Last Friday I hopped on a train from Glasgow to Dundee to spend the day reviewing access at various tourist attractions around the city. I headed up there with some friends of mine from Euan’s Guide, and our ultimate mission was to uncover as many of the accessible gems that Dundee had to offer as was possible.
Once we arrived, we met with other members of the Euan’s Guide Ambassador Network at Dundee’s Discovery Point, which is an awesome museum situated right next-door to RRS Discovery – the legendary research ship that launched in 1901.
Our tasks for the day were then divided out between everyone there, and many of the potential places to review were listed on a handy map of the surrounding city centre. One of the spots listed to check-out was Dens Park, home of Dundee Football Club and quite far away from our starting point and therefore seemed like the ultimate challenge. I decided that this was the first place I wanted to head towards, given that I’m a fairly big fan of football and I was also relishing the idea of going somewhere a little bit different from the norm.
Once my friend and I made it to Dens Park we were lucky enough to blag a free private tour of the grounds – which was made even more special given that some of the players were their preparing for that weekends game. We were shown around by a guy named Keith Haggart, and his knowledge of the club and his attention detail when giving us our whistle-stop tour (time was of the essence) was really awesome. I’m pleased to say that the grounds were fairly accessible too – but you can check out more on that by taking a look at my Euan’s Guide review!
Getting too and from Dens Park via bus took up most of the morning, so when we reconvened as a group at the McManus Galleries for a catch up and a bite of lunch. We then thought that the best plan of attack for the remainder of the day was to not stray too far from the rest of the pack – and so we rounded off our visit by calling into a few more pit-stops and tourist attractions around the city – all of which you can see more of over on the Euan’s Guide site!
Despite hardly sleeping the night before our visit, and also despite the day spent in Dundee being an extremely long one – it was still a really rewarding experience to head up there with Euan’s Guide on an accessibility scouting mission and I must say Dundee is definitely a place that I would recommend for others to visit – disabled and non-disabled alike. What’s more, with trains running from Glasgow to Dundee only taking just over an hour and costing around £20 for a return when booking in advance – Dundee is the perfect location for a day trip or as part of a grander Scotland tour!
What’s also pretty nifty is that the ScotRail service to Dundee was accessible for us all, with three wheelchairs painlessly boarded onto the train thanks to booked assistance. I was also grateful to find that the accessible loo was fully functional and the overall journey was extremely comfortable. It really does beat the hassle of driving – and costs about the same too!
Still, perhaps the best part about the whole day was having this awesome picture snapped with the legendary ‘Oor Wullie’ from the Dandy Comics! What a cracker!
Since returning from Tokyo the most frequently asked question I’ve received has been; ‘how was Japan?’, and after carefully considering my response, my condensed answer is now always; ‘Japan was beautifully unexpected’.
Despite never having prioritised visiting Japan in the past, once I caught wind of the fact that Cathay Pacific UK would be keen to send me to Tokyo to investigate accessibility ahead of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games – I was immediately sold on the idea.
Due to not being terribly au fait with all things relating to Japanese culture, the result meant that I had the blissfully beautiful experience of discovering Japan’s richly diverse traditions from a place of genuine curiosity and learning. From the moment I landed my senses were instantly bombarded with all manner of delights.
There are a few positive stereotypes that I’d heard about Japan and these mostly (if not entirely) turned out to be accurate. For example; Tokyo is indeed an unfathomably clean city. The mind boggles when trying to consider that 13 million registered inhabitants across an insanely busy megatropolis can keep their city streets so neat and tidy.
Another social cliche that was quickly confirmed was how orderly and polite everyone was. Whether it’s queuing to enter a packed out Metro – or bowing repeatedly as diners vacate restaurants – Japanese folk offer an air of graciousness in an otherwise sickeningly fast paced world.
