Kunho boards the accessible Transformers attraction at Universal Studios.
Kunho spent the next three years in Vietnam and South Korea, developing an appreciation for accessibility. “Many of the buildings did not have ramps or elevators,” he says. “When I spent a year in my home country, South Korea, it was a little bit better than Vietnam, but it was significantly challenging to move around. Many times, I could not find a bathroom that was accessible.”
From his time in America prior to his accident, Kunho remembered seeing more people in wheelchairs out and about and more accessible amenities like ramps and curb cuts. The prospect of going to college in a more wheelchair-friendly environment excited him. But upon arriving at Harvard, he was disappointed with how difficult it was to find up-to-date, reliable information about accessibility.
He decided to channel his disappointment into a travel guide that would have the information about restaurants, hotels and destinations he had sought unsuccessfully. In Brad, Kunho discovered the perfect trip mate and friend. Brad is an enthusiastic photographer who is on the board of the Harvard College Writers Workshop. More importantly the two shared a dream. “I told him that I want to do a road trip before I graduate and Brad said that was also his dream, too. That was how the snowball started rolling on and on,” says Kunho.
Over a number of long nights in the library, Kunho and Brad divided the trip into four sections and assigned each one to a member of their group. For that part of the trip, the chosen individual would be the “Supreme Master,” responsible for choosing what to see and do. They figured the trip would cost around $15,000. They launched a crowdfunding campaign with a compelling stop-motion video of Kunho sitting in front of the Harvard Square T stop while hundreds of people passed by him. That propelled their crowdfunding campaign to raise over $6,000. Coupled with a grant from the Christopher Reeve Foundation, that was enough to cover the rest of the bill. They also worked the phones and email to find sponsors, using an elaborate database to track who they called, who they had heard back from and what else needed to be done. All they could do was wait for July.
On the Road
First stop, San Francisco. Kunho and Cynthia arrived first on July 7 and Brad and You-Myeong three days later. Once assembled, the group spent two days soaking up the sun and testing its plan to divide and conquer accessible attractions. Fresh with enthusiasm and energy, the team pushed through and over San Francisco’s notorious hills to check out Chinatown, Golden Gate Bridge and Twin Peaks. Kunho had his first experience getting stuck in sand at the beach, and the group overcame the trip’s first obstacle: a rental van with no hand controls. “It turned out to work in our favor,” says Kunho, “as we got a better, bigger car.”
With one city down, Brad and You-Myeong devised the group’s first “Tetris-like” schematic to pack all of the gear into the van, and they hit the road. Los Angeles loomed as the next “official” city, but that didn’t stop the team from checking out the University of California’s Berkeley campus and camping out under the stars in Yosemite.
Fueled by fire-roasted chicken and s’mores, the team drove on to Los Angeles for one of the most-event packed stops of the trip. Even with visits to Hollywood, Universal Studios, the Getty Museum, the Griffith Observatory and the Santa Monica Pier, the group found time to discuss accessibility with Asians and Pacific Islanders with Disabilities of California and UCLA’s Office for Students with Disabilities. The jam-packed schedules and how much the group chronicled would evolve over the course of the trip. “We originally had this idea that that we would include a lot more fancy restaurants and other things,” says Kunho. “That proved a little beyond our reach, and then we sort of reassessed what we were capable of doing on the rest of the trip and ended up saying ‘OK, you know what, we’re just going to limit ourselves to the sight-seeing attractions because that’s really important, and that’s what we have the manpower to do.’”
Brad added that going to the same sorts of venues day after day had a way of getting repetitive. “At some point, we had gone to like 20 different museums and for us, every painting and every sculpture in the museum looked the same.”
Las Vegas brought all the spectacle and flash it is known for, but will likely be remembered as the site of the first evolution of Kunho’s hair. “I had always wanted to try different colors and I was curious about what would happen if I bleached my hair,” he says. “It was a trip that I would have once in my lifetime, so I just wanted to do every single thing that I wanted to do.”
“We bought some bleach in Vegas that was supposed to turn his hair white, but when you put it in, it just turned red,” says Brad. Another bleaching later on gave Kunho a dirty orange look. Before he ever got the white hair he’d been shooting for, he decided to shave his head. “I’d always wanted to try having a bald head, but my Buddhist parents never allowed me,” says Kunho.
Heading east, the team soaked up some of the country’s natural beauty at the Grand Canyon and Canyonlands National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park. “One of my favorite memories is when we were trying to catch a sunset at the Grand Canyon,” says Brad. “We were driving as fast as the speed limit would allow along a two-lane highway as the light faded. We finally arrived at the viewing post just after the sun had set, when there was still a faint ribbon of light where the sun had passed the horizon. The canyon was long and blue and dark, and we sat and watched and thought and took photographs.”