accessible travel

Podcasts on A Few Accessible Activities

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A few days ago I found myself wondering how many podcast interviews I had done relating to adaptive sports and activities. When I looked back through the podcast feed I was excited to see how many there were. Today I’m going to share a few past episodes with you in the hope they might inspire you to discover how various activities can be adaptive to become more inclusive for persons with special needs.

Our first foray into accessible activities was in episode 5 (December 2018), when I spoke to Angelique le Roux of Ceres Zip slide Adventures. I found it fascinating to hear how they make ziplining available to persons with a wide range of different disabilities. And, even with my atrocious head for heights, I found myself wondering what the experience might be like. Find out for yourself by listening to the interview at http://iono.fm/e/638621

On episode 14 I interviewed Roxy Davis of Surf Emporium about the adaptive surfing clinics she runs. That was all the way back in June 2019. You can listen to the episode at http://iono.fm/e/696018

In other episodes I’ve spoken to people about accessible safaris (Episode 32 – http://iono.fm/e/828914) and ocean cruising, (Episode 34 – http://iono.fm/e/845329
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Then, in my most recent episode I chatted to a team who run an adaptive scuba diving organisation. Again, I was excited to hear how they are able to accommodate people across a wide spectrum of abilities. So much so that I am hoping to give it a go myself in the next few weeks. You’ll find that interview at http://iono.fm/e/1110127

I have always maintained that I constantly learn things from the podcast interviews I do and certainly my eyes have been opened to so many different opportunities and activities that are available to those of us living with a disability. And I think that is wonderful.

Want to know what my next interview on an activity will be about? Well, I know that the first South African adaptive paraglide took place in Cape Town recently. And I’ve already reached out to the people concerned to see if they’re interested in being interviewed. So maybe that will be next!

Two Phenomenal Women I Interviewed in August

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With August being Women’s Month in South Africa, I decided to interview two women on my accessible travel podcast, A different Way of Travelling.

For those of you who don’t know about the podcast – where have you been? We now have 52 episodes featuring interviews with travellers with disabilities, or showcasing fun inclusive travel activities. Even if you don’t have a disability, or know anyone with a disability, I guarantee you will be fascinated by the adventures that my guests have undertaken.

Back to the point – my guests for August…

My first episode in August featured Praveena Sukhraj-Ely sharing wonderful stories of her travels and her insights into the realities of travelling as a woman who is blind. Like Praveena, I enjoy having someone with me to share the breathtaking and diverse experiences of travelling. I also found the challenges she mentioned very relatable.

To listen to Praveena’s interview, hop onto http://iono.fm/e/1080899

My second guest in August was Neha Arora, owner of Planet Abled, a travel agency focusing on inclusive travel experiences in India and the East. We spoke about her company and discussed her thoughts on the accessibility of tourist sites in India. During the episode I asked Neha what types of activities she would recommend for me if I were to contact Planet Abled. She outlined such amazing options that I found myself feeling excited about the possibility of travel for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Even though I’m not yet ready to consider travelling, it’s nice to be excited at the thought of doing so. That episode will be out any day now.

You can listen to Praveena and Neha’s interviews by searching for A Different Way of Travelling on your usual podcast player, or on our podcast feed at https://iono.fm/rss/chan/3715

While you’re there, why not take a quick tour through some of our other episodes to hear from previous guests…

A True Spirit of Adventure

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Every time I interview someone for my accessible travel podcast, A Different Way of Travelling, I learn new ways in which people with disabilities engage with the travel and hospitality industries. This was especially true for the most recent episode we published.

Normie Eckard has been a wheelchair user since a motor accident when he was 18 years old. But that hasn’t stopped him from participating in a number of adventures that he uses to fundraise to assist children with disabilities. In the podcast we broke down a few of the adventures he’s done and explored how these were adapted to accommodate his own disability.

If you’re interested to know how Normie was able to skydive, paraglide, go scuba diving and shark cage diving, and ride a quadbike, amongst other things, and about his adventure cycling from Luderitz to Cape Agulhas on a handcycle, you can find out by listening to the episode at the following link:

http://iono.fm/e/1020502

While you’re there, it would be great if you could subscribe to the podcast to join me as I continue to learn from each new guest I have the honour to interview.