Even though Tokyo is densely populated, I rarely felt claustrophobic in any way. Naturally there are many famous areas that are extremely overcrowded – such as Akihabara (Electric Town) – but it all adds to the charm of the city and it’s easy to escape the madness.
Before arriving in Japan, I’d become increasingly concerned about just how expensive the country was meant to be. I was really surprised to find that compared to other westernised cities, Tokyo wasn’t actually that pricey at all. To give an example of how reasonable some places were – I ate a mountain of sushi at a random eatery somewhere in the heart of the city and my final bill came to less than £7. It’s hard to verbally contextualise just how much I ate, but the equivalent amount of Sushi in the UK would have cost me in excess of £30!
Many of the activities within Tokyo were actually free of charge, and you can gain a lot of memorable experiences – such as viewing the cities entire skyline at night at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building – without having to fork out a single penny.
What to expect in Tokyo in terms of Accessibility
The Tokyo Metro system is enough to turn even the most logical brain into mush. It’s complex, it’s chaotic and it’s anything but straightforward. It obviously goes without saying that as a wheelchair user it’s probably best to try and avoid the Metro during busy rush hour times – although certain lines still remain reasonably quiet.
Not all Metro stations are barrier-free, although I did notice that several of the stations that didn’t have access were undergoing some form of reconstruction in what looked to be access adjustments ahead of the 2020 games.
All of the local buses that I saw around the city had ramps and spaces for wheelchairs which was good to see, however, the coach from Tokyo to Mt Fuji was not accessible at all and my wheelchair had to go in the under-carriage with all the luggage. I’m fortunate enough to be able to get myself up onto a coach via the steps, but I know for many this would be nigh-on impossible.
Accessible taxi’s – that are usually used for local disabled people within the city – can be chartered for sightseeing purposes. Regular taxi’s that operate throughout the city are usually old and small and may not be suitable for accommodating a wheelchair user.
During the ten nights I spent in Tokyo I stayed in a wide range of accommodation types, from hotels and hostels, to couchsurfing and AirBnB. The latter offered an insight into the lives of local people, and I was impressed to find that a great number of AirBnB listings in Tokyo were moderately suitable for wheelchair users in the respect that they were often open plan and with elevators within the buildings.
All of the hotels I stayed in within the city centre of Tokyo were fully accessible, with disabled friendly rooms available and lifts, automatic doors and ramps at the entrance all in place to make your stay as easy as possible. Japan is famous for convenience and ease of living and this certainly extends into the field of accessibility.
I was pleasantly surprised by how affordable many of the hotels within Tokyo actually were. Compared to other major cities such as London, New York and Hong Kong, the cost of finding a place to stay in Tokyo was very reasonable and you can find a really nice place to stay for as little as £30-£40 per night.
Restaurants, Cafes and Shops
Tokyo is a city made for food, and with that, you’re never short of choices when it comes to restaurants. Contrary to what you might believe, sushi isn’t that easy to come by unless you’re situated next to the sea. The likes of Ramen and Katsu Curry being the main stables in Japanese cuisine and can be found just about anywhere you go. Although some of the restaurants were a little on the small side, I never had too much of a problem finding somewhere to sit that was accessible in my wheelchair and it was surprisingly easy to find restaurants that had toilet facilities for the disabled.
It was a similar story with many of the cafes and shops that I visited – often the buildings would be narrow with not a great deal of room to get around, but fortunately for me there was never really any instances where I became stuck. Add to this the naturally kind nature of Japanese people and I was never too far away from being granted some greatly welcomed assistance.
Recommendations on what to do in Tokyo…
I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find enough activities to fill all the time I was planning to spend in Tokyo – but boy how I was wrong. There is no shortage of things to do in this great city – so here are just a selection of the things I got up to – all of which were perfectly fine for me in my wheelchair.
Less than a couple of hours by train or bus from Tokyo and you’re suddenly face to face with one of the most famous mountains in the world – Mt Fuji. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the mountain is hidden above the clouds, but when I spent a night at the base of the mountain I was lucky enough to get full views of this majestic volcano and take in all of it’s gigantic beauty.
