Tropical Accessibility

There are many things I thought I would never see happen for wheelchair users that I turned out to be wrong about…

  • I never thought skiing would be wheelchair accessible, but it is.
  • I never thought African safaris would be wheelchair accessible, but they are.
  • But what I REALLY never thought would happen: wheelchair accessible eco-tourism. I am once again blissfully wrong!

Brazil has put effort into Accessible Tourism programs. These don’t just let you look at the amazing landscapes from afar, but actually engage in nature!

Different communities are making changes to vastly improve accessibility to nature. Now there are a wide variety of locations and activities disabled travelers can participate in. There are accessible hikes, beaches, and even water sports like rafting! Even the coral pools off Pajuçara Beach have become accessible using specially equipped boats.

Wheelchair accessible dirt ramp on ecotourIt is really neat to see how these groups take initiative and ingeniously make nature accessible while still respecting and conserving nature. For example, this ramp… I’m sure it would not stand up to ADA regulations but it preserves the environment, culture, and integrity of the entire experience. It’s these types of efforts that are so amazing to see (for me! at least!!)

This is such a good example of using resources you have available to make creative solutions. It in no way detracts from the natural beauty, but rather incorporates the beauty of a raw incarnation of human ingenuity. It stays true to the spirit of eco-tourism and offers disabled tourists an authentic experience.

What other opportunities have surprised you for being accessible?


Travel on the cheap: A solar powered journey

In 2010, Haidar Taleb started a 200 mile journey across the United Arab Emirates in his power chair.

Inventor of the solar powered wheelchair, Taleb put his invention to the ultimate test, and challenged the way we see disability.

By taking-up this journey, I want to raise awareness about disability and tell people that we, despite our disability can achieve anything as an individual, if we are determined to try and have courage to do so. — Haidar Taleb

This is a really cool way to make travel accessible to everyone. I for one would love to see disabled and able-bodied road-trippers alike, flocking down the bike lane off to their next adventure.

I mean, if you’re going to vacation in a sunny paradise, might as well–right? Moral of the story, sunny states, countries and tropical islands need to adopt a pedestrian/solar powered lane on all their big roads to facilitate such roadtrips!

All in favor say “roadtrip!!”

Starstruck: Wheelz

Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham is a 21 year old Extreme Wheelchairer.

Spinal bifida — a birth defect of the spinal cord — left Aaron in a chair but it did not get in the way of his dreams. A successful moto-cross athlete, Aaron does with his chair things others can only dream of doing on a bike.

Aaron can forever boasts the FIRST EVER double back-flip on a wheelchair, among his many accomplishments alone and those done with Nitro Circus (essentially a motocross “circus” crew of incredibly talented and brave athletes).

Concussions are temporary, backing down is permanent.- Aaron Fotheringham

Fotheringham wants to change the way people see wheelchairs. After seeing this, it will be hard to see a wheelchair the same ever again.

I present, the first wheelchair double back flip:

Environmentally disabled

Let’s face it. No matter how environmentally conscious a person is, the realities of disability are generally not so friendly to Mother Earth. Consider all the necessary medical equipment and their carbon foot print.

So it’s very exciting to see environmental responsibility meets medical technology!

Students at the University of Virginia designed this solar powered wheelchair.

Solar powered wheelchairBiomedical research and medical device technology is advancing so quickly! People are designing and building things I could have never dreamed of. But the same can be said about environmental sciences.

Medical Device and Environmental Tech sounds like the perfect marriage! And this chair is just their first born.

I can’t wait to see the next thing I haven’t dreamed up come to life!

Wheelchair mermaid

Last night ABC aired a story about the first wheelchair mermaid.

No, I’m not talking about Lady Gaga’s alter-ego Yuyi the Mermaid. And still not her predecessor Bette Midler’s Mermaid in a Wheelchair singing act.
Though I will echo the sentiments of the Lady Gaga article: ” Personally, I’m in love with her new persona. I’ve always contested that mermaids are a natural to combine with a wheelchair because they would need one if they ever went on land. Plus,…she’s making it a breeze to cosplay her if you can’t walk”.

Sue Austin wheelchair mermaidBut I’m not talking about them, I’m talking about the deep sea diving enchantress Sue Austin.

She lost her mobility after battling cytomegalovirus. When she finally got her wheelchair, she felt so liberated. She regained so much, but others viewed her chair as limiting. Through art she is trying to change this misconception. She started diving a few years ago after she consulted some engineers who told her it was impossible. That motivated her more than anything and now she’s swimming with the fishes.

