impaired travel enthusiasts.
Imagine this: Your favourite band’s delivering a live performance in the city today and you’re really excited; you’d even bought tickets two months in advance! You make arrangements to reach the venue at least an hour before starting time so you can find a good spot. You can’t wait but just as you reach the venue, the concert is called off due to unavoidable circumstances. How does that make you feel? Angry, frustrated and helpless?! You blame the organisers, the city administration and probably even the country you live in! But well, it’s just a concert and your life won’t be much different without it, right? Now, imagine this moment as a way of life. I have often experienced such helplessness in my daily life.
On one of my vacations, I reached an airport in Europe well in advance for my flight, like I always do. It was a low-cost carrier that didn’t offer any assistance to get to my gate (most airlines barely have staff for assistance), so I had to ask people to help me. At the gate, I reconfirmed that it was the right one and found myself a place to sit since I had to wait more than one hour to board the plane. I started listening to my audio book and time flew by quickly. It was now past boarding time and I did not see any one lined up to board; I couldn’t find anyone at the counter to ask either. Finding the staff of another airline at a nearby gate, I held out my boarding card and asked for help. She looked up at the display and told me that the gate had been changed. When I told her that I had been waiting for an hour but there was no such announcement, she said that it was a silent airport and I should have seen the update on the display screens. In a hurry, I tried to find my way to the other gate by asking more people, but it was too late.
When I got there and told the lady at the boarding point what had happened, she tried her best, but I could not board my flight. Luckily they managed to offload my bags! I missed my connecting flight too and the entire thing was one big mess. I was frustrated, but who could I blame? Myself, the airline, the airport or the society that is not well designed for people like me? This is just one of the many experiences I’ve had to endure. If airports can be sensitive towards loud noises and undue commotion due to multiple announcements, shouldn’t they also be sensitive towards people who have low vision like I do?
Can it not be made mandatory for all airlines to offer assistance (even if they charge extra for it)? To avoid misses like mine, they could also have an accessible app that notifies travellers of any and all changes. I don’t know about too many airlines that even have an accessible website! With the evolution of technology, we’re sensitising ourselves to many global issues, but can we not design a more inclusive world?
While it will probably take a long time for these changes to come about, people like me are not going to give up on travel.
To minimise such experiences, here are a few tips for the visually impaired; take a look:
1. Always carry your cane. It might work to convey to others that you have a problem with sight; carry it along, even if you don’t need a cane.
2. Arrive at the airport or train station well before departure time. Being early always helps when you’re navigating crowded spaces. It also helps reduce the anxiety caused by having to rush to catch your flight or train.
3. Try to arrange assistance in advance. The best way to do this is by calling the airlines or airport before you fly (this may not always be available, but it’s worth a shot).
4. Check-in online and have your boarding pass on your phone. Get help in checking in online; you can also use voice-activated software and learn about some necessary details.
5. Have a photo of your checked-in baggage as your phone screen saver. When it comes to collecting your luggage, you can easily show this to people who will help you identify your belongings at the baggage claim belt.
6. Keep alerts/reminders 40-45 mins before departure to check if you’re at the right gate. Don’t hesitate to speak about your condition. It definitely helps to tell your neighbours in the aircraft about it; more often than not, they help you in getting out and with your bags/immigration.
7. Keep your cool. Last but definitely not the least, stay calm. Even if things are not in control, panic will only worsen the situation.
While these pointers do not guarantee hassle-free travel for you, they may help to make it a bit easier. It’s easy to lose heart when things go wrong, but don’t forget that if these situations stopped you from travelling, you’ll be missing out on a world of grand experiences because of a small difficulty!
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