A number of persons with disabilities gathered in Panaji on Saturday morning to welcome twenty-five-year old graphic designer, Sai Kaustuv Dasgupta who arrived from Andhra Pradesh on a first-of-its-kind wheelchair accessible holiday organized by Umoja, an online travel portal for persons with disabilities (PWD).
Diagnosed with brittle bone disease Dasgupta who suffered more than 50 fractures, couldn’t believe his luck at being able to travel to Goa after winning Umoja’s Wheelchair Wanderlust competition.
To collect feedback, a meeting, organized by the state commission for persons with disabilities, witnessed intense discussions which revolved around making Goa a destination accessible for PWD. A number of wheelchair users confessed they couldn’t recall the last time they visited the beach simply because is isn’t accessible to persons with disabilities.
Co-founder and CEO of Umoja, Yeshwant Holkar, who has identified around 35 places including restaurants and tourist spots in the state which are pretty accessible to persons with disabilities is yet to find a beach that is accessible.
He expressed willingness to work with the state government and the tourism department to ensure that at least a single beach in the tourist state can be made accessible to wheelchair users so that the joy of the ocean could be experienced by all.
One of the visually impaired people present also spoke of his difficulties in navigating with the help of a cane in the sand. Suggestions for beach mats cropped up and examples of them being used in Australia were also cited.
State commissioner for persons with disabilities, Anuradha Joshi, took note of the suggestions and has agreed to take it up with the government.
Dasgupta said wheelchair users often hesitate to travel because they fear places may be inaccessible to them.
Holkar is looking to identify hotels, restaurants and other spaces which are accessible in the state. People must understand that making tourism feasible for persons with disabilities is not only the right thing to do but a profitable proposition too, he said.
The first wheelchair accessible taxi in the state ‘Freedom Cab’ will be unveiled on August 15. Dasgupta sang his heart out for his new found friends and showed them a video of his life while writer and poet Frederika Menezes recited one of her poems.