One of the major tourist attractions within Tokyo is the phenomenally beautiful Meiji Shrine which seems to appear out of nowhere deep in the heart of the city. The peace and tranquility that the shrine offers is a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding busy streets.
The shrine offers plenty in terms of walks and nature trails, with the obvious attraction of stumbling across ancient religious monuments and temples. Of course, the shrine itself is quite overcrowded as it is one of the most popular tourist areas in Tokyo.
Senso-Ji offers a fantastic opportunity to indulge in a spot of memorabilia shopping as well as it being yet another fantastically awesome temple. If it wasn’t for the throngs of tourists, Senso-Ji would be a very relaxing setting for one to enjoy searching for a little bit of inner peace.
Here’s a piece of advice – if you enter the tourist information office opposite the walkway to Senso-Ji, you will find the most amazing lookout tower and cafe, with the best views of the sprawling magnificence below you.
For an awesome view of Tokyo’s skyline, I recommend visiting Tokyo Tower. There is a small fee to go upstairs via lift to the lookout decks but it is totally worth it and you can even enjoy something to eat and drink whilst you marvel in the horizon and the epic living portrait that infiltrates and energises your eyes.
The tower has almost a striking resemblance to that of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and it’s grandiose presence is only bolstered by the fact that Tokyo Tower is the second tallest building in the whole of Japan.
Imperial Palace Gardens
The Imperial Palace Gardens in Tokyo dominates a vast section of the cities landscape, covering a hefty chunk of land enclosed by a walkway that tops 5 km. On any given day you will see hundreds of runners running around the outskirts of the gardens, making it a popular spot for both locals and tourists alike.
The gardens are extremely well preserved and easy to get lost in. It’s hard to believe that you’re smack bang in the middle of one of the world’s busiest cities. The peace and quiet within the Imperial Palace Gardens is astounding.
There is of course the famous Imperial Palace situated inside the gardens, but unless you organise a dedicated tour, you’ll be hard pressed to get anywhere near it (at least from my experiences) unless you head up to the viewing area within the gardens, which requires climbing a crazily steep hill – one which isn’t exactly wheelchair friendly, nor is it good for the hips for those who intend on walking it.
There are a wealth of different activities that you can take part in whilst in Tokyo, and to list them all would be somewhat exhaustive. Needless to say, you’ll never get bored in the Japanese capital, even after spending a couple of weeks there – or even a month or two!
Other notable mentions of things to check out in Tokyo include:
Tsukiji Fish Market
Check the short video below to see a Time-Lapse I recorded whilst taking a ride on the brilliant Yurikamome Line which I can highly recommend. The trains are completely driver-less which gives a really cool dynamic to your ride and means you can also get really close to the front and rear of the train for those perfect shots!
In closing I would like to emphasise once again what an amazing country Japan is. I’m humbled by the fact that despite having no pre-existing hunger to visit, Japan has slotted itself nicely into my top 3 travel destinations – just pipping Vietnam into second place and narrowly missing out on my top spot which is currently held by New Zealand (personal opinions of course)!
I think what I appreciated the most about Japan was perhaps also one of the most subtle aspects of the country. Japan is the first place I have ever been to where I experienced no one staring at me. It probably has a lot to do with the Japanese culture of respect and humility – but it made a refreshing change from constantly feeling judged by the looks that others give me.
I would just also like to take a moment to thank Cathay Pacific for giving me the opportunity to find out more about this fascinating and beautiful country and for placing their trust in me when asking me to write about Tokyo on their behalf. Stay tuned for my comprehensive review of the airlines service – which is coming soon. I also have some great footage of my time in Japan which I am currently piecing together and I look forward to releasing a video on my YouTube channel in the near future.
