Planning a trip is no easy task for anyone. It requires a lot of research and preparation to make sure you get to see everything you want to see. It’s a task that becomes even more difficult if you’re a wheelchair user.
Our destination was Malta, somewhere my husband and I had wanted to go for years, long before I ever found myself in a wheelchair. When it came time to start planning the trip we were suddenly hit with a realization; what if Malta is all cobblestone? I have plenty of experience with cobblestone already from living in Dublin and going to Cologne every year. It’s difficult to maneuver on, and all the bumps cause my back injury to flare up. The idea almost put an end to the trip entirely.
Planning a regular journey, I would go to Streetview on Google Maps to look at the sidewalks and the streets themselves to judge how difficult getting around would be for me. It isn’t a very accurate way to plan a trip, but it is the best option at the moment. What I hadn’t ever thought to take account of was that Streetview isn’t available everywhere. Google hasn’t brought Streetview to Malta yet.
Trying to find out what the roads were like, especially in the older cities like Valletta I found myself turning to Youtube, looking for videos of the city. Anytime there was a bit of street in the frame I’d pause and have a look. Did it have cobblestone? Would I be able to go on that road? It turns out, though, there aren’t many videos about Malta on Youtube.
The next stop was Google Image Search where you’re greeted with photos of stairs and massive hills. Not very attractive when you have someone who will have to push you up those hills. After all of this, I was close to calling it off. There were just too many uncertainties. I had one last trick up my sleeve; Reddit.
I went to the Malta subreddit and simply asked, is Malta and Valletta precisely, easy to get around in a wheelchair? Generally, subreddits hate it when tourists come and ask questions on country/region specific subreddits, but the Maltese Reddit users were happy to answer my questions! I learned more talking to them than I did from any of my previous research.
The trip was back on, and though when we got there, we faced a few challenges we didn’t expect, we had a fantastic time in Malta.
Unfortunately while making travel plans is getting easier for wheelchair users it still has a long way to go. Resources are popping up like Trip-Ability and Access Earth that look at individual landmarks and restaurants they don’t take into account other things like the location of cobblestones, stairs, and ramps. Finding wheelchair accessible taxis even in the major cities like Cologne can be a challenge. You may not know that your hotel is at the bottom of a huge hill until you arrive and see it for yourself. This is information you can’t find online, and you don’t know about until you get there. Wheelchair users are forced to roll with the punches and sometimes face disappointment when they get to a destination.
We aren’t letting that stop us, though. We’re determined to keep rolling our way through the world, seeing as much of it as we can and spreading information to others. You shouldn’t have to be stuck in your home town just because you aren’t sure you’ll be able to get around.