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Embracing Accessible Travel

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accessible travel with Lily Yu

While sitting at the Baltimore Washington International airport in March 2019, my husband Daniel Heidemeyer and I were getting energized for a trip to Europe.

After our scheduled flight into Germany, where Daniel was born, we planned to rent a car to take a road trip for what would be my first time visiting Italy. But as we sat in the airport, the boarding time kept getting pushed back.

We received meal vouchers around midnight and noticed the other passengers getting angry after the Wow Airlines employees made an announcement. Because Daniel and I are both deaf, we didn’t understand what had happened until we made calls with a sign language interpreter through a video relay service.

“We found out Wow Air was bankrupt, so they couldn’t run anymore,” I said through an interpreter. “We were in shock and did not know what to do.”

Stranded at the airport, we went home. We couldn’t get a refund from the car rental or the hotel, and Wow Air’s phone line was busy, and the website had shut down.

“It was the worst day of our lives,” I said.

Turning Challenges into Opportunities

Despite the setback, Daniel and I didn’t give up on our dream of exploring the world. In fact, I turned my passion for travel into a side career. Having visited 49 states and nearly 40 countries since I was 12, I started an Instagram travel account, @DeafJourney, which now boasts over 34,000 followers. My adventures have also found a home on YouTube and TikTok, where I inspire and motivate others with disabilities to pursue their travel dreams.

Tips for Travelers: Where to Start?

For those looking to embark on their own travel journey, I share some invaluable tips:

1. Research Accessible Hotels and Tourist Attractions Online

Online resources are a goldmine for accessible travel information. I recommend looking for disability guides and blogs of travelers who have been to your desired destination. Several travel search engines, such as Kayak, Booking.com, and Priceline, have filters to find hotels with increased accessibility, including features like wheelchair-accessible parking, elevators, accessible bathrooms, and more.

2. Venture Out Close to Home

If you’re new to traveling, start with local trips to build your confidence. I suggest staying in accessible hotels and exploring your city to become familiar with mobility challenges and solutions. Taking baby steps can help you ease into the world of travel.

3. Look for Accessibility-Friendly Cities

When planning your trip, consider visiting cities that are known for being highly accessible to people with disabilities. Websites like Wheelchairtravel.org provide guides for cities that offer information on public transportation, accessible taxis, attractions, sports venues, and shopping options.

4. Pack Smart and Download Useful Apps

Packing should be personalized to meet your specific needs. For travelers with mobility issues, items like mobile shower chairs, battery chargers for power wheelchairs, and portable ramps can be essential. Deaf travelers can carry a pencil and notepad for communication with hearing individuals, and they can use free video relay services to communicate effectively.

I use Purple Communications to make calls with people who don’t know know sign language.

It’s so important to be vigilant while traveling. If you can’t hear anything, you have to make sure that you’re visually aware.

Embrace the Journey

My story is a testament to the power of determination and passion for exploration. Traveling with a disability may present challenges, but with careful planning and the right resources, it’s a fulfilling and enriching experience. So, take inspiration from my adventures, and let your wanderlust take flight! Remember, the world is waiting to be explored, and it’s accessible to everyone.

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