- Travel organization for the disabled: a real challenge?
- Disability does not have to be an obstacle in the realization of travel dreams
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The first Polish travel agency for people with disabilities was founded by Małgorzata Tokarska. Its originator knows that there is no such disability that would make it impossible to travel. She checked it the hard way. And then she decided to help fulfill the dreams of discovering the world. Although she is struggling with the disease herself, she took the risk and this is how her travel agency for people with disabilities was created. Mrs. Małgorzata shows that wanting to be able to do so!
Who is the founder of the firsttravel agency for people with disabilities?She is an energetic 56-year-old - Mrs. Małgorzata Tokarska - if not for the ball that accompanies Małgorzata Tokarska every day, no one would have thought that she was a disabled person. Courage, enthusiasm and determination could embarrass many a he althy person. - Disability is not the end of the world. Maybe it makes some issues a bit more difficult, but as my example shows, you can also break the Chinese Wall with her - Małgorzata laughs.
She was born with cerebral palsy. She has undergone several surgeries, including three hip replacements. She taught English until 1998, when she retired on a disability pension due to her deteriorating he alth, but did not quit her professional activity. It all started with a love of traveling. Despite her disability, Małgorzata Tokarska has visited over 50 countries.
- I saw almost all of Europe, Thailand, Mexico, Cuba, Israel, China and Australia - he lists. The trip to the latter left not only pictures of Australian fauna and flora or phenomenal memories. It gave an impulse to create something that has never been seen in Poland before - to create a travel agency for people with disabilities. - In 2003, I went privately to Australia. I organized the trip via the Internet, using the agency of the Travel Agency for Disabled People in Melbourne. After arriving in Australia, when we met with the representative of the office, it turned out that he was more "lame" than I was. Then I thought to myself: maybe I could start doing what I love the most and set up an office for people with disabilities in Poland. Show them that you can reach everywhere you want? - recalls Małgorzata.
Several years have passed from the idea to the implementation. - WhenI shared this information with my relatives, they looked at me in disbelief. I really wanted to take up this challenge, but I wasn't sure if the idea would work out - she recalls. However, she decided to take the risk. - In 2009, the first Polish travel agency for disabled and elderly people was launched. I called them Accessible Poland Tours - says Małgorzata. - The name is not accidental. The main purpose of the office is to provide comprehensive services for disabled and elderly tourists, both from Poland and abroad. Therefore, the name is English. And "accessible" means accessible. - And this is how every dream trip is supposed to be for our clients - he explains.
I am glad that thanks to my activity people with disabilities can feel like full-fledged tourists - says Mrs. Małgorzata.
The first trip was a sightseeing tour of Warsaw for disabled children and their guardians. And it almost would not come to fruition! - Because when I got an e-mail that a group of about 100 people, including about 40 in wheelchairs, wanted to see the capital with me, I thought that someone was joking with me. But the news turned out to be true. I organized a two-day trip. My first customers were very satisfied. And that's how it started - he recalls.
Travel organization for the disabled: a real challenge?
To this day, clients of Accesible Poland Tours have visited, among others Rome, Paris, Tuscany, St. Petersburg and Barcelona. - My groups are generally intimate. They count from 12 to 16 people. Usually, we manage to leave with ten groups a year - says Małgorzata. The office without barriers she runs also does not apply any age restrictions. - The youngest participant of the expedition was five years old, the oldest - ninety-three - recalls Małgorzata. Each trip is a huge challenge for the organizer. It takes several months to prepare an expedition. - I start by specifying the specific needs of customers - the number of rooms for disabled people, booking transport or admission tickets. I need to make sure the airline accepts as many buggies as I have planned on the plane. It is also necessary to check whether there are any obstacles such as stairs or uneven terrain along the route. A he althy person does not pay attention to the crooked pavement, but for someone in a wheelchair, an ordinary hole is often a serious barrier. Only those who use a wheelchair know how to get tired when the wheels get stuck in the gaps between the tiles - says Małgorzata.