Normandy – An Unexpected Discovery

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In France, as in many other European countries I’ve visited, the sound of church bells is a regular part of any community. Whether they’re marking the passing of time or ringing out to summon the faithful to a church service, the sound of church bells is certainly part of the audio memory I have for many European trips.

So it wasn’t especially unusual to hear church bells when we stopped at Villedieu-les-Poêles In Normandy. Except these church bells were playing part of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. And a few minutes later they played part of Auld Lang Syne. Which we took to be a good sign – it meant we had discovered the bell foundry, which we’d decided to hunt down after hearing a mention of it on an audio guide of the WWII D-Day landings.

We were thrilled to discover we could take a guided tour of the foundry in English – tours are also offered in German, and French of course. And that the tours are able to accommodate those with sight impairments as well as those with mobility impairments.

The foundry was opened in 1865 and is still in operation. On the tour we learned that the way bells are cast now varies little from how they were cast when the foundry first opened, although they use a more modern process to melt the bronze and copper from which the bells are made. They make bells of all sizes, from tiny hand-held bells right the way through to those for churches and cathedrals. In fact, this was the foundry that made the new bells for Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris in 2013, before it was damaged in the tragic fire.

I was surprised that the process of making bells isn’t more mechanized and was able to explore the components of each stage of the process with my hands. Though no firing was happening while we were there so there was no danger of me burning myself.

Something else that I found fascinating as a musician was that they can only approximate the pitch of the bell when it is being cast – the fine tuning has to be done by hand, shaving the inside of the bell to alter the pitch until it is tuned correctly.

But my favourite part of the visit to the foundry was the fact that they have an entire courtyard of bells that you’re not only allowed, but encouraged to ring. Which of course we did, with gleeful abandon. The photo shows me striking one of the smaller bells and, if we’d had the foresight to video it, you’d have heard me tapping out the tune of Mary had a Little Lamb.

Out of interest, every 10 minutes the bells we’d heard on our arrival played aa refrain from a famous song. When we asked our guide whether the townsfolk became annoyed by the constant bells ringing, she told us that the community loves the sound and that they are proud of their foundry. It’s certainly a unique memory that will remain with me as a reminder of our visit.

Although the bell foundry wasn’t on our original itinerary, it was a wonderful discovery and I’m glad we went out of our way to track it down and spend some time there. It was not only interesting; it was lots of fun!

A Story of Courage, Tenacity and Triumph over Adversity

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As someone who’s been travelling for a number of years with a visual impairment, I’m familiar with the assistance and support that I need to put in place to assist me to travel. Whether I’m travelling with a sighted companion or travelling on my own, I know the help I require and how to ensure I arrange for it ahead of time. For me, this includes assistance at the airport, transport to and from the airport, and ensuring that my needs – and those of my guide dog, if Fiji is with me – can be accommodated at the place I’m staying.

But what about a person with a disability who hasn’t travelled before? How do they become aware of the assistance that they can tap into?

I had the opportunity to interview a gentleman named Saul Molobi on my accessible travel podcast, A Different Way of Travelling. Saul shared the story of his first overseas trip since becoming mobility impaired three years ago. I listened as he described accommodations at the airport and the hotel that should have been there, and weren’t. And the impact the lack of those services had on his journey. And I found myself thinking, “That’s not how it’s meant to happen!”

I guess, for those of us who have travelled regularly with a disability, it’s almost automatic that we spend time researching what facilities and services are available to assist us when we travel Yes, it takes time. Yes, it’s sometimes frustrating when we don’t find it easy to identify whether or not a service provider can accommodate our needs. And yes, sometimes we put everything in place and yet it’s not there when we arrive. But at least we know what we need to look for and request. Because we’ve learned by experience – most often from what’s gone wrong before.
I’d like to think my podcast can be a resource to help people to overcome some of the challenges of travelling with a disability, so they don’t need to face so many barriers to a positive travel experience. I’ve never thought of it before, but the information shared by the people I interview can be of immense value to other travellers who may not have travelled as much as some of us have. At least, I hope so.

Going back to the interview with Saul. You may be thinking that it landed up being a sad, depressing interview. On the contrary, I think it’s one of the most inspiring stories I’ve shared so far – Saul kept reinforcing how liberating it was for him to know he could overcome the barriers he faced, and how satisfying it was for him to be able to successfully travel on his own for the first time. Sure, he struggled with certain aspects of the trip, but he said he knows what he needs to do differently when he travels next time.