The city of Glasgow is not just the cultural hub of Scotland but is also a proud destination within the whole of the United Kingdom boasting a warm of friendly atmosphere, public diversity and of course, a whole lot of humour. Popular with art lovers and street performers, Glasgow takes itself very seriously when it comes to expressionism. There really is no finer way to enjoy a summers afternoon than wondering around the streets stemming from George Square – rubbing shoulders with the locals and taking in all that the city has to offer. You’ll be hard pressed to find a busker who isn’t insanely talented, too – which is an aspect of Glasgow that I love. A mix of old and new dominate the cities skyline, with rugged architecture sitting side-by-side with impressive modern day structures complimenting the cities historic, gothic charm.
Despite Glasgow’s rather hilly reputation, I was pleased to discover that the layout is not too difficult for getting around in the wheelchair. Sure – you might need to break a little bit of a sweat every now and again but with great public transport links, even the trickiest of routes can be made easier.
In terms of choosing where to stay, I would highly recommend a night or two at the IBIS Styles City Centre Hotel – which is perfectly situated just two minutes from the Museum of Modern Art and within eyeshot of Buchanan Bus Station. Staff at this hotel really do take customer service to the nth degree and will gladly ensure that you have the best stay possible – it’s all about the personal touches where IBIS Styles is concerned – traditional Tunnocks Tea Cakes and tasty Irn Bru await.
The décor in the hotel is also extremely pleasant, and the layout of the rooms leaves you feeling right at home. I enjoyed the minor details more than anything – such as the wall print of Glasgow’s famous horseman statue, behind the bed rest. Bedside tables that can be positioned over your body as you relax also afforded me with the opportunity to catch up on some much needed admin work. The breakfast which was on offer the next morning was one of the best I’ve had at a hotel in a long time (and I stay in a LOT of hotels). It’s also worth noting that the Ibis Styles Glasgow City Centre hotel is very affordable, offering competitive rates, especially given the fantastic location! I would definitely recommend a stay here and will be returning myself in the future.
Of course, no trip to Scotland is ever complete without a ‘wee dram of Whiskey’; and where else could be better to do so than in a bar situated inside an old church? Oran Mor has an air of Harry Potter as you walk in, with soft lightening and a steampunk style interior mixed with classical medieval furnishing. My favourite thing about this place is that the background volume wasn’t too loud – allowing for great conversation – and there was also full disabled access which is a mega plus!
So you’ve sorted out your accommodation and you’re feeling rather rosy cheeked after a few beverages; question is now – where to eat? Well I’ve got you covered – you should head over and check out the Hillhead Book Club for a gorgeous combination of live music and delicious food. I’d recommend the homemade nachos – but watch out, they’re a bit spicy!
While you’re in Glasgow you may wish to check out some of the major tourist destinations, in which case, here’s a brief rundown of some of the cities top spots!
Glasgow Cathedral – confirmed equal to Rome as a place of pilgrimage by Pope Nicholas V in 1451.
Glasgow City Chambers – one of the grandest structures in Glasgow and certainly one of Britain’s better council buildings.
The Necropolis – it’s not every day you see a graveyard being recommended as a tourist destination, but some of these tombs have to be seen to be believed.
Merchant City – where traders once made their fortune flogging shipments of tobacco, sugar and tea from far off distant lands, now stands an area filled with modern bars and top restaurants.
George Square – smack bang in the middle of the city, a great place to start any tour of the city. Also a very impressive place to sit and people watch.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum – take a look at Glasgow’s most frequently visited museum and discover the eclectic mix of treasures that they have housed there.
So there you have it – not only do you get a little taste of what my trip to Glasgow was like, but you also land yourself some top tips on things to see when you’re there. I hope this goes some way towards reiterating the fact that when visiting Britain, there’s more to see than just London!
A little while ago I wrote a blog post answering what was then the most popular question posed to me; “why are you in a wheelchair?”. If you’d like to see my answer, you can do so by clicking HERE!
