How Disabled Travel Bloggers Are Empowering Their Communities To Travel The World
For those who are not able-bodied, traveling poses a litany of complications and risks. Many cities, public transportation systems, airports, hotels, and popular tourist attractions do not meet accessibility standards for all travelers, of all body types.
It’s often said that travel can bring out the worst in people: crowded airports, delayed flights, overpacked luggage, and too much alcohol consumed at strange hours of the day. During the COVID-19 pandemic, travel has become even more complicated, as some destinations require negative COVID-19 test results and proof of vaccination.
Still, for those who are not able-bodied, traveling poses a litany of complications and risks. Many cities, public transportation systems, airports, hotels, and popular tourist attractions do not meet accessibility standards for all travelers, of all body types. As a result, the joys of adventuring the world and experiencing new cultures are often reserved for those who have the physical capacity to roam from place to place.
Because of these limitations, Instagram has become a platform for “disabled” travel bloggers to share their experiences and provide visibility into the challenges they face. Take Simply Emma for instance. Emma is a UK-based travel and disability blogger who provides insight into accessibility during her adventures. Emma and her partner have traveled around the world, and she has detailed the ups and downs of these travels in her blog. Fellow “disabled” travelers will appreciate her tips for cities and hotels, as well as her suggestions for alternative activities to replace options that might be accessible to all. In her blog post, Top 4 Wheelchair Accessible Things to do in Paris, Emma posts suggestions and activities for fellow wheelchair users as they explore the city, and includes details for ramps, wheelchair accessible elevators and restrooms, and disability prices and discounts. Emma’s goal is to inspire other disabled individuals to feel empowered to take on new experiences, no matter where they are in the world.
Another leader in this field is Cory Lee, an American accessibility travel writer who has been to 7 continents (yes, he went to Antarctica in February 2020) and 39 countries. His blog, Curb Free With Cory Lee, has a bucket list which includes visiting all 59 U.S. national parks, seeing Mt. Everest, drinking at Oktoberfest, visiting the Great Wall of China, attending the Paralympics, and more. Cory shares practical tips, like how to book an accessible taxi in NYC and how to stay cool in a wheelchair, and also organizes an annual group trip for fellow wheelchair users. Cory is also a contributor and on the DEIA panel for The Points Guy. Like Emma, Cory aims to influence fellow disabled travelers with both a why and a how to travel around the world, no matter their physical ability.
There’s also Stacey Marlene Valle, a deaf Mexicana-American, who aims to challenge misconceptions that deaf individuals, especially women, should not travel solo. Growing up, Stacey Marlene did not travel without her family. When she discussed the idea of traveling on her own, she faced anxious questions from her mother such as, “How can you communicate with other people if you cannot hear everything?” “What if a man was following you on the street?” However, she has debunked these fears. Instead, Stacey Marlene believes that it is travel in fact that has taught her to “cultivate more skills to navigate this inaccessible world” because “travel is also a teacher.” She does not deny that she has faced challenges, such as “communication barrier[s] (not just a language barrier), having some people shouting...angrily in public..people who refused to cooperate...to communicate effectively.” But Stacey Marlene does not absorb these challenges as her own, stating:
“It’s not challenging to travel because I’m Deaf. It can be challenging because society isn’t accessible.”
The message from these leading voices in the travel industry is clear. Travel should not only be available to able-bodied individuals. Adventuring to new places and experiencing new cultures should not be exclusive of individuals due to accessibility inequities. As long as standards for accessibility — such as the spectrum of what some hotels define as “wheelchair accessible —
remain inconsistently enforced across the globe, disabled communities will not have the same opportunities to travel comfortably.
Through their storytelling, Emma, Cory, and Stacey Marlene provide a much-needed window into the inequities inherent in the travel industry. As travel begins to resume and widespread vaccination against the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ramp up, stakeholders in the travel industry must make improvements in the realm of accessibility and foster inclusivity among travelers.