Carole Zoom has the perfect name for a person who loves to travel and write about it. She’s been all over the world — Spain, China, Argentina, Ireland, Denmark — and has become an expert at traveling with a disability. In fact, she was featured in a segment on NPR recently, which opened thusly: “Planning a vacation can be a daunting experience for many of us. But all those logistics can get far more complicated if you have a disability.” (It pains me to admit that such a stereotypical statement can be true.)
Currently living in Maui, Carole has congenital muscular dystrophy and has been a wheelchair user since the age of 13. She breathes with a ventilator, which can make travel a bit more complicated, particularly because pilots have bumped her off flights. “They’d never seen a wheelchair like mine. They’d never seen a ventilator like mine,” she told Rachel Martin, host of Weekend Edition Sunday. So, she’s learned to take precautions before setting out on a trip. “I’m somebody who makes my travel plans a year in advance, contacts the concierge at the hotel where I’m saying to get a picture of my room because I don’t really want any surprises,” she said in the interview. Getting a photo in advance is a terrific idea since we all know that each hotel interprets “accessibility” differently.
One of Carole’s favorite destinations is Barcelona, Spain, with its “very active network of taxis that are wheelchair accessible, very easy to get,” she told NPR. “And, surprisingly, China has barrier-free high-speed train. And it’s better than Amtrak. It is so easy. From the moment you get to the station, it’s wheelchair accessible. So that is just a dream to get around the country and be able to see the countryside. … I thought they were going to have to lift me onto the train and do things like I had done in other countries. But I have to say the Chinese high-speed train system is amazing.”
Pointing out that Carole is a seasoned traveler who has likely faced every possible obstacle, the interviewer asked if she still got nervous when embarking on a trip. She admitted that dealing with the airlines often puts her into panic mode, but “I’ve just gotten to the point where I feel like, as long as I have enough battery power for my ventilator, there’s not a whole lot that can happen to me that’s going to jeopardize my life in a travel situation. And so I just kind of breathe through it, be as calm and positive as I possibly can.” Because, as she pointed out in the interview, “when you’re traveling in Morocco or China, you may be the only person that anybody will ever meet in a wheelchair or on a ventilator. And so their impression of you is going to hold a lot of weight for how they treat the next person.”
That’s a Zen approach to travel a lot of us — including me — should adopt. To follow Carole Zoom’s travels, check out her blog at carolezoom.com.