There’s now a new question which is possibly overtaken the previous as my new most frequently asked question and that is, “how do you manage with travelling in a wheelchair?” – so I thought I’d write a little piece giving some explanation as to how I get around on my travels whilst being in a wheelchair!
Step 1: PACKING LIGHT
The first point I’d like to raise is that I am the KING of packing light. When your travelling around somewhere like Australia or South East Asia you can spot a fellow ‘traveller’ from a mile off – they’re usually sweating their ass off and braking their backs trying to lug a backpack around that’s almost as big as they are. I just couldn’t do that. Not just because it would be physically impossible for me to do that but also because I just wouldn’t want to. I mean, imagine trying to unpack and repack that every night? I opt for a regular backpack… just 30 ltrs, the type you’d take to University. Seven t-shirts, two pairs of trousers, one pair of shorts and enough underpants and socks for a week, plus my laptop, passport, wallet and camera – that’s all I need and it all fits into my North Face backpack that hangs on the back of my wheelchair. I find peoples insistence to over pack a bit bizarre. I travelled with the same small backpack for almost a year!
Step 2: LIGHTWEIGHT WHEELCHAIR
It wasn’t until my friend jokingly put my wheelchair onto the baggage scales at the airport that I realised how light my wheelchair actually is. 8 kg to be precise. Having a lightweight wheelchair is perfect for situations where you need to lift it. For example, getting onto a train that only has steps? No problem – 8 kg isn’t to heavy to carry.
Step 3: NO MEDICAL SUPPLIES NEEDED
I was recently talking to a friend of mine who is also in a wheelchair and our conversation reminded me of just how fortunate I am. He told me that he would have loved to have done the things that I’m doing now when he was a bit younger, but then he went on to say that he’d need a whole suitcase just for his medical supplies – i.e. catheters, sanitizing gel, medication etc. Thankfully I don’t need any of that – the only thing I occasionally carry are some allergy tablets! Quite lucky really.
Step 4: HAVING AMAZING FRIENDS
Despite being able to overcome most things on my own, it has to be said having a friend travel with you is such a blessing. You end up helping each other equal amounts, but travelling with someone like my friend Emilija (for example) just makes things ten times easier. When I’m clambering onto a bus or a train and shuffling towards a seat whilst carrying my backpack, I know she’s got my wheelchair covered and it’s already dismantled and ready to be bundled on board behind me. We work well as a team when travelling – probably better than with any other person I’ve travelled with in the past. To Emilija and to all my other friends I’ve had the pleasure of travelling with – I owe a big thank you!
Step 5: ABLE TO ADMIT DEFEAT
It rarely happens, but sometimes there are situations where I just can’t do something, and it’s important to learn to accept when these situations arise. I’m happy to say that these moments are very rare – but to give an example; there was once a time in Taiwan where a bus driver pulled up, looked at me, shook his head and then drove away. It would be easy to get frustrated over this and I’d understand anyone who didn’t take too kindly to that sort of situation – but in my opinion, getting angry is just wasted energy, especially if the person you’re angry with is long gone.
Step 6: YEAR’S OF BEING TOLD TO ‘GET ON WITH IT’
When in my late teens my mother had our family home adapted and modified to make it more accessible. Everyone assumed it was for me and my wheelchair… Wrong! As my dad got older and his health began to decline, certain changes to our home’s layout needed to be made. All my life I’ve lived in houses that had stairs. When I lived in Taiwan I had an apartment on the 3rd floor and their was no lift. In New Zealand the lady I lived with had 18 steps up to her front door. I spend more time out of my wheelchair than I do in it. I might not be able to walk, and it might all look rather unconventional when I’m out of my chair, but the point is, I’m incredibly adaptable and can get by in almost any situation. I do feel blessed in this respect. I know that for many others the luxury of being able to hop out your wheelchair, shimmy down some stairs on your ass faster than most people walk, whilst dangling the wheelchair in front of you, just isn’t a viable option.