Even if you have no interest in accessible travel, I think you should listen to Saul’s story – it’s a story of courage, tenacity and triumph over adversity. And it was an honour for me to be able to share the story on the podcast.

You can find Saul’s story here: http://iono.fm/e/797930

Kolkata: A few Thoughts on accessibility

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I’m always keen to discover how accessible a destination is, not only for me as The Blind Tourist, but for those with other disabilities.

As I’ve said before, each disability faces different challenges when traveling. As a simple example, a person in a wheelchair may have difficulty getting around a tourist site, if insufficient work has been done to create the correct accommodations like wider door access, ramps with the correct gradients, and accessible restroom facilities.

As a visually impaired tourist, I most often find the challenge is around access to information, which is why I do so much research about places I’m visiting before I even leave home. When it comes down to it, that research can only give me an overview. It doesn’t always help with the details and, as the famous saying goes, the devil is in the details.

So, what were my impressions of the accessibility of Kolkata,

For me, the hardest part of spending time in Kolkata was getting used to the sensory overload that is Kolkata – the vast numbers of vehicles on the roads, including their seemingly incessant hooting,; the amount of people on the sidewalks, especially at tourist sites and events like the IPL Cricket; and my lack of familiarity of the social norms in the country.

I’m sure I could have learned how to navigate around independently given time. But since I was trying to adjust to the dynamic, vibrant, and diverse new place in which I found myself, I didn’t really have the time to start developing techniques to get around on my own. Except within the hotel, which doesn’t really count.

Although I’m no expert when it comes to what may or may not constitute accessibility for someone in a wheelchair, or with other mobility challenges, my impression is that physical accessibility is great in some areas, less so in others. Certainly, I found myself wondering how someone in a wheelchair might navigate the amazing Alleys and Street Food Walking Tour we did while in the city. I’m doubtful the tour would have been accessible in its current form. But I’m sure our host would have been willing and able to adjust the tour to find more accessible options.

Which brings me to one of my favourite aspects of my trip to Kolkata – the people. No matter what barrier I encountered, I discovered that people were always willing to help find or implement a solution. And I’m sure a traveler with a mobility impairment would find the same.

Having said that, I believe there is value in communicating with others who have experienced the accessibility of the place you’re planning on traveling to – whether another traveler with a similar reality, or an accessible travel professional. They can give you invaluable advice on your options.

By chance, a few days after returning home I came across an article, written by such a professional, that deals, in part, with accessibility in India. I’ve included the link below as I feel the article is a great resource for anyone considering traveling to India, regardless of whether or not you have a disability.

Did you know that India is surprisingly accessible?

I hope you’ve enjoyed joining me on parts of my journey to Kolkata. India is a country I hope to visit again – either for a return trip to Kolkata or to discover a different city or region.

A Visit to The Mother House

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From the title of this post you might suspect I’ve switched genres and started writing bad science fiction. I promise that isn’t the case.

The Mother House is the name given by locals to refer to Mother Theresa’s home in Kolkata, India. And that was the first site we visited on a day out in the vast and busy city.

When you enter the Mother House you’re enfolded in a marked sense of peace and tranquility. Considering the bustling nature of Kolkata – with bustling being quite a euphemism, believe me – the quiet is decidedly startling. I almost felt like breaking that quiet with a sudden noise or movement would earn me a reproving frown from some unknown person. Which isn’t to say the site is forbidding or unwelcoming. It’s not. Far from it. But it feels enclosed in a wonderful sense of calm.

The Mother House is neither large nor grand. Yet it contains an interesting range of rooms – a small chapel, the tomb of Mother Theresa, a tiny museum containing a few artefacts from Mother Theresa’s life and work, including an ancient wheelchair that she used for several years towards the end of her life before she passed away, after which it was given to another person in need.

Then, up a flight of stone stairs is Mother Theresa’s room, behind a locked gate so you can see the room in which she worked for many years, without disturbing anything. The room is small and simply furnished, yet is filled with filing cabinets and paperwork from the hundreds of correspondents and causes supported by Mother Theresa and her order.

At no time were we asked for financial donations. Certainly, if you wish to make a contribution to assist their work, it will be gratefully received, but there’s no overt requests anywhere in the Mother House.

