A new TV series sent 11 people with disabilities on an arduous trek across Nicaragua. It reflects a growing market.
Take 11 people and film them as they trek for more than 200 miles in a tropical country: it sounds suspiciously like yet another voyeuristic entertainment show. Yet Beyond Boundaries, a four-part BBC programme, is a documentary with a difference: in this instance, the trekkers were people with disabilities.
The four-week trek across the southern neck of Nicaragua, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, features two wheelchair users, including Ade Adepitan, the Paralympic wheelchair basketball player, a man with spina bifida, a blind man, a deaf man and a number of amputees. The travellers, led by a former SAS guide, encounter tropical rainforest, volcanoes, a vast lake and harsh desert scrubland. The programme focuses on the challenges that confront travellers with special needs – such as how to push your wheelchair through dense undergrowth – and not all the travellers completed the journey. But a major aim was to highlight the possibilities, capabilities and opportunities for disabled travellers.
“It makes for challenging viewing,” says a BBC spokeswoman. “It doesn’t hit that patronising tone of ‘didn’t they do well?’ Able-bodied people do these kind of treks, so why not people with disabilities?” The participants included Amar Latif, who has retinitis pigmentosa and whose sight deteriorated in his teens.
He now has 5 per cent vision. “It was a difficult challenge and it wasn’t stage-managed,” said Mr Latif. “People had to give me orientation details from time to time but the physical challenge was just as it would be for fully able-bodied people. I’d hope that viewers will see that blind people can achieve more or less the same as able-bodied people, irrespective of their ability.”
By emphasising the ability of travellers with disabilities to tackle such a trip, the programme has highlighted the fact that the pool of companies offering “intrepid” holidays to this market is limited. In response to this, Mr Latif launched his own expedition travel company for blind and visually impaired people, Traveleyes, earlier this year. Traveleyes’ policy is for blind and fully sighted people to travel on a one-to-one ratio. Fully sighted travellers are given training in advance. Destinations include Marrakech and the Sahara. “All I’ve really wanted to do was see the world like anybody else,” said Mr Latif. “Some travel organisations have a rather patronising view of blind people. I looked around and there weren’t many organisations that offered the level of independence and flexibility and reasonable prices that I wanted.”