To try and answer the question with a summary I’d like to say this – I manage because I manage. I can’t remember the last time I felt unable to do something. There’s not a day goes by where I don’t remind myself of how fortunate I am and how my disability could be so much more limiting. To many of you who read my blog I am seen as some form of inspiration, and that’s lovely that you can take that away from my stories. To me my life is just normal and although I’m walking a dangerous tightrope by saying this, I really don’t find the things that that I do to be in any way remarkable. Having the opportunity to amaze people is a privilege though and I will of course continue to write about my adventures. I just wanted to clear up a few things from my perspective and explain how I deal with travelling with my wheelchair.
Wherever I go in the world I’m always on the lookout for companies that specialise in adapted vehicles. Since getting rid of my car in the back end of 2013 I’ve spent the majority of the past year and a half relying heavily on public transport. For the most part, it’s fine, but sometimes you yearn for the flexibility that a car provides. Despite my searches, it became apparent to me that finding such companies is no easy feat! So when I stumbled across Freedom Mobility in New Zealand I was positively over the moon. Not only was I going to have the chance to finally get back behind the wheel but I had the privilege of doing so in one the most amazing driving countries on the planet!
I have to give a huge amount of credit to Freedom Mobility, not only did they allow for me to take that road-trip I’ve always dreamed of but they came to me in my time of need and arranged everything prior to our departure from Wellington, ready for a smooth collection of a rental car in Christchurch.
I had previously contacted Juicy, one of the leading rental companies in NZ, about possibly renting a vehicle through them. I had sourced a company that could temporarily fit hand controls on any vehicle and I had informed Juicy of this and asked if it would be possible to get everything set in motion. Unfortunately however, Juicy were unwilling to budge with their stance of ‘no adapted vehicles’ and weren’t prepared to allow for any temporary modifications, even if they were safe, road legal, insurable and cheap (the latter being almost irrelevant due to the fact I offered to pay for the fitting myself). Much to my disappointment they really weren’t interested in negotiating. Luckily for me though, Freedom Mobility stepped up to the plate and were incredible from the outset.
Here’s an extract from their website:
Our fleet contains over 100 disability modified vehicles including:
Hand control vehicles
Wheelchair hoist and wheelchair lift vans
Wheelchair ramp vehicles
Left foot accelerator cars, and
Vehicles with swing out seats
Not only was the vehicle they provided me totally awesome and adequate for the six day road-trip my friend and I were about to embark on, but they also threw in some pretty awesome tips and advice, both via a PDF file sent in an email and also, by throwing in a guidebook full of accessible walks – something which came in very handy on our adventures. For me, customer service goes a long way, and when staff are friendly and helpful then 9 times out of 10 I’ll always opt to go back to that firm. I’m pleased to say that Freedom Mobility had impeccably good customer service!
As I mentioned, we picked up the rental car from beside Christchurch International Airport and set off on our way through to Dunedin. Our trip then took in the likes of Milford Sound, Te Anau and Glenorchy and stretched for well over 1,500 kilometers. We even had time to call into the aptly named spot ‘Paradise’ which we were told is where they filmed a lot of the scenes from Lord of the Rings.
As for the driving itself, we found it to be an incredibly enjoyable experience, covering vast distances of land across some of the most breathtakingly beautiful landscapes either of us had ever bared witness to. Road-tripping really is the ONLY way to see the true majesty of New Zealand (unless you’re rich and can afford a helicopter tour), and for those who need a specially adapted vehicle, I cannot recommend Freedom Mobility highly enough.
For more information on Freedom Mobility and how you too can rent a vehicle, check out their website by clicking here: www.freedommobility.co.nz
I’d like to take a moment to commend the folks at Sydney Trains (www.sydneytrains.info) for the impeccable service they provided me. Whilst staying in Sydney, my friend and I were living with a Vietnamese couple out in Carramar – which is around an hours commute from Sydney City Centre.
