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Nick Santonastasso’s Journey Unveiled – Part 2

Reading Time: 6 minutes
Nick Santonastasso smiling in front of a hotel pool

Welcome, everyone! Nick here. This is the second installment of our three-part series. We talk about conquering accessibility challenges, navigating both social and physical barriers during my travels, exploring my profound love for Japan, and the importance of seeking help along the journey. Let’s dive right in!

When it comes to traveling with disabilities, what strategies do you employ, particularly when flying?

Nick: I am more accommodating because I can flip up on things and I can walk down the aisles and I don’t always need the chair. They’re like, do you need an aisle chair? I’m like, no. They’re like, what do you mean you don’t need an aisle chair? I’m like, I can transfer, you know, I have to show them like everything. 

Do you prefer to be out of the chair? 

Nick: I don’t like walking through an airport, or anywhere long. But for example, I’d much rather jump, jump off at the jet bridge and walk into the plane and get into the seat rather than them trying to strut up and put me in an aisle chair right for me it’s way more more efficient yeah so anything long distance but like again like if we go on excursions there’s been times where they’re like hey like we can’t bring the chair this far like are you comfortable and I’ll like I’ll walk you know like I climbed a I climbed a mountain in Arizona you know like I’ve done some crazy things.

So what do you think is your biggest concern when you travel? 

Nick: Lately, my biggest concern has been arriving at the airport and being told to wait for a wheelchair pusher, only to find that no one shows up. It’s incredibly frustrating, especially when time is tight and I’m relying on their assistance to make my flight. I always arrive early to the airport to avoid someone else’s lack of urgency potentially causing me to miss my flight. It’s a challenge I face regularly, but one I’m learning to navigate as best as I can.

So, any specific challenges you face when traveling? 

Nick: Absolutely, we’ve touched on a couple of challenges already, like the lack of updated infrastructure with ramps. Another significant challenge I face is when trying to book excursions or activities that aren’t readily accommodating to my needs. Sometimes, tour operators or venues simply aren’t equipped to handle someone with specific mobility challenges, or they haven’t encountered such scenarios before. This can be incredibly frustrating because even though I’ve made it to a destination, I’m unable to fully participate or enjoy the experience due to these limitations. It’s a reminder that there’s still progress to be made in making travel truly accessible for everyone.

Are there any apps or technology that you use that comes to mind? 

Nick: When it comes to apps and technology, I primarily use Airbnb, Vrbo, and the Marriott Hotel app for booking accommodations. However, there’s something new and exciting I recently learned about: self-driving wheelchairs in Miami airports. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the exact name, but it’s essentially a fleet of wheelchairs that can autonomously navigate from security to the terminal. I haven’t had the chance to try it myself, but the concept sounds fascinating and could revolutionize accessibility in airports. Imagine being able to select a tourist path via an app upon landing in a new city and having a self-driving wheelchair guide you along—it would be truly incredible.

How adaptable do you need your accommodations to be, and what usually is missing?

Nick: Newer hotels are getting better. Some of them, you do go into the hotel, you’re like, who designed this? Does it make sense? I think sometimes they, like, it’s a full-body person designing it for someone who has challenges. 

So it’s like, there may be a disconnect for sure. But ultimately, I think the newer stuff is pretty, pretty, pretty valid. 

How accessible do you need the room to be for you? 

Nick: When considering the accessibility of a room, my requirements can vary based on the situation. Although there are instances where accessibility isn’t a major concern for me, as I’m capable of adapting to certain limitations, such as using my chair to reach higher places or manage tasks, there are key features that significantly enhance my comfort and usability of a space when present.

For instance, an accessible bathroom is particularly appreciated, especially one without a raised threshold in the shower area, allowing for easier entry and exit. Having amenities like soap dispensers within easy reach from my height is another convenience that makes a notable difference. While I don’t mind asking for assistance to retrieve items placed out of my reach, having essentials positioned at a more accessible level is preferable.

