We’ve all done it: made up an excuse or convinced ourselves not to go out. Maybe it was a colleague’s party, a drink with old schoolmates or coffee with Aunt Mavis. And maybe you’ve come up with creative reasons, telling yourself ‘it might rain’, ‘they won’t notice if I skip it’, and the perennial classic: ‘I’ll go next time’. It’s a habit worth breaking. For one, memorable experiences don’t just knock at your front door. But more than that, getting out can encourage other people to venture out too. And this can only be good. Being visible in our communities does more for disability awareness than you might think.
Exploring what’s on offer in your home town is a great way to get a taste of travel and build your confidence. Local micro-travels can lead to day trips which can lead to international voyages. And hitting the street is less stressful and more rewarding than ever with accessibility becoming better every day. With a bit of preparation, a spirit of adventure and a friend or two you might break a rut and discover a new lust for life. Or at least a decent place for a flat white.
Here are a few of my tips on enjoying a great night out with accessibility requirements:
There are great resources out there for accessible information. Ask a friend or the disability community for recommendations. Facebook, blogs and websites are great for this. Look for listings or sites with photos so you get an idea of what to expect. Phone ahead and ask questions or even ask staff to send photos. Google street view offers a way to see the streetscape ( you can find the date of the image is on the bottom right). Public transport accessibility is changing constantly so look online for the latest upgrades. Car park information can be found online too. The City of Melbourne has a map showing all the disabled carparks in and around the CDB. Other cities provide similar maps.
Take your time
Nothing sours a great night out like rushing to get ready or feeling like you’ve forgotten to do something. Don’t stress yourself out; arrange enough time to cover off what you need to. Have a shower, have a cup of tea, feed your goldfish and water your plants. And organise someone to help. Give yourself time to think about the trip in a positive light, to get comfortable with the idea.
No one is guaranteed a great time every time they leave the house. To get good odds on a great time out, be realistic. Stuff happens. So bring a sense of adventure and a sense of humour. Travel—up the street or around the world—is most rewarding when you open your arms to unexpected experiences. Things can turn from bad to good with a positive attitude and a sense of perspective.
Think laterally and solve problems
While you’re getting settled, see if you can arrange things to be more accommodating for you and for other patrons. Can you transfer to a high-backed bench-seat and park your wheelchair somewhere safe? Maybe you can fold your walker and put it out of the way? Think laterally and find ways to make your experience issue-free. Other visitors might appreciate it and you’ll feel more comfortable.
See the familiar anew
If you’re heading somewhere you’ve been before, try to see it anew. Imagine you’ve never been there before. What are the noises and smells like? Notice a street name or the detail of the wallpaper. You’ll be surprised what you notice. I roll the same patch most days and still notice new things.
Take the route less travelled
If you’re feeling brave, and you’re with friends, you can ‘plan to be spontaneous’. Be curious in an area that you’re not familiar with and get out of your comfort zone. I once wandered into an area I hadn’t visited for years. Meandering around I discovered a great burger place with a bar at waist height I could roll up to. Perfect!
May I suggest…
If you come across accessibility issues, let someone know. Many councils use Snap Send Solve, a photo app you can use to report issues. If you’re in a venue with accessibility issues, let the manager know. Don’t grin and bear it. Remember, if management knows about it, they can fix it. Your polite comments might be met with a solution or a fix for the next person like you who visits. Part of accessibility is an attitude. I’ve been to many places that aren’t accessible on paper, yet we’ve found a way to enjoy it thanks to helpful staff or a helpful passerby. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve been hoicked up a step by a helpful passing stranger.
Tell your story
Part of the enjoyment of travel is sharing it with friends, either in the moment or in a story later. So, take in the experience. Take a photo, draw a picture or write a note. Thank your hosts if they’ve helped you have a good time. How was your experience? Let people in the disability community know. Share it and post a review, this benefits future visitors and the venue.
That’s it! Hopefully you’ve found something to keep in mind next time you’re planning to head out. Remember, by getting out, being seen and sharing your experience you could be leading the way for someone just like you.
As the Dutch proverb goes: ‘He who is out the door has the hardest part of the trip behind him’.
Ryan Smith is a wheelchair user and the creator of Freewheel Weekends, a website focused on accessible travel experiences. He has been to Coburg and Copenhagen, Toorak and Tokyo, New Farm and New York. He’s currently planning a trip to Egypt.
This piece first appeared in Issue 27 of Inform Magazine.