September 17, 2019 / 2:09 PM / 25 days ago

Chilean start-up, 'Wheel the World,' broadens horizons for disabled

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A Chilean start-up has been launched to open up some of the world’s most iconic tourist attractions to disabled visitors.

The idea for Wheel the World was borne out of an expedition three years ago to Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia by a group of friends from the University of California at Berkeley.

The group crowd-funded a special wheelchair for their friend, Álvaro Silberstein, who was left quadriplegic following a car accident when he was 18.

They documented their trip for those who had contributed to the fund and, spurred by the ensuing interest, began investigating other bucket-list vacations that could be adapted for the disabled.

Since its inception last year, Wheel the World’s seven-man team has arranged trips for more 900 people, including to Chile’s driest desert, San Pedro de Atacama, scuba diving off Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean, ziplining in Costa Rica and a trek along the Inca Trail to Peru’s Machu Picchu.

Today, the group has 16 destinations both in Chile and four other countries on its online platform, and aims to increase that to 150 by 2020.

Silberstein, the firm’s chief executive, said the Patagonian trip had made him realize that nothing was impossible.

“We realized that with the right equipment and the right information, we can help people with disabilities have these kind of experiences, to open their minds to see that we are capable of anything,” he said.

“There are many initiatives to make tourism more accessible because it’s a gigantic opportunity; in just the United States and Europe, $72 billion is spent on tourism by disabled people each year.”

“But no one is doing it on a global level, matching tourism services with the specific needs of disabled people. That’s what we do,” he said.

Reporting by Jorge Vega; writing by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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