You have to check literally everything. - I need to know where the stairs are in the city, where we can expect an ascent and where to find disabled toilets, whether in a given city taxis take wheelchairs at all, how manythe disabled can accommodate the bus - he explains. As it turns out, one of the biggest problems is renting an adapted transport, which is much more expensive than regular one. - And here you can experience a shock, because often where it would seem that it will be global and friendly, it is exactly the opposite. In London, taxi drivers insist that they will not fit two trolleys in a car, in Barcelona, they don't even want to stop when they see trolleys. Petersburg for this pleasantly surprised us. It turned out to be one of the best adapted cities I have been to - recalls Małgorzata.
Such trips are not only touristic, but often therapeutic in nature - he adds.
Another obstacle is the lack of cheap accommodation with single beds adapted to the needs of the disabled. - I can easily find them in four-star hotels. But who can afford it? - asks Małgorzata. There are not many adapted accommodation available, but the owner of Accessible Poland Tours knows where and how to look for them. Its philosophy remains unchanged: you cannot improvise in disabled journeys. - Each place where we sleep must be checked and adapted to the needs of tourists. A blind person needs a different room, and someone who is in a wheelchair requires other amenities. And my head is there to find what they need at the moment, says Małgorzata.
But even if everything works out in several ways before departure, fate can always surprise. - I will never forget one of our trips to Rome. A large group of people in wheelchairs, on crutches and walking frames. I foresaw everything except a sudden break in the weather. Such intense snowfall in February has not been seen in Rome in 30 years! Our departure to Poland was very early. Meanwhile, the entire city was paralyzed by unexpected rains. The transport ordered to the hotel did not arrive on time. We dropped in at the airport at the last minute. The joy that we had time was short - the staff said that the plane would not depart. But when they saw our group… they gave us an extra plane. Today I remember this adventure with a smile, but I remember how much stress this unexpected snow brought me - he says.
Disability does not have to be an obstacle in the realization of travel dreams
Małgorzata takes part in every trip she prepares. - I did a tour guide course for the needs of the office. There are clients who say, "Margaret, if you don't accompany us, we are not going anywhere." They probably feel safer with me. They know that as a disabled person I understand themneeds. But I also travel personally with groups for another reason. It's cheaper this way. The hired pilot increases the cost of the trip. And I know that Polish disabled people are not we althy - says Małgorzata. A trip abroad is about PLN 1,600 for 5-6 days, without the price of the air ticket. - For many disabled people it is a fortune, because how to pay for it from a thousand zlotys annuity. I am doing my best to minimize costs. It happens that customers even pay in installments. Of course, interest-free - he adds.
Ms. Małgorzata participates in international projects, such as Europe without Barriers, she was also awarded in the competition Man without Barriers 2009.
Disabled tourists appreciate Małgorzata's commitment and come back. - I have a group that has been with me from the beginning. There are also new people who found out about me through word of mouth. And what is probably the most joyful - the services of Accessible Poland Tours are used by more and more he althy people who do not hesitate to travel in the company of the disabled - emphasizes Małgorzata and adds that trips with the disabled are a lesson in tolerance for them, but also have other advantages. - Disabled people often enter outside the queue. Imagine a visit to Versailles: we drive up, the gate opens and after a while we get to the very door of the palace. Doesn't that sound tempting? - recalls Małgorzata.
When asked about her plans for the future, she replies without hesitation. - I want to continue to run a travel agency for disabled people. There are still so many beautiful places where I would like to take my clients of Accessible Poland Tours. - In his mind he is already arranging the routes along which he will lead his pupils. And this is the secret of its success! - I keep running, preparing new expeditions, arranging something - she says passionately. - I do not have time to worry, think about what will happen if the body refuses to obey, the disease will progress. Many people with disabilities focus only on their ailments and therefore cannot enjoy life. And disability must be accepted. And pursue your dreams and goals with her. One does not exclude the other.