Let her take you on her journey and become part of the art; watch her TedTalk.

Sicily Wrap

Every good trip must come to an end. And to celebrate the end of this one, here’s a recap of how much fun it’s been to discover how accessible San Vito Lo Capo is!

This was a common site for me throughout the trip. Speedy locals leaving me in the dust! They owned the streets and rode off into the sunset many a time, while I made my way at a snail’s pace. It’s pretty lucky that I was able to snap even this one photo of the elusive scoooter rangers; they are many in numbers around here, but they are fast!


Though they are hard to spot, there is evidence everywhere of their existence:IMG_3065

Getting down to business, here is the ramp to the City Hall. The ramps around the city aren’t just to make the beach and tourist sites accessible. Even official buildings are stepping it up. I was a little surprised to see this since the building is…well, it’s not new. And accessibility regulations are new, so I was expecting something a little less friendly. But this is probably the most friendly ramp in Sicily. Isn’t that a looker?


There are also handicap parking spots designated on the street. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t given much thought to handicap parking abroad before seeing this, but I think that’s going to be a super interesting topic to learn about!


Finally, this was the last photo I snapped of the No Limits Marathon, and one of my favorites. These two were taking a stroll along the beach, holding hands. For all the effort that went into making the city accessible, seeing this makes it all worth it, don’t you think?
IMG_3061I’m pretty happy with how my research has gone in San Vito. I found so much more than I expected and I think it’s only going to get better.

Arrivaderci for now!

No Limits – Wheelchair basketball

And finally, to wrap up the No Limits Weekend sports coverage: Wheelchair basketball!

Wheelchair basketball

I was a little surprised to see these two teams, all in matching uniforms, dominating the sports park when I arrived. You could tell right away that these were no amateur teams! Not only did they maneuver well around the court, they had fake-outs and tricks! It was a little ridiculous. In an awesome way.

It was a lot of fun to watch–way more fun than garden-variety basketball if you ask me! Watch a clip of the match if you don’t believe me:

At one point a ball rolled off the court to wheelchair unfriendly area. A nice lady went to get it and her shoe slipped and she almost ended up on the ground. One of the players jumped out of their seat to help her. That was pretty entertaining to watch too.

Apparently, this is the first wheelchair basketball team in Sicily. Not all the players could come to this event, so there were a few able-bodies on the court. Three of the players were clearly not faking as they had above-the-knee amputations–including two of the founding members: Fausto Firreri and Giuseppe Viola.

Before I tell you what they said to me, let me preface that these were two of the nicest men! They were welcoming and very open and willing to answer questions. They told me how this all started about 3 years ago when they went to Bologna to play basketball in a tournament there, just for fun. They went a few times and finally decided that they wanted to keep playing.

Seeing as there wasn’t a wheelchair basketball team in Sicily, they decided to start their own. They started finding players and sponsors. As you can imagine, it was tough to find players, but they did and now have earned Serie B status (like soccer rankings. So this is the B League–it’s hard to imagine what it takes to be in the A League). They are always looking for new players and have been so successful that they have now started a second team in another city!

Windsurfing amputee Giuseppe ViolaNow, these guys are inspirations for others to get out there! I can’t help but think that maybe Giuseppe Viola was probably an inspiration for everyone else to get involved. He got a prosthetic with one of those high-tech knees that allows him to windsurf, snow board and mountain bike (and those are only the sports I remember him listing!). This guys is unstoppable! So is his kick-butt team!

Check out their Facebook Group–it’s in Italian but pictures are worth 1000 words, in the universal language of pixelish.

No Limits Archery

Continuting with the No Limits Weekend sports coverage…

On Sunday May 26, 2013 there was an all-abilities-welcome day of archery.

The event had some celebrity presence. Veronica Floreno–recieved Silver at the 2010 European Para-archery Championships and finalist in the 2012 Paralympics–and Nino Lisotta–2010 Italy Champion–were both present and showed us what they’ve got!


It was a very impressive demonstration! There were also others taking their shots on the field. There is a team in Palermo called AS.D Dyamond Archery–it is a large group of archers with mixed abilities. This member explained that archery is the only sport that it doesn’t matter if you are in a chair or not. They are about 50 members strong and open to new members.



Homeward Bound!

