The Road to Bern

I think everyone has one of those defining moments where they learn to believe in themselves and it completely changes them- that is what happened with me on my trip to Bern. I feel completely changed and I am surer of myself than I ever was.

The road to Bern was yet to be trodden, there was nothing but a concoction of excitement, anticipation and anxiety bubbling up inside me. All I knew was that this was my first trip to Europe and that too to support a young girl with deafblindness- Asha Patwal, who was one of the winners in the one minute video contest by United Nations World Data Forum in 2020. It was not only a trip, but also a responsibility and I wanted to make the best of it.


Shrutilata and Asha

Both Asha and I have deafblindness. Both of us experience the world differently as our deafblindness is not the same. Both of us got the blessings of our families and unconditional support from friends and colleagues. As a deafblind girl, I have never travelled alone- not even to my hometown. I was always worried about my safety, so how exactly did we plan for this trip? Well, we supported each other in mobility and communication. Asha, has better vision than me and was able to help me with mobility and I, having good speech was able to help in communication although neither of us could hear any words. This trip was an adventure, a memory we will cherish our whole life.

With all the support we finally reached our hotel on 2nd October, 2021. First thing I asked the hotel receptionist after we were shown our room, was to help with the plug for charging our phones and to show us how the shower works. On our first day at the Forum, we were late. Though the distance was only of about 5 mins, I was not sure of the direction. The receptionist at the hotel offered to book a taxi but to ensure that we get along with the budget I decided to walk around and find the venue on our own. We asked for directions from the hotel and went ahead. On the way we had to ask people to make sure we were on right path. I had to ask them to type it down on my phone and I read it and following directions given by them, we found the venue on our own!


We got the required support to get to the sessions. The only problem was that the entire event was not fully accessible to us. They had sign language interpreters who were interpreting in turns, but they were using International Sign Language which both of us are not familiar with. Furthermore we both were not able to see their sign even though we sat in the front and near the interpreter. I was heavily relying on my colleagues back in India who were attending the event online to provide transcription support. I wanted to raise this concern, so during the session on innovative data, I found the chance during the Q & A session. I asked about data on deafblindness and shared that being deafblind I am not able to fully participate. They did acknowledge this intervention, but they were unable to provide us with text based support. The understanding that the issues with accessibility can be solved through a universalised approach is not correct. Accessibility is individual. There are no standards for accessibility. I hope in future someday people will realize it although we keep on advocating for the same.

We also met remarkable people there with good humour and personality. I was able to meet José Viera, the President of World Blind Union, Alradi Abdalla from International Disability Alliance and also Chantal from CBM. I supported Asha to give an interview to share a message being a winner of the video contest. Interview can be accessed on Asha was presented with a certificate by the Stefan Schweinfest, President of UN Statistics, New York.

Shrutilata and Asha at Clock Tower

We were in Switzerland and one of the things we did was explore the places around us. We visited the “Tower Clock”, “Highlands Church” to name a few. It felt so refreshing just walking on the streets where fuel engines were very less, all you could see were those beautiful old buildings, natural sights, people moving on electric cycles and feeling fresh air. We were almost lost while we were out looking for chocolates and later realized that we were only 5 minutes away from hotel!

Shrutilata and Asha with Stefen Schweinfest, Director of United Nations, New York


Our journey back to India was a bit worrisome. We needed to catch a train from Bern to Zurich early in the morning and I was not sure how we would manage as the train stops only for 2 min at every station. I needed to be sure when train reaches our destination. I discussed my concerns with the hotel staff and they made necessary arrangements for us. They booked a taxi for us for 5:15 am in the morning and the driver dropped us in the parking lot where another man helped us get tickets and board the train. By taking support from co passengers we were able to get down at Zurich, where two station staffs helped us get to the waiting area where they called support from the airlines. Two airline staffs helped us with security check and also helped us board the flight. We went back the same way we had come, a connecting flight from Amsterdam to Delhi where again we were helped by the airport staff. This journey finally ended and neither of us could stay quiet and kept talking about all wonderful adventures we had.

I grew as a person.

  1. I am more capable than I think I am. I was responsible for safely taking a person with deafblindness to another country and support her. We went to another country and came back safely to our own with fond memories.
  2. Kind people are everywhere. People on the streets of Bern were kind enough to stop and help us out and even adapted to our way of communication.
  3. Asking for help is okay. We would never have been able to participate if we never asked people on the floor of the conference to support us.
  4. Question fearlessly. In a crowd full of tremendously achieved people, it was easy to feel small, but it didn’t mean that my questions and concerns were not valid. They were and I just needed an opportunity which many people with disabilities lack.

Most people were very sensitive towards accessibility and were ready to make adaptations for us to be able to navigate on our own and make this journey possible. I take this as an opportunity to thank all those who supported us during this trip. My colleagues at Sense India, my sister, staff at the airport and crew members, those at the railway station, hotel staff and people at the UNWDF event.

Written By :Shrutilata Singh, Specialist-Network Support,Sense International India
Edited By : Sonia Gervasis, Officer- Communications, Sense International India

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