God's Own Country, Kerala, has much to offer tourists with its lush greens and scenic beauty. Sights that the state government, in collaboration with private tour companies, has thrown open to tourists. But not many are accessible to people with disabilities.
That is slowly changing with greater awareness. Recently, the All Kerala Wheelchair Rights Federation (AKWRF), in collaboration with the state-run Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary conducted a boat ride at the scenic Thekkady, exclusively for wheelchair users. Almost 60 people enjoyed a boat ride through the beautiful Periyar River.
Despite the scorching heat, many disabled people and their families enjoyed gliding through the cool waters. Through the ride, they spotted elephants, deer, bison and some river otters which are quite a rare right. Shilpa Kumar, deputy director of the sanctuary, along with tour guide Asha Rani was with the group throughout. The event was held over two days and was free of cost.
Roy Jacob, secretary, Idukki division of AKWRF, who organized the trip says the visitors were thrilled to experience this.
The Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary department was extremely helpful. Usually, they do not allow vehicles to come near the boat. But for us, they allowed that and we were lifted by the staff members onto the boat. We were taken to a nearby museum where they made an inbuilt wheelchair ramp exclusively for us. All of us had great fun because our families were also there. We are glad that the PWS did so much for us. - Roy Jacob, Secretary, All Kerala Wheelchair Rights Federation, Idukki
The event was a part of the programme called 'Knowing the Periyar Better' and this was the 50th such visit aimed at people who are often sidelined and marginalised in society for many reasons, including disability.
Among those who went for the ride was Biju Josseph. “It was a great experience because most of us are going for a boat ride for the first time. Wheelchair users are usually stuck inside their homes due to lack of accessibility in public places. This programme was well organized and we hope they host more such programmes so that we can take part in it”.
Hopefully the response will encourage authorities to do just that.
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