In living areas, small details can greatly impact my experience. Features like lower hooks on curtains, which aid in managing them without the need to stretch or strain, contribute to a sense of independence and ease. Similarly, lighting fixtures that require minimal effort to operate, as opposed to older styles that might necessitate twisting or pulling, are far more user-friendly for someone with my needs.

Overall, while I can adapt to various environments and am not always dependent on accessibility features, the presence of thoughtful, accessible design elements in a room can significantly enhance my comfort and mobility, making the space more welcoming and easier to navigate.

How do you adapt to different environments, especially those not designed for accessibility?

Nick: I’ve had to be resourceful, sometimes using my clothing as makeshift padding for my limbs when encountering harsh terrains or steps. It’s about finding ways to navigate challenges, even if it means tackling them head-on.

How do you navigate both social and physical barriers during your travels?

Nick: Communication is key. I make it a point to pre-inform venues or service providers about my needs, ensuring they can accommodate me. It’s about setting the right expectations and being open to finding solutions together.

Talking about my first trip to Tokyo brings back some great memories. The sense of community and inclusivity there was truly remarkable. I felt like I belonged and could engage in most activities without feeling like an outsider. However, there were definitely some accessibility challenges, especially with infrastructure like ramps.

While Tokyo was generally well-equipped, there were still instances where I encountered barriers, particularly in areas with stairs and limited accessibility features. In such cases, I often relied on the kindness of strangers who would assist me by carrying me and my chair up the stairs. It was a humbling experience, but it also highlighted the need for more inclusive infrastructure.

On the other hand, when I’m in places like Colombia, accessibility can be a bigger issue. Despite its vibrant culture, the infrastructure isn’t always up to par with accessibility standards. This means I often have to be more cautious when planning outings, making sure to inquire about accessibility beforehand.

Fortunately, when I’m with friends or business partners, I don’t have to worry as much because they’re willing to lend a hand and help me navigate any obstacles. But when I’m alone, it can be more challenging, as some places simply haven’t caught up with the need for accessibility.

Overall, while my experiences in Tokyo were mostly positive, they also shed light on the ongoing need for improved accessibility in various parts of the world. It’s a reminder that inclusivity benefits everyone and that there’s still work to be done in making the world more accessible for all.

How do you deal with situations where you need to seek help or adapt to challenging scenarios?

Nick: I’ve learned to embrace these situations as opportunities to educate and collaborate with others. Whether it’s needing assistance in a restaurant or finding a way to participate in an excursion, it’s about mutual understanding and support.

When it comes to choosing restaurants, accessibility is a big factor for me, especially when it comes to entryways. I often find myself considering whether there are stairs to navigate, which can sometimes limit my options. I admit, there are times when I’m drawn to the idea of unique places, like a speakeasy hidden behind a bookshelf or down a flight of stairs. But then reality sets in, and I realize that some venues might just be too inaccessible for me to enjoy comfortably.

However, I’ve generally had positive experiences at restaurants, largely due to effective communication. I’ve found that being upfront about my needs helps a lot. I’ll often let them know in advance that I can transfer to a booth or use their provided chair instead of my wheelchair. It’s all about setting the right expectations and ensuring that both parties are on the same page.

Communication really is key in these situations. Most restaurants are accommodating once they understand your needs. And like you said, it’s not about blaming anyone; it’s about finding solutions together. I try to approach these situations with an open mind and a lot of compassion, understanding that it might be someone’s first time encountering someone with my challenges. 

I find that by being understanding and communicating effectively, I can help ease any fears or uncertainties they may have. It’s about building bridges and fostering understanding on both sides. After all, we’re all just trying to navigate this world the best we can, right? So, approaching these situations with empathy and openness can go a long way in making everyone feel comfortable and included.

Thank you for joining me on this journey in Part 2! For Part 3, click here, and be sure to follow me on Instagram and YouTube

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