Hello world! Sorry for the absence. Two days before leaving Italy, our internet went out, never to return. I was actually writing a blog post when it happened. Sorry to keep you all waiting.

2 car rides, 3 planes, a couple shuttles and 26 hours later: I’m home!

It was a long day.

When we got to the Palermo airport, I was surprised to see that there were a few people in wheelchairs getting around the airport. At least one of them was on our flight and –for the first time I can remember– we took a jet bridge to board the plane instead of taking stairs from the tarmac. I was curious if this was a special accommodation for the disabled passenger, but apparently, when using stairs to board, there is a machine that comes and brings people up and down. The way the flight attendant explained it to me, it seemed like a platform that would move you up and over the stairs. But I have yet to find a picture of this contraption so I’m still curious if it exists or if its the lock ness monster of the air(lines).

Next we were in the Rome airport. There were even more disabled travelers. Somehow they were always in twos. Even the wheelchair runners with empty chairs traveled in twos! This was very different from the Toronto airport (next on our itinerary), where all disabled travelers moved in herds. The smallest group was about 5 and the largest was probably 15. I don’t know if these groups were traveling together, or if they were segregated for some purpose, but it was a little strange to see.

Also strange about Toronto, we had to wait on the tarmac for almost half hour before we could pull up to the gate to disembark. Why? A swarm of bees. True story people.

As on our trip to Italy, we also hit some turbulence on the way home. This was the first time I’d ever actually used my seat belt. We had a nice drop, big enough so that my loose-fitting seat belt actually prevented me from flying out. Ok, I’m being a little dramatic, but I’d never experienced a plane belt restrain me before. And to be fair, the person seated in front of me had his water jump out of his cup (from the tray table!) and land on him.

There was a resounding “WHOA” from the cabin, sounding much like a roller coaster ride. Instead of letting our imaginations get the best of us (like on the way to Italy), the flight attendants told us to review our emergency instructions and locate our nearest emergency exit. And then they repeated it in 2 other languages. What kind of response is that?! Was that supposed to be reassuring? We are going to die.

Fortunately, the English announcement was made by a flight attendant that was laughing. THAT was reassuring–I think that should be in the flight attendant guidebook.

5 emergency exits

Step up!

Earlier this week, we went to one of the bigger cities in Sicily: Trapani.

We wandered the streets for a while and I began to see the accommodations being made to improve accessibility.

Exhibit A: Ramp to Stairs

This option if great for people who spontaneously regain mobility.


Streets in Sicily are as crazy and perilous as they appear in movies. Traffic lights, stop signs, and laws in general don’t exist. Streets are so narrow that cars nearly hit on these two-lane streets. And I mean two lanes as 1 lane going one direction and the other lane about a centimeter from a head-on collision  with a car from lane 1. There are a couple crosswalks that are simply painted lines across a busy street and they serve only as decoration. Drivers don’t stop for pedestrians; you’re lucky if they swerve for pedestrians.

So maybe they think that once your power chair slowly chugs across the street that you will decide its not worth the hastle and you will casually leap out of the chair and bound up a few stairs

Exhibit B: Stair to Ramp

This is a great option for people who have jumping chairs.

This door is also so narrow that while your chair is jumping, it must take a page out of the Transformers book and transform into something a little more aerodynamic.

If this option concerns you, no need. There is caution tape at the top of the ramp: it’s perfectly safe.

In Practice

Piecing together this scenery, I thought You know what? If the stores aren’t accessible, at least sidewalks are accessible. And that’s nothing to laugh at! The important thing is that people are using these ramps, etc. 

I saw one person use the ramp. And he was about 25 and speedily rode his motorcycle up the ramp, jumped off, and just left it there.

The point is, this area is so dangerous for pedestrians that sidewalks are literally VITAL to anyone who wants to get around. I don’t want to downplay the steps that have been made so far, but there is much left to do.

Happy Ending

I don’t want to discourage you from coming to Sicily. There is MUCH to say about navigating the streets of Sicily, but fortunately, not all cities are built the same. As I said, Trapani is a larger city and you need to choose your travel destination wisely. For example, I’m spending the majority of this trip in a smaller city and have seen a good 5 or 10 locals on power chairs roaming the streets. I was so surprised to see them out and about and am impressed that someone must be doing something right! I hope to gather more info about how they do it! Hopefully I’ll gather a few pearls of wisdom along the way.