When We’d spent a little time taking in the tranquility of the site, we started to walk towards the exit. We were approached by one of the nun’s, who wanted to know where we were from and asked us a little about ourselves. She is pictured with us in the image above. I can’t say whether this was usual, whether it was because we were overseas visitors, or due to my blindness, but it was interesting to have the opportunity to take a moment to talk to the nuns.

It was only much later that I found myself wondering how Mother Theresa had navigated that flight of stone stairs in her later years. I guess I could have asked one of the nuns, but sadly the question only occurred to me much later. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to go back to The Mother House and ask my question sometime in the future.

Cautionary Messages – Trepidation or Excitement?

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“Don’t drink the water – don’t even brush your teeth with it unless it’s from a bottle!”

“It’s a very dirty city, and you’ll see signs of abject poverty every time you step outside your hotel!”

These were just two of a multitude of cautionary messages that came our way when we started talking about a trip to Kolkata in India.

Sure, there were also positive messages –you’ll love the food, the people are great, and it’s a city of complexities and contrasts… though admittedly that last one could be either positive or cautionary, depending on your interpretation.

So, it was with a little trepidation that I settled into my cramped airline seat on the long flight from Cape Town to Dubai on our first leg of our trip to Kolkata.

A little trepidation… and a whole lot of excitement!

I know that part of the anxiety about traveling to a new place is the uncertainty of what you’re going to find when you get there. But, for me, that’s what creates the excitement – the potential, the not-knowing, and the opportunity of discovering new places, experiencing new cultures and learning about different experiences.

Which is why excitement will always win out over trepidation for me.

As the plane taxied down the runway, I settled back sure in the knowledge that I was in for another grand adventure.

I hope you’ll join me as my journey to Kolkata unfolds. I’ll share my experiences, my thoughts, a few of the places we visited, and my version of the reality we discovered about those cautionary statements from friends and family.

So, buckle up and let’s go – Kolkata’s waiting!!

When You Ask Me Why You Really Mean How

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You wouldn’t believe how often people ask me why I travel. The assumption seems to be that there’s no value in going to destinations because I can’t “sightsee” with my eyes.

If I were to ask a sighted person why they travel I’d probably get an answer along the lines of “I travel to see new places and different cultures,” or “To broaden my mind”. I travel for exactly the same reason, with the very subtle difference that I go to experience new places and cultures – in other words, all that’s different is that I use senses other than my sight to do so.

When people ask why I travel what they’re actually asking is *how* do I travel. Which is a totally different question and is about the techniques I use.

If you’d like to know the answer to that question, here’s a brief presentation I gave where I look at some of the preparation I do before a trip, and a little about how I create a sensory experience when I “site-experience” – hope you enjoy it!

Have Disability, Will Travel

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Sometimes we receive the gift of insight from the most unexpected places…

Before I started the Accessible South Africa Travel Podcast, I researched what other accessible travel podcasts were out there. My research led me to the Have Disability, Will Travel Podcast. Once I found it, I started chatting to the host, Josh. And he asked if he could interview me for his show.

Even though I’ve only been podcasting for a few months, it felt really weird having questions fired at me rather than doing the firing myself. But what was really interesting to me was how much I learned from the process. As Josh took me through my own travel experiences and my thoughts on the travel industry, he really got me thinking about the broader concept of accessible travel. And how much I still have to learn.

One thing that really stood out for me was when Josh pointed out how many of the online resources for accessible travel focus on physical access. Sure, I’d noticed it in my own research, but I thought it was just me. So it was kind of gratifying to realize I’m not the only one who’s noticed it.

I guess it’s only natural for us to approach accessible travel from the perspective of our own disability. And, admittedly, what I need when I’m traveling is very different from what someone in a wheelchair needs. Accessibility is a complex issue, which may make it challenging for those in the hospitality and tourism industries who are trying to meet our needs. Which makes it even more important for us to share our experiences and educate people on how to accommodate us.

Which is why platforms like Josh’s accessible Travel Forum and his podcast Have Disability, Will Travel and my own work here in the Beyond Sight Blog and the Accessible South Africa Travel podcast and our parent platform Accessible South Africa are necessary. But I’d love to see accessible travel getting more exposure in mainstream media as well.

I’m definitely going to write more on accessible travel in the future. But Fiji’s just reminded me that it’s her turn to publish an article so I guess mine will have to wait!

In the meantime, I’d love for you to listen to and share my interview with Josh: https://www.accessibletravelforum.com/atf-admin/lois-strachan-s01-e09/

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