Last month Álvaro Silberstein and Isabel Aguirre became the first quadriplegic and paraplegic respectively to traverse an 11-kilometre section of the Inca Trail in wheelchairs.
The one-day treck was undertaken to promote accessible travel in the region, with Silberstein and Aguirre part of a 14-person group participating on an eight-day tour of Peru which also explored Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
The tour was designed by global experiential travel operator PEAK DMC in collaboration with accessible travel company Wheel the World, of which Silberstein is co-founder and CEO.
The eight-day tour also included other activities such as a 10 km cycling trip through the beautiful Sacred Valley, kayaking on the tranquil waters of Piuray Lake and an excursion exploring the ruins of Sacsayhuaman.
All active experiences were made possible by special adaptive equipment such as the Joëlette chair, provided by Wheel the World, which will be made available for travellers on future departures.
To find out more about the groundbreaking trip and see what else needs to be done to improve accessibility, we had a chat with Gary Cohen, regional manager for PEAK DMC South America.
Here’s what he had to say.
Travel Weekly: What compelled you to launch this trip?
Gary Cohen: As a company, we were looking for opportunities to do more in the accessible travel space – we believe that adventure is for everyone and we wanted to do more to make this happen.
During our research, we came across a company called Wheel the World who were offering incredible active trips in Chile for travellers with disabilities.
I was really inspired by their business, so I reached out to see if they were interested in running trips in Peru and the partnership was born from there.
TW: Do you think the industry is doing a good job when it comes to accessible travel?
GC: I think there’s a growing awareness and interest in accessible travel, but it’s definitely too early to say the industry is doing a good job just yet.
The strange thing is that the accessible travel market is huge – there are over a billion people with disabilities worldwide, so as a travel business it doesn’t make commercial sense to exclude them as customers.
I hope that projects such as our partnership with Wheel the World will inspire other companies to reconsider what’s possible.
TW: What steps need to be taken to ensure travel is open to everyone?
GC: The first thing is really an attitude shift.
It’s true that setting up safe and enjoyable trips for people with mobility issues or other disabilities can be challenging, but it’s certainly not impossible.
In many cases, it’s actually more simple than you might think provided you’re able to get your suppliers engaged in the process.
In 2015 we ran an expedition for a company called Team See Possibilities, where a man called Dan Berlin became the first blind athlete to complete the Inca Trail – which is normally a four-day trek – in just one day.
We learned a lot from that experience, which we’ve continued with our partnership with Wheel the World.
We certainly don’t have all the answers yet, and we’ll continue to learn more on future projects. If people and companies are willing to make the effort, it can be done.
TW: Does Peak DMC have any other trips based on accessibility or do they have any policies in place to make their other trips accessible?
GC: As a DMC we do have a policy to be as flexible as possible with our existing partner itineraries in order to cater to customers with disabilities.
Every individual has different needs of course, so we do need to assess whether a trip can work for the customer on a case by case basis.
However, our new partnership with Wheel the World means we are now developing active itineraries specifically for travellers with disabilities, so we can really customise the experience to something that suits their physical ability and personal interests.