Traveling blind

For those of us who don’t have a permanent physical disability, it can sometimes be difficult to imagine what the world is like for those who do. Buildings that are pretty easy to navigate with two working legs become impossible in a wheelchair: my university, which prides itself on being wheelchair friendly and accessible, once left a classmate with cerebral palsy stranded on the fourth floor of a building when they decided to service the only elevator when he’d gotten up there but before he had a chance to come down.  There are doors that won’t open, streets that are too narrow, hotels up several flights of stairs or through winding corridors.  Sometimes the everyday tools of life can be impossible to maneuver as well — getting a mobile phone in a new country, signing an apartment lease, accessing the internet.

So can you vagabond if you’re physically challenged? Most travel websites for disabled travelers encourage package tours, specialist travel agents, and other booking options that will take care of all the drama for you — if you’re interested, that’s probably your easiest option, although most expensive.  Part of the problem can also be thinking “It’ll be too hard for me; I’ll just stay home.”  So the first step towards doing it is…doing it.  You might be the only traveler in a wheelcheer those Hill Tribe people in northern Thailand have ever seen, but you’ll be there. Chances are you’ll find it easier to meet local people, who might have questions about your prosthetic leg or your white cane or whathaveyou, and chances are they’ll be happy to help you if you find yourself stuck somewhere.  Heck, people like to help travelers of all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds…so why would it be any different for someone who’s physically challenged?

For blind travelers, access to a vast range of resources is available through the ever-popular iPhone — equipped with VoiceOver, the phone is incredibly easy for blind users to navigate, describing apps aloud with easy two-tap interfaces, and even reading text messages aloud. Deaf travelers, who are disadvantaged by having an invisible disability, might like a portable visual notification device that can flash when the phone, doorbell, or smoke alarm rings — or an alarm clock with a bed shaker.  Dialysis patients can plan a trip using a dialysis map to figure out centres around the world where they can receive treatment. In Australia (and many other countries), you can hire a motorized wheelchair with unlimited mileage for as long as you like.  For inspiration, consider A Sense of the World, the story of James Holman, who traveled the world blind in the 19th century.

It’s not easy to vagabond if you’re physically challenged.  But it’s possible.  Not just possible, but fun, exciting, and glorious. Don’t sell yourself short — there are options for you, even if you’d like to live in Vanuatu.

Posted by | Comments (3)  | September 28, 2010
Category: General, Solo Travel, Travel Health, Vagabonding Advice

3 Responses to “Traveling blind”

  1. Pier-Olivier Says:

    I’m legally blind (not entirely, but can’t drive or read street signs without telescope for example) and have struggled -and still am to an extent- with the idea of me being lost in a city, alone, …

    I am now in a new city and with an iphone (and its gps built-in, google maps and all) I must say that there’s indeed always a way to get by and am now looking to extend my experience to a new country to continue my study. Reading / listening to stody of people who acheived great things with their disability is really a kick in the right place. In this day of age you have everything to help you and those people did that without all those new technology to help them and had to fight for their right and now people are much more open to handicapped and help them willingly.