Until recently, my idea of travel was a visual treat. However, one woman changed that perception of mine. Meet Neha Arora, A woman born to disabled parents. Parents who loved to travel but couldn't because of their disability and didn’t because they didn’t want to be a burden on their children. Neha did not let her family's unfortunate situation take away the joy of travel from them, she raised an army of strength within herself to push forward and to make the world truly an oyster for those that are disabled.
When asked who she really is, she says, “I am Neha Arora, a regular girl who has mixed genes of being an oaf and a chipper. I have a totally non-utilized engineering degree up my sleeve and experience of working in the corporate for 9 years with companies like HCL, Nokia & Adobe before I found my life’s purpose. Or rather I should say, my life’s purpose found me to start Planet Abled. I can be called a rebel who is liberated by free will and listens to what her heart says than care about what the society thinks or says about her.”
My ears perked up with excitement when I heard what she has to say because this is what Passion Connect advocates, we work day in and day out to tell people to break out of social pressures when choosing a career, we tell them that it is ok to do what you love even if you have no support because the only support you need is ‘you’ and success is bound to come your way. Today, Neha stands as a living example of our belief system.
Planet Abled provides for accessible travel solutions for people with disabilities. For a person with a disability or their family, a lot of questions pop up in their mind when thinking of travel. Inaccessibility, lack of basic amenities and people’s sympathy are just some of the barriers they might face. They are not considered part of our mainstream society and are always looked upon with sympathetic views and in need of support. When it comes to indulging in travel and leisure activities, this is something, people don’t even consider them doing. St. Augustine said "The world is a book and those who don’t travel, read only one page". Then why should one miss out on reading the most beautiful chapters of life just because they have a disability? Planet Abled identified this gap and came forward to give people with disabilities, the freedom to travel and to break their limitations and get into mainstream leisure and travel. Giving them an avenue to visit places freely and confidently, leaving behind social inhibitions and apprehensions about their capabilities.
When asked how the idea came about, she says “My personal travel experiences as a daughter of parents with disabilities led to the inception of Planet Abled. My father is visually impaired and mother is orthopedically challenged, but we are all fond of traveling. We would face a lot of issues in terms of accessibility and the kind of leisure activities available when we traveled. There were often instances when we traveled 2000 miles only to discover that the place is not accessible or does not offer the kind of experience my father would have enjoyed. And of course, insensitivity and sympathy of society offered barriers often. There came a point when our parents stopped traveling saying that it is a lot of hassle and they are not able to enjoy the experience. They asked us to travel without them. This hit me really hard. I wondered that if we are facing this issue, others might also be feeling the same. When I looked for solutions there was none. I could not have waited till eternity for someone to come out and solve a herculean problem that existed. However, the moment this struck, every day at my job became difficult, despite the fact that you had to take care of the bills which the cushy job helped. I soon decided to follow my passion, but it was a huge task with no set models. I did my homework and research for nearly two years before finally taking the plunge in November 2015, and left the job at Adobe.”
And am I glad that she did this! I never realized the lack of support for the disabled in India until I travel to London; every store has disabled entrances, the public transport has support for the disabled, museums have services for the disabled, there really is nothing the disabled cannot do, they even have job openings for the disabled. In comparison, India looks pale. So I can only imagine how difficult it was for Neha to break into this niche and set up something as a pioneer.
“Well, the most difficult part was giving up the well-paying job which paid all the bills at the end of the month. To let go of it and decide on to venture on your own was a tough decision” she says and this is sadly the biggest cause for most people to shy away from following their passion. On further probing, she says that she faced a lot of problems trying to convince the disabled customers that travel is possible for them, she had to help them and assure them that this unknown territory will prove to be a wonderful memory for them if they believed in Plant Abled. She further faced problems in finding the right people as moderators, guides, and buddies and training them to be able to assist with the disability. She recollects to her Plant Abled’s first trip to Qutb and says “I had to visit the place twice to find out who has the key to the accessible toilet. Finding hotels with multiple accessible rooms that were budget friendly etc. But they have been a learning point rather a deterrent to our mission”
As ideal as this sounds, can Planet Abled really help disabled people fulfill their love for travel? The answer to that would be “YES!” Planet Abled designs the tour and itinerary keeping in mind travelers of different disabilities. You could be visually impaired, hearing or speech impaired or mobility impaired, they will make sure you don't miss out on anything. They customize the tour for each traveler to get them involved and experience the new place and culture fully.
At the end of my interview, I was convinced and I was thrilled to bits, because, in a world where there is so much greed and negativity, it is a treat to see someone work from the heart to help someone other than themselves. I had to ask her where she got her strength from.
“My parents gave us real life training early on in life. I had to engage in things or accompany my parents to places a normal child won’t ever get exposed to. It’s not that they couldn’t manage without us, but it was a real-life training they gave us deliberately so that we become independent soon. Their disability actually turned out to be a positive aspect for us, making us much more independent and mentally prepared to face anything in life and run our daily errands more effectively. This created a belief system that no matter where you are in life or at what age you set out to do something, you would find a way to do it.”
“People spend all their lives living in their comfort zones and never follow their passions. You are not here to be born, study, get married have kids, own a house and a car when you are always sulking about not pursuing your passions in life. Passion gives you the push to innovate and go on in tough situations. If you are doing something just for monetary benefit or just for the sake of it, you would give up and change you course in life. A passionate person won't, s/he would find ways to keep on going. Passion is what makes you yearn to learn more and more about it and make it better for the benefit of all. Because of course you feel for it. And most importantly it makes work fun. If you are fortunate enough to have taken the plunge and make your passion your career, you actually don’t have to work a single day in your life. Because it is so much fun. Trust me though it was a tough decision in the start to give up the salary every month but I have never been happier. Even though things would take some time to settle down on the financial front, but the passion for making a change to so many lives, is what wakes me up every morning. So whatever one should do, you should be passionate about it. Everything else is unimportant.”
I could not have said it better. Passion Connect wishes Neha and Planet Abled a lot of success for its future. We hope that you continue to live your Passion and through which you help others live theirs. And to those reading this article, remember to always treat people with disabilities as normal individuals and not some specially abled, divyang( divinely abled) people. Putting them with a specific name is like segmenting them as something outside of the society. Using the UN approved “People for Disabilities” is the most appropriate word to use. Though these things might not matter much at first, they do have a psychological effect. We are divided into two groups as a society one which is over sympathetic and the other which is insensitive. We just need to be more empathetic and sensitive to their needs. Make our places accessible for everyone, treat people with disabilities also as consumers of the products, services, and facilities available, include more people with disabilities in the political setting, especially in the ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment of people with disabilities. It should not be necessary for disability groups to come out and ask for their basic human rights. Something as simple as having accessible toilets at public places to Para-Olympians being eligible for Khel Ratna makes a huge difference. Sleep on this today and wake up a new you, a ‘you’ that is socially conscious.