On one particular day when visiting Manly Beach with some buddies, we were unexpectedly hit with one of the most impressive storms I’ve ever personally witnessed. Honestly, it was like a scene from the movie Independence Day – you know the one where Will Smith flies a fighter jet and simultaneously attempts to kick some extra-terrestrial butt?!
This storm was fierce! We took refuge in a wedding reception which happened to be the only place that had some shelter from the onslaught – thus also rendering us wedding crashers in the process. Not only was the rain torrential but there was a gigantic electrical storm to go with it. I have to admit – it was pretty epic.
Anyhow, soon enough the storm passed and before long the blazing sun was back out and we were relishing in the evening happiness. It wasn’t until later when we tried to make our way back to Carramar that we knew something was up. We’d heard murmurings of train disruptions and something about lightening hitting the tracks – but we had no alternative way of getting home so we just went with it.
Sure enough though, around half way back to Carramar we were all instructed to get off the train and take the replacement bus the rest of the way. Now in most cases this is where the story would end – I’m pretty familiar with how a replacement bus works – hell, I took my fair share of them whilst living in New Zealand. But this time was different… the staff on the station where we had to get off saw that I was travelling in my wheelchair and weren’t content to let me get on the bus. Of course – usually I’m resistant to being classed as ‘different’ and I almost said that I didn’t want any special treatment and would prefer to just get on the bus like everyone else but before I could say a word I heard one lady say “just sit tight sir, we’re going to arrange a taxi replacement for you”. WELL THEN, it’s around 11pm at night, it’s wet and windy and I’m being offered a free taxi ride?! I’d be a fool to refuse.
In the end our taxi was waiting for us just outside the station around 10 minutes after the nice lady had called for it. The fair was over $30, but as promised, we paid nothing. It was a fairly simple gesture on their part, and I’m sure it’s all just standard procedure but I’ve never actually witnessed it firsthand. So yeah – I’d just like to give a little shout out to how awesome Sydney Trains are… you guys really know how to take care of your customers!
Credit to Eugene Ray for the pics! Feature picture is from railgallery.com.au
I WAS BORN WITH AN EXTREMELY RARE genetic disability that affects every joint in my body from head to toe. At birth, I was one of only four individuals to suffer from my particular syndrome in the whole of the UK. The way in which my disability impacts my day-to-day life includes such things as being unable to straighten my legs past a 90-degree angle and having extremely limited neck movement.
At the age of 15 I decided that I wanted to see the world as I grew discontent with my everyday surroundings and ever more determined to not let my disability stand in my way. Fast-forward by 10 years and after shrugging off the naysayers and all those who warned me to be careful, I finally got to fulfill my wishes; I boarded a plane and ventured beyond the borders of Europe for the first time since a family holiday to California, aged six years old.
Here are six things I learnt whilst traveling with a disability.
1. The phrase “it’s okay, I can manage thank-you” doesn’t mean jack sh*t in Asia.
“It’s okay, I can manage thank-you.”
I can barely remember a number of times I uttered this phrase whilst on my travels. Contrary to the pre-fed stereotypes I had brought with me from the UK, the general public throughout most of the Asian countries I’ve visited have been extremely helpful. A little too helpful in fact. All too often someone would come up behind me and begin pushing my wheelchair without stopping to ask first if I needed some help. Every time this happened it left me with one of three options. 1) flail my arms around in the hopes that they’d notice I was unimpressed and then stop. 2) grab my wheels causing my chair to abruptly become stationary and have them walk into the back of me, hurting either themselves or I as they did so. Or, 3) just sit there, glum-faced until they got bored and stopped pushing me. It became seriously annoying. People fail to realise that quite often, help is more of a hindrance.
