Ticket to Ride

“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.” -Stephen Hawking

When I was younger I never really thought of myself as disabled. I was able to do most of the things any other children my age could do. Moreover, I never spent much time thinking about being disabled and what that meant. I am not sure there really is one true definition of what “disability” actually means. We all have things we do well and things we don’t do so well. I can do things you can’t do. Conversely, you can do things I cannot.

Growing up if there was something that I wanted to do, I usually found a way to do it. I don’t think I ever focused much on my limitations. It is only since I have gotten older that I have begun to see that I do indeed have limits to what I physically can do. For instance, when I go somewhere that requires a lot of walking I will take my wheelchair. When I was younger I never used a wheelchair unless I was in the hospital. It seems like time has caught up with me a little. However, I don’t see this as something that interferes with the things that I want to do. Sure, there are many places that are not very accessible to those who are in wheelchairs, but I am usually stubborn enough to find a way in to those places.

Surprisingly, when I was younger I had a hard time relating to others with disabilities. I think this is because friends and family never treated me as someone who had a disability. Looking back, I think I would have learned more about myself if I had joined groups where I could communicate with other disabled people. I never felt like the world owed me anything, and I still don’t. However, I do feel the like the older I get the more I feel like advocating for others who are disabled.

The world was not made for people like me. For instance, there are very few places where wheelchair users can easily use public transportation. I do believe that access is becoming much better than it once was, especially in larger cities across the world. There is still much work to be done though to level the playing surface for the disabled. One place that I have visited that has made great strides is Washington D.C. Most of the train stations have elevators that go down to the platforms. All of the trains are flush with the platform so wheelchair users can roll directly on and off the trains.

London is another city that seems to be working to make access to public transportation easier for those in wheelchairs. Many of the stations are becoming easier to access for those in wheelchairs. Platforms are being made level with the entryway to train cars. All of the busses have ramps as well, which allows for easy entrance to those on wheels. Progress is being made in other cities as well.

I think as access to various places and events increases for those with disabilities, we will able to regret less the things we cannot do. For, there will be ways in which we can now do them. In the meantime, I hope those with disabilities will focus on the things that we can do.

Finally, if anyone out there is looking for a travel writer, Amanda and I would love to explore the world and report back on the accessibility of the places we visit. Maybe would could start in Australia or New Zealand…

London Calling – Part 5 of 7

After a brief stay in London we took the train north to Yorkshire to visit some friends of ours.  Helen and Ian live in a village called Kippax, which is just outside the city of Leeds.  They had invited us to stay with them for a few days so that we could explore their part of England.  I am so glad that we did this. 

Helen and Ian opened their home to us, fed us, and showed us around the country that they love.  I think seeing this part of England was one of our favorite parts of this whole trip.  However, next time we go, we will be sure to take some Dramamine, as the roads in Yorkshire are rather narrow and curvy.  I can safely say that I was holding on for dear life as Helen drove us up to the Yorkshire Dales.  This area, as you can see from the pictures below, is stunningly beautiful.  I had always wanted to see the English countryside and the Dales did not disappoint. 


You can see for miles in the Dales.

Getting to meet other friends that live in this part of England, such as Gail and Sue, was also a treat.  It was fun to spend time with all of these people and hear about their lives.  They all treated us with kindness and hospitality.  I can think of no better example of this then Ian and Helen driving us from Kippax to Liverpool, which is a little over 80 miles. 

It was a rainy day, and Amanda and I had just planned to be dropped off in Liverpool.  We would then book a tour that would show us around the city that gave birth to the Beatles.  However,  Ian would not hear of it and he proceeded to drive us all around Liverpool so that I could catch glimpses of Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, John Lennon’s boyhood home, and other parts of the city where Beatles history had been made.  The selflessness of this act is something that will always mean a great deal to me.  Ian also made sure that we were safely escorted to the airport in Liverpool for our flight to Dublin.  There are still good people in the world, and many of them can be found in England.  Oh, and the secret to London’s public restrooms is a “radar” key.  Helen and Ian provided us with one of these.  It is a key that, according to the BBC, “unlocks the doors of more than 9,000 handicapped restrooms across the UK.”  I accidentally brought this key back to the U.S. with us.  Helen if you are reading this, we will mail it back to you!   

Strawberry Fields Forever…

P.S. – If you ever find yourself in the city of York visit Betty’s Tea Room for some tea and a piece of their lemon curd torte. Also, make sure you visit York Minster. It is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. You will not be disappointed.

Me learning how to drink tea properly at Betty’s in York.

London Calling – Part 4 of 7

By day two in London we had gotten a better feel for our surroundings and found that the transit system in London is quite accessible to those with disabilities.  Many of the train platforms have been constructed in such a way that those in wheelchairs can roll straight from the platform onto the train, which made it very simple to travel from one part of London to the next.  Likewise, just about every curb has a cutout or is level with the street so that rolling along the sidewalks is no problem at all.  I’ve never been in a city quite as accommodating as London, for not only are physical structures accessible, but the people are more than willing to go out of their way to help.  Nowhere was this more evident than in the tube stations and bus stops all across the city. 

Transit workers putting place a portable ramp that allowed me to roll up right onto the train in my wheelchair. I cannot say enough good things about these people.

As noted above, many train platforms are level with the train compartments so that rolling right onto the train in a wheelchair is very simple.  However, there are still some stations that do not have this kind of accessibility.  This was no problem though, as there always seemed to be transit workers there with portable ramps which enabled me to roll right up onto the train, as pictured above.  The kindness displayed by these workers was something I will never forget.  Many times we were asked what station we were headed to next and the attendant would radio the next stop and let them know that we would need a ramp.  I felt as if the whole of London was rolling out the “red carpet” for me wherever I went.  Now if only the queen would have invited us in for tea when we stopped by Buckingham Palace.   

