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My story of hiking with mobility challenges

How travel writers can help the disability community
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Some people think that because I have written a number of trail guides I must be a super hiker. In fact, there was a time in my life when walking across a room was an insurmountable challenge. While healing has come after disastrous brain surgery that saved my life yet left my right side paralyzed, I still require support to navigate uneven surfaces: bumpy sidewalks, crowded airport terminals, or rooty or rocky outdoor spaces.

One of the most important factors that dictate whether I can safely manage an outing is asking about an area ahead of time. To safely navigate an outdoor trail, I need to know about trail surface Easy Walks, that is, not too many roots or rocks, relatively level, with something of interest along the way.

“This is where we travel writers come in...”

You may think that anyone who has trouble walking won't make the effort to travel. Not true! For those of us who need support to get around, it is challenging, but not impossible. Often the determining factor is lack of pertinent information. This is where we travel writers come in. Often those of us who are disabled have limited energy. We need to plan ahead and try to be sure that where we are going is workable for us. When I read or otherwise hear about a travel location that interests me, I need to hear details that address my specific challenges.

After watching a late night TV program about Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland, Canada, my husband insisted that we needed to go see this amazing park. We could take a boat ride to explore the cliffs and waterfalls of the Great Western Brook! However, once we got there, we learned that to reach the boat dock we would have to walk two miles to reach the boat, so in total, a four mile round trip. The map looked like we would be able to drive to the dock. It was only after we arrived and got the chance to ask more questions that we discovered what felt like an insurmountable barrier.

I can walk up to about two miles before my foot wears out. At that time the park service had no options available to provide handicapped access. I was resigned to passing on the boat trip, but I married to a man who is willing to move mountains for me when needed. He found a way to help me reach the boat and not be in agony. Would we have made the trip if we had known how difficult it would be? That’s hard to say, but we might have made different choices if we had known more about what was involved.

The disability community is not monolithic

The disability community is not monolithic. Our needs vary considerably. You can't cover every single aspect of a destination in one blog post or magazine article. However, it might help if you try to visualize how a place might be accessed, not just by those with mobility impairments, but also elders, those recently injured, or families who need to transport their young children in strollers.

With these travelers in mind, let’s talk about how you can better provide value for those us who may have the heart of a world traveler, but the body of a day tripper (like me). Consider these factors:

1. How difficult is it to get there?
2. Are steps involved for access?
3. Are there places to rest along the way?
4. Are there stair railings?
5. Can you provide information about sidewalks? trail surfaces?
6. Are there public transportation options that include access for those with mobility challenges?
7. When you say an area has easy access, what does that mean?
8. Can you describe walking surfaces? Are they cracked (sidewalks) or smooth, paved or packed dirt?
9. Tell us about outdoor paths/trails. Do they have lots of roots or rocks? How hilly is it?
10. Include some rule of thumb about weather.

Some of us (like me) cannot sweat, so high temperatures are a barrier. Yes, we can check weather information, but it’s helpful if you are able to include some advice about weather variables. Can you expect to find summer temps in the 100s (F)? Winter trips where temps are below zero (F)? When is the rainy season? Hurricane season?

Never underestimate a person’s willingness to travel

One snowy winter day I went to a store that had steps as well as a handicapped ramp. The steps were shoveled; the ramp was not. When I asked why they had neglected to shovel the ramp, the answer was, “They don’t go out in this weather….” I have never forgotten that. Do not assume. Never underestimate a person’s willingness to travel. A trip around the world or around the block—there may be barriers to either kind of travel, but remember that you have valuable information that can make the difference to someone. Happy trails!


Marjorie Turner Hollman is a freelance writer/ editor who loves the outdoors, uses hiking poles to help keep her balance on the trail, and has completed four books in the Easy Walks guide book series. Learn more about Marjorie at marjorieturner.com

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4 Reviews 4.8/5
travel writer, marjorieturner.com

I have the heart of a world traveler, but the body of a day tripper. I look forward to hearing what other travel writers have to say about these suggestions. Thanks for reading!

