Travelling as a whole isn’t the most stress free hobby for anyone, so you can understand how wheelchair users can have anxiety when traveling. It’s much more complicated for us when traveling anywhere whether that’s regionally or globally.
For me, I love travelling and I like experiencing new cultures. It helps you appreciate your life and understand that somethings never change no matter which part of the world you’re in. I love every single thing about it… okay maybe not everything. I really do dislike sitting in one position with no leg room for over 4 hours on a flight and having to manoeuvre to the toilets in a tiny aircraft chair. Let’s not forget the awkwardness of the cabin crew trying to push you into the toilet and closing the door!
My experiences as a wheelchair user visiting different countries have been a mixed bag. In the US the pavements aren’t the best – I don’t like the way their drop curbs are designed - but I do like their accessible buses. Most of the accessible toilets in the US I’ve been to are slightly different than ours too. Theirs are much lower, I don’t know why, perhaps they think all disabled people are short - I know I am! This was the first time my feet ever touched the floor when sat on the toilet (short people problems).
In my experience the attitude towards wheelchair users is in the US was good. Compared to the UK I hardly got any stares from non-disabled people, except for the time I was wheeling about New York with a stuffed animal peeking out my jacket - I wouldn’t expect anything less!
It’s a totally different story in Jamaica. The only special treatment you get in here as a wheelchair user is everyone stopping what they’re doing to look at you – it’s what I call ‘the celebrity treatment’! Jamaica also has a long way to go with their transport system. There are no accessible buses or taxis. I hope that when they expand their train network they consider disabled people and accessibility.
Out of all the places I’ve travelled I’m happy to say my favorite city would be Strasbourg in France. This is mainly because their buses have three designated spaces to accommodate two wheelchair user and a buggy. If you keep up with the news, you will know all about the wheelchair vs buggy situation in the UK. It can be stressful experience when you want to get on a bus but there’s a buggy in your designated space and the parents don’t want to fold it down. At that moment, it feels like there is place for everyone except you.
However in France it wasn’t like that. It felt like Christmas had come early when the bus driver allowed three wheelchairs on at the same time! I never thought I’d experience travelling in a group with other wheelchair user on a bus, so let’s give Strasbourg a round of applause. Hopefully the UK is taking notes. I also like their tram design too - I felt like I was in Futurama!
I had the opportunity to visit France because I was participating in a study session at the Council of Europe, all about inclusive rights for children and young people. The session was run by IFM–SEI and the European Network on Independent Living, and allowed me to meet young people with different disabilities and wheelchair users from all over Europe.
It was a humbling experience to be educated on different types of disability and the rights of children. It opened my eyes to the experiences of wheelchair users from other parts of the world. Learning all this new information has been really valuable too as it’s has helped me inform young wheelchair users at Whizz-Kidz Ambassador Clubs. I can now give them advice on what their rights are and how to go about tackling the issues they face.
Tagged under: International wheelchair day