These guards outside Buckingham Palace weren’t quite as welcoming as everyone else had been. They meant business standing watch with their automatic weapons at the ready.

The busses in London were also very easy to use, as they all are equipped with wheelchair ramps that come sliding out onto the sidewalk.  There is also a designated area just for wheelchairs in each bus.  An added bonus is that disabled individuals can ride the busses for free.  So, if you are thinking about heading to London you might want to get yourself a wheelchair.   

Buildings that are thousands of years old are also very accessible to those with disabilities.  For instance, when we visited Westminster Abbey, the staff from the church brought out portable ramps, which enabled me to roll right up into the cathedral.  This was true for every cathedral that we visited all throughout England.  Why are buildings that are far more new here in the United States not as accessible? 

Westminster Abbey was one of my favorite stops along the way.

With ease we were able to tour the market on Portobello Road, see the place where Jimi Hendrix, one of my musical heroes, died and visit other sites that we had only ever dreamed about seeing.  This was all made possible by those willing to lend a hand to two crazy Americans that jammed a month’s worth of sightseeing into just two weeks! 

The Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill. This place was so colorful and there were so many different things to buy.

London Calling – Part 3 of 7

That infamous wheelchair, which I mentioned in part two of this story would prove quite valuable during our first full day in London, for we were off on a walking tour of some of the sites related to the history of the Beatles.  Our guide for this tour was a man by the name of Richard Porter, who makes his living showing Beatles fans around London.  Richard was an interesting man, to say the least.  He resembled Richard Simmons and had the energy to match.  Were we going to be “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” or merely taking a leisurely stroll through London’s Soho?  Fortunately, it was the latter.  Richard had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Fab Four, so our tour led us to some very interesting places.  

Richard Porter – “The Walking, Talking Beatles Encyclopedia”

Our first stop along the way was Paul McCartney’s office building.  Richard said that Paul can be spotted at times coming and going, but we had no such luck.  We then stopped in front of Trident Studios.  This is the studio where the Beatles recorded much of the White Album, along with one of their last singles, “Hey Jude.”  Many other legendary musicians have recorded here as well, such as David Bowie, Elton John, Queen, The Rolling Stones, and Frank Zappa.  From Trident Studios we headed to Carnaby Street, an area well known for its fashion boutiques that catered to many of the popular bands of the 1960’s.    

Next, we found ourselves in front of the London Palladium, the theatre where “Beatlemania” is said to have begun .  Unfortunately, as you can see from the picture below, the only thing happening this day was a concert by Rick Astley. 

Richard giving me the history of the London Palladium and its place in Beatles lore

From the Palladium we ventured on to a club called the Bag O’ Nails.  This is a club where the Jimi Hendrix Experience played one of its first live shows.  It is also where Paul McCartney met Linda, his first wife.  Loving the music of both the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, it was a thrill for me to see these places that I had only ever read about in books.

Then, as if this day could not get any better, it was time to see one of the places that looms quite large in the legend of the Beatles, Apple Studios at 3 Savile Row.  This is where the band played their legendary rooftop concert on January 30, 1969.  Sadly, this was to be their last live performance as a band.  After spending a few minutes taking pictures and soaking in all of this wonderful history, it was time to move on to our next two stops. 

The brown brick building with the four windows at the very top is 3 Savile Row, site of the Beatles rooftop concert.

The first of these places was the Scotch of St. James, another very important landmark in the history of 60’s rock and roll, as this was a club that saw many legendary performers play.  In the same square where the Scotch of St. James is located also stands the building that once housed the Indica Gallery.  The Indica was an art gallery where John Lennon was first introduced to Yoko Ono.  Oh, if only John had stayed home that night!

To end our day of Beatles sightseeing, Richard, Amanda, and I caught a train that would take us to Abbey Road Studios.  This is a sight that I thought I would never get to see in person.  As you can see below, I was able to roll across the famous crossing where the Beatles were photographed for the cover of Abbey Road, which is my favorite album of theirs. 

The famous crossing just down the street from Abbey Road Studios.

After a very long, but exciting day, at least for me, we rode the train back to the heart of Westminster.  This is where Big Ben and the Houses or Parliament are located.  I had waited years to visit Big Ben, and to my dismay it was obscured by layers of scaffolding!  However, that wasn’t the biggest problem I’d encounter this night. 

One thing that became more clear as the night wore on, is that public restrooms are few and far between in London.  Having grown up in the United States, where you can stop at almost any fast food restaurant or gas station and use the restroom, I was shocked to discover that this was not the case in London.  This realization almost became a disaster as I spent nearly an hour looking for a place to use the restroom.  Then when we found one, we had to find a person to unlock it for us.  I’m not sure if they were worried someone was going to steal the toilet paper or run off with the commode, but as we found out later there is a secret to these restrooms! After the restroom saga came to an end, we looked for a place to eat.  We settled for an interesting pub across the street from Big Ben.  

Big Ben hiding behind all of the scaffolding.

As we were eating we began to speak with the couple seated next to us and found out they were from Chicago, which made for some enjoyable dinner conversation.  It was fun to share stories with them and just soak in the culture that surrounded us.        

After a very eventful day, we took the train back to our hotel and settled in for the night excited to see what the next day would bring.  Oh, and that wheelchair, it made it through the day as well, but it too was weary.  I wonder if it has ever been found, but more about that in the next post.

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