Holidays That are Literally Inclusive
Wheelchair-bound Simon George, with his sheer will power has set up Specialcare Holidays, an inclusive travel operator for persons with disabilities
Kochi: While the need for inclusive spaces is slowly making its presence felt in Kerala, those like Simon George are already at the helm, making simple joys like a holiday possible for many individuals. Founder and Promoter of Specialcare Holidays, Simon George who has been wheelchair-bound for the past 30 years, has been living the adage ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’ by leading a challenging yet fruitful life. One among the first outspoken advocates for the cause of the differently abled, Simon and his novel initiative, Specialcare Holidays, thus set an imitable example for similar social enterprises and their promoters. A travel operator for the differently abled, Specialcare Holidays was started in 2017 by organising a backwater cruise for more than 30 differently abled persons in a first-of-its-kind initiative in the tourism sector. The venture, which focuses on promoting ‘Accessible Tourism’, has introduced a new business idea as well in the tourism sector of Kerala. The Department of Tourism has already found immense scope for accessible tourism, where Simon plays the role of a pioneer. Whether it is a domestic or international tour package, Specialcare is at the forefront in providing best quality service to the travellers who are wheelchair-bound, visually impaired, hearing impaired, speech impaired or mentally challenged. Simon has also submitted a report to the Department of Tourism on how to make tourist spots differently abled-friendly. “For me, there were only two choices: survive or surrender. And I chose to survive and so here I am. The biggest challenge was to keep my mind away from the tragedy that befell me,” says Simon about his initially difficult journey. Simon’s life changed forever when he was pursuing BTech. His body was paralysed neck down following a bout of fever. Not the kind of a person who would easily give up, Simon decided to face the challenge life had thrown at him. Understanding the limitations faced by the differently abled in India, Simon decided that he had to do something to empower them. “I started organising matrimonial meets for the differently abled to find them suitable life partners. Mass marriages, job fairs, exhibitions, seminars, cultural programmes, workshops and sessions for providing legal assistance are some of the events that I had organised,” he says. In order to make the differently abled self-sufficient, Simon also started an IT project, began training such persons and helping them land jobs in the IT sector. Fly Wings, a group of differently abled artists which was launched in 2015, is another brainchild of Simon’s. The spirited Simon did not stop there, he went on to organise an awareness campaign named ‘Barrier-Free India’, which was aimed at ‘making India accessible for persons with disabilities.’ Simon also submitted a memorandum to the UPA Government in this regard. “It was this memorandum that prompted the government to come out with a policy that made ‘accessible rooms’ mandatory in star hotels,” he says with pride. His efforts also resulted in ensuring accessibility to the differently abled at the High Court of Kerala and Ernakulam Panchayat Office. “Right now I am on a mission to make the Central and State government offices, educational institutions, public transport systems, places of worship and other public spaces accessible to the differently abled,” says Simon who is also the first person to introduce a vehicle with wheelchair-lift facility in Kerala. Specialcare Holidays’ project advisory cell is instrumental in providing consultancy and project management services to other stakeholders of the industry. They are also involved in ‘Accessible Construction’ which helps upgrade existing accommodation facilities to meet the needs of their clients. The ‘pick and drop’ facility is another major advantage that allows them to travel all over Kerala alone. “We have a set of trained coordinators and sign language interpreters who can put our clients at ease and ensure their safety,” adds Simon. Simon, who has visited many countries, says the differently abled are given top priority by their respective governments when it comes to providing accessibility to public spaces. “Here, on the other hand, these people are still waiting for such facilities to be introduced at public spaces,” he points out. Specialcare will soon open its branch in New Delhi, providing an opportunity for travellers from North India to enjoy hassle-free holidays. “Being a differently abled person myself, they are pretty confident about the safety measures I offer them. I know their problems better than anyone else. What I feel will be comfortable for me of course is acceptable to them, too,” he assures.