Years ago, shortly after my accident, I spent some time with a friend who had already been in my position for quite some time. To date, I still carry a number of wisdoms with me that he shared with me that day. One of his wisdoms, however, resonated particular well with me, since I was already part of a family team when I became paralyzed.
During our visit he warned me to always remember and ensure that there would only be one disabled member in our family. At first I didn’t understand. He explained that attitude about my disability and the challenges that would undoubtedly accompany it, could disable the rest of my family alongside me.
Wise words indeed! However, 19 years' worth of hindsight has taught me that it was and never will be entirely possible or unequivocally true.
His words definitely laid the foundation for me to keep my attitude in check as much as I could. Unfortunately though, the challenges that daily events and activities, weekends away, holidays and trips abroad presented for me, inevitably included my husband, my two children and often my extended family and friends as well – whether I chose it or not. All of my challenges, the inaccessibility, remarks and other experiences along the way impacted them alongside me, whether I liked it or not.
Behind the Scenes
Many people commend me for “being brave” or for “overcoming challenges”. Most especially, pictures of me in far off places or participating in adventurous activities result in such reactions. The best way I can respond to them is to compare my life to that of a stage play. The audience gets to see the competent acting skills of the actor on stage – that’s me (don’t know about the acting skills!). Few realize or really spare a thought though, to everyone working tirelessly behind the scenes to make it possible. They team up with me to produce a seemingly flawless result.
Let’s stick to travelling to illustrate the metaphor. Travelling is something I really enjoy. Although I can attach a cost to each trip, the experiences I take away from each adventure remain invaluable no matter how long ago. I’ll be the first to admit that it is entirely possible to travel solo as a disabled person. In fact, I am in awe of what some solo disabled travelers accomplish! However, I feel compelled to add that some destinations, attractions and activities are near impossible to navigate, overcome or experience without an incredible support person or team as travel companions.
Team Effort and the Need for Support
Whether it’s traveling from sunny South Africa to a snow-covered ski slope in Flachau, Austria for the first time, exploring the incredible gardens and fountains at Villa d’Este in Tivoli near Rome, or roaming around the romantic, yet countless bridges in Venice, I definitely would not have managed on my own. My support team, in this case my family, made it possible for me to live my dreams. My team allowed me to experience as much of each destination, attraction, sight or adventure with them. They were the ones that pushed me up seemingly insurmountable hills. My family carried me up stairs, lifted me into trains and managed the luggage. Generally, they made it possible for me to experience things I could only have dreamt of without them by my side.
Recognizing the Team Effort
Some popular attractions across the world thankfully recognize the effort that goes into traveling with a disabled person, albeit in terms of a monetary value. EuroDisney, for example, offered my husband complimentary entrance as a person who accompanied a disabled visitor and I only paid half price! While it was certainly never expected, we were really surprised, incredibly impressed and immensely grateful indeed.
The Team Feels the Challenges
As much as I have and will continue to maintain a positive outlook and live as close to a “normal” (I detest the word!) life as possible, some facts will remain. Our life has been anything but regular and the challenges that accompany my disability will always be a part of OUR lives. Whoever travels with me or joins me on some kind of adventure, faces all of those challenges right alongside me. If I am refused entry into an establishment due to my chair, like the time at the souvenir shop at the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town, it puts a dampener on OUR excursion. If a popular attraction is inaccessible WE navigate around it or collaboratively explore solutions to the challenges WE face.
Facing the challenges becomes a package deal. Overcoming the challenges requires a phenomenal team effort. I have been blessed with both.
The Upsides of Accompanying a Wheelchair Traveller
Occasionally, there are upsides to travelling with me. My kids have even had moments of gratitude for travelling with mom in a wheelchair! Some destinations, popular attractions and sights are amazing at accommodating their disabled visitors. Many, for instance, waiver the entrance fee for disabled travelers or allow not only the disabled traveler but also those accompanying them to skip those lengthy queues. My kids most especially enjoyed the latter when we visited EuroDisney a couple of years ago, although, despite my hesitation, the privilege required me to go on every ride in the park with them. My vocal chords took a serious knock!
The Team Effort of Our Travels – Endless Gratitude!
…what I can do is offer myself, wholeheartedly and present, to walk with the fear and the mess. That’s all any of us can do. That’s what we’re here for. (Shauna Niequist)
I have been and am so lucky to be surrounded by people who live by that mantra in my life and who as a result enrich mine!
- How has your support system helped you to overcome the challenges you had to face at the destinations you have visited?
- If you travel solo, what do you find most challenging about not having people around you to assist you regularly?
- As an able bodied traveller, what do you find most beneficial about travelling with someone else as opposed to traveling alone?