The World is Everyone's Oyster
Written by Stephanie Dower
“I’m headed overseas in a few weeks.”
“That’s great Steph. Can I ask, how do you get your wheelchair on the plane?”
“Well, what usually happens is I drive my chair to the door of the plane and then the airline workers will come and take the chair into the luggage compartment.”
“Wait, so you go in the luggage compartment yourself?!”
This conversation is an example of one of the more stupider assumptions or misconceptions people make regarding how people with disabilities travel. To be fair, even though I live my life in a motorised wheelchair, I myself have been guilty of making assumptions or misunderstanding how people with disabilities travel. Every time I head to the airport, I know I’m in for another learning curve, not only about the impacts of my disability but about myself as a person.
As someone who has done quite a few international trips in my time, I’m continually surprised at how many obstacles can actually be overcome. Personally, I am someone who often considers the worst case scenario, which I believe is something that many people with disabilities do. On a day to day basis, we are continually having to marry possibility with reality. If I want to go to a new bar or restaurant with friends, 9 out of 10 times I will jump onto Google and type in “[name of restaurant/bar] wheelchair accessibility”. The same planning, just on a more extensive scale, goes into organising travel adventures. While I certainly know people (yes, people with disabilities) can and do spontaneously jump on a plane and plan their trips minute by minute, the impacts of disability certainly add a level of risk to it.
Will my wheelchair be approved by the airline I’m flying with?
Will I be able to find an accessible hotel room?
How will I travel from place to place at my destination?
These are questions that have arisen from my own experience as a wheelchair user. A whole different set of uncertainties and challenges would be experienced by people with sensory impairments, intellectual challenges, and other physical and mental conditions. When it comes to the idea of accessible travel, society too often focuses on this risk-factor, making it seem all the more impossible and scary for people actually living with the disability and their family, friends and carers to take the metaphorical leap of faith it takes to explore the world around us.
Carry On as a series aims to show society that the risks associated with travelling with a disability or health condition are far outweighed by the benefits and enriching experiences travel brings to a person’s life. To date, I have driven my chair across an ice field in Canada, cruised between the islands of the Bahamas, sung and danced my way along Broadway, been sobered by the reality of war in Hiroshima, and had my breath taken away by the beauty of Lake Louise. These are just a handful of experiences I’ve been lucky enough to take away from my travel adventures. Each time I return home, I’m ready to head straight back to the airport - yes, it’s most certainly an addiction, but an enriching one at that.
If your curious as to what travelling with a disability means or perhaps you yourself identify as someone with a disability and you’re wondering what the possibilities are, we hope that Carry On can open your eyes and help you realise that with a little time to map it out, the world is everyone’s oyster.