2. The politically correct society that we have in Britain really doesn’t extend everywhere else.
In parts of South East Asia, I felt like I was stepping back into the 90s. In Bangkok especially I was from time to time reminded of the days when people would view a physically disabled as automatically having a learning disability to match. One platform assistant, for example, give me instructions, mouth pressed to ear, in a very slow and painfully loud voice. You know, just in case I didn’t understand?
Another horrendous incident happened whilst having my VISA checked at the Cambodian border control. A government official came within five metres of me and without a stitch of shame, pulled out his mobile phone and started recording me whilst chuckling away to himself. Clearly he had never witnessed a disabled foreigner making his way through passport checks. I wasn’t terribly impressed with my new celebrity status and I made sure to give him the dirtiest look I possibly could whilst passing him by.
3. Pavements inaccessible? No worries… you’re on the road, son!
The only country I’ve been to in Asia so far that had pavements that were fully accessible was Hong Kong. Everywhere else and it was only a matter of time before I was switching to the roadside and heading into direct traffic because the pavements were either non-existent or too dangerous/difficult for a wheelchair user. I soon got accustomed to the madness. I began to feel a little bit like Moses, parting the red sea, as motorbikes and cars whizzed past, brushing the hairs on the back of my arms as they go.
Vietnam was especially notorious for this. I soon stopped looking where I was going at every possible moment and became confident that no matter what route I took on the main road, the traffic would move out of the way for me. I was taught that the No. 1 rule in Vietnam is to not make eye contact with the scooter drivers. Apparently it is only then that they become distracted and accidents occur. I took this advice and can safely say I am the master of navigating busy streets in my chair.
4. Don’t take no for an answer.
Sometimes in life you’ve got to fight for your rights. Make your voice heard and don’t take no for an answer. Much in keeping with point No. 1, it was often the case that people tried to stop me from doing certain things because they felt I was unable or that I was putting myself in unnecessary danger. If you feel confident and capable of doing something and somebody else tells you it’s a no go, then set them straight. It takes a little guts, but believe me, it’s worth it because otherwise you may miss out on something you always wanted to do.
One of my examples comes from when I finally got the chance to visit the Mekong Delta. One of the huge things on my bucket list was to take a small boat down one of the ravines that stem off from the main Mekong. The lush overgrown vegetation and the opportunity to see how people live on the river was something which I was unwilling to miss. The tour guide, however; had other ideas. It took two hours to convince him that I wasn’t leaving until I got my ride on a small banana boat. I had to prove to him on other larger boats that I was able to hop out of my wheelchair and get myself from A to B on my hands and knees. Once he agreed and I got to fulfil my own wishes, it really struck home to me just how much I would have missed if I’d just sat back and listened to the guides concerns just two hours previous.
5. No two airports are the same AND you’ll constantly be worried about your wheelchair.
I dread that look on the faces of airport staff when I roll up to the counter ready to check-in. The general protocol is that they stick you in an oversized wheelchair which is too large to independently move, all while they bundle your precious wheelchair onto the luggage belt as you watch it drift slowly away, before the panic sets in. It’s always a gamble as to whether your wheelchair will arrive in one piece at your next destination, or even if it’ll arrive at all. Thankfully I’ve never had such problems… yet, but I know a fair few people who have!
6. When you think you’re finally out of the comfort zone, push a little harder.
The biggest life lesson I’ve learnt from my travels so far, and one that encompasses all the points listed above is that life is only worth it when you’re testing yourself to the fullest. If you feel like you’ve reached the breaking point and you’re so far from comfort that you don’t know your way back again then you may as well keep going and push on. Don’t let anything in life stop you.
Without pushing yourself you’ll never open yourself up to growth. I once heard a quote that simply said “do something that scares you, every single day” and it’s something which we should all try to adopt.
My ultimate goal is to visit every single country in the world. I haven’t set a deadline yet, but I’ve staked my claim and I’m on my way. If I can inspire others as I go then that’s fantastic, but if not, no worries, because I know I’m inspiring myself.