A Mumbai-based travel company is helping extend the fun of travelling to visually impaired persons through specially designed tours.
Visually impaired people make up only a fraction of the number of people that populate our streets, jobs and friend circles. And that’s because we as a nation are not very sensitive to the needs of the visually impaired. However, Ritu Sinha and Divya Saxena are determined to make at least one activity inclusive – travelling! Their travel company, which is fittingly called Bat Travels, designs fun tours for people with visual impairments and the idea to start the company came about while the two were travelling together in Europe.
“We were at the Trevi Fountain in Italy and that was the first time we spotted two visually-impaired persons among the tourists. It made us think about how we don’t often see visually impaired people take trips or holidays,” says Divya. “That’s because we hardly have the right infrastructure for people with visual impairments. Sighted people can find travelling inconvenient at times, so imagine what it must be like for the sightless,” pipes in Ritu. This conversation led to the two friends quitting their full-time advertising jobs and starting a company that made travelling convenient and fun for the visually impaired. “Right from our website, which is visually impaired friendly, to our every trip, we see to it that the whole experience is inclusive,” informs Divya.
Bat Travels makes trips inclusive by inviting both sighted and visually impaired persons to take trips together. Sighted people function as ‘travel pals’ who not only provide assistance when required but also describe the location, ambience and other aspects of the place to their visually impaired fellow travelers. “We do send out a few pointers on the appropriate ways to help the visually impaired. But otherwise, it’s a very open, fun experience. Sighted people get to ask the questions they’ve always wanted to, while visually impaired persons get to make friends outside their communities and circles. The experience is eye-opening for everyone,” says Divya. Sheetal Parekh, who was part of the ‘Sufi Night’ trip vouches for this. “We are normally hesitant to interact with visually impaired persons. But this trip taught us so much about them and how adventurous they can be,” says Sheetal.
The trip is also designed to appeal to senses apart from sight. “We pick destinations and activities that can appeal to the other four senses. Travelling isn’t just about sightseeing; it is about cuisines, dress, language and so many other experiences,” shares Ritu. The duo also sees to it that the locations are as visually impaired friendly as possible. “Small things like seeing to it that there aren’t too many stairs or that a restaurant doesn’t have a buffet system goes a long way in making the trip inclusive,” she adds. Dr Vamshi Gannamraju, a visually impaired traveler who went to Sikkim this January and is all set to head to Thailand next week with Bat Travels, is all praises for the company.
“Right from arriving before time to meet us at the airport to holding our hands while seeing places, to describing every aspect of the trips to us, they took care of everything. They even described each photograph clicked so that I could tell my friends what was happening in them,” he says. “People think blind people always seek protection and want to be careful. But Bat Travels motivates you to push the boundaries. They even encourage you to try your hand at adventure sports, like river rafting or ziplining, ” he exclaims.
And pushing the boundaries is truly what the company seems to be about. For, though the two women acknowledge that running such a unique enterprise is challenging, they want to continue doing their best to make travelling fun for everyone. “After many ‘no’s,’ we hear one ‘yes’, and that motivates us to keep going,” concludes Divya.