28 days ago
Writer: Travel, Arts, Culture, WanderWomxn

Thank you for this article! I’m a travel writer and I think a lot about accessibility but I really appreciate the checklist to help me see my blind spots. I will be sure to share!

25 days ago
travel writer, marjorieturner.com

Thank you so much! Helping people be more aware is an ongoing task. I am so grateful for help along the way. Happy trails!

25 days ago (edited)
Founder, We Said Go Travel, Travel Writer, USA Today, Wharton Business Magazine, We Said Go Travel LLC

Hi Marjorie,
Thank you for sharing your story. I love this: "the heart of a world traveler, but the body of a day tripper (like me)." I have had many eye issues and did a story about skiing with the blind. We all need accommodations--but you are right if you do not know about the 4 mile roundtrip walk--that is a huge problem.
Thank you for your suggestions of what we can all do better.
Lisa

26 days ago
travel writer, marjorieturner.com

Thank YOU for reading and commenting, Lisa. I look forward to what you and others have to share. I have visualy impaired frineds who are willing to keep teaching me more aobut responding to the needs of those who are not able to see well, so i look forward to learning from you.

26 days ago
Co-founder, Editor, Content creator, Outbounding.org

This article is impactful especially in the section on "The disability community is not monolithic" followed by relevant questions that need to be answered by travel and leisure organizers prior to booking.

26 days ago
travel writer, marjorieturner.com

Thank you for commenting. I am hopeful that others can understand some simple things they can do to make a huge differenc to others. Happy trails!

26 days ago
Co-founder, Editor, Content creator, Outbounding.org

I am hopeful also. It would make a difference to all on the trails to have more interesting and congenial hiking experiences that include everyone with a desire to explore. "Happy Trails to you until we meet again"

26 days ago
travel writer, marjorieturner.com

Indeed--we do the best we can with what we have...

25 days ago
Writer & Editor based in Tokyo. Founder of Japan Travel Awards., Shiitake Creative

Thank you so much for posting this article, Marjorie. On the other side of the world, we're dealing with the same issue in Japan. So much of the content we share has no accessibility or inclusive traveling information. As a writer myself, I've always felt odd about this, so last year, we went independent and founded our own company, and the Japan Travel Awards project to change the way information is shared, and the way destination promotions are done. Still in the very early stages, but your article truly summarized our drive for doing what we do. Thank you for posting it!

25 days ago
travel writer, marjorieturner.com

We are not so different, regardless of where we live. Glad to understand more of what you all are up to.

25 days ago
Marketing Manager, INFINI TRAVEL INFORMATION Inc.

Very insightful and inspiring. For trips to Japan you might want to look up the people over at Accessible Japan...very active and inspiring group of people... www.accessible-japan.com

24 days ago
travel writer, marjorieturner.com

Thank you, both for reading and commenting, and for a helpful lead. Much appreciated.

24 days ago
Editor-in-Chief & Travel Coach, Vacayou Wellness Travel

Hi Marjorie! I'm head of editorial for Vacayou Wellness Travel. So, I am chatting with one of my writers tomorrow about possible posts for our online magazine.... one of which is around accessibility and national parks. Perhaps you could be a possible interviewee? Alternatively, I am also open to discuss a submission by you?

24 days ago
travel writer, marjorieturner.com

I would be delighted to speak with you. Will message you and we can figure out what works best for both of us so we can talk. Thank you for reaching out.

24 days ago
Yoga Teacher | Travel Creator, Scrapbook Journeys

This is so helpful for me as a Travel Writer. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, and what it is that would be valuable information in terms of accessible travel. I recently visited a hotel that had an accessible room, and it was such an eye-opening experience for me... because only a few places in my country include accessibility features in such great detail. 'Never underestimate a person's willingness to travel.'

This is a reminder to be more keen the next time I travel, and to be more inclusive in my writing.
Bless!

3 days ago (edited)
travel writer, marjorieturner.com

You are so welcome Marion. Glad to offer constructive suggestions that can make a difference. Happy travels!

2 days ago