Guest post from Emily Yates, a 22-year-old travel writer and presenter. Emily has Cerebral Palsy and is currently working on an accessible travel guide for the Olympic Games in Rio.
My first experience of feeling truly unlimited, regardless of my disability, was during an expedition to southern Africa with the Journey of a Lifetime Trust (JoLt) at the age of 16.
Twenty-three other young people and myself rode elephants, climbed sand dunes and cage-dived with sharks – three things I definitely never thought I’d do, especially not with such ease and encouragement! The only way to describe it is that I felt free; there was no cotton wool, shocked faces or red tape to hold me back.
Quite naturally, from that point on I was addicted to travel, and obsessed by the thought of getting to as many places as I could, fighting against stereotypes and exceeding expectations each and every time. But I also wanted to do more than that; I wanted to place a positive, ‘can do’ image of the disabled community out there for all, both able and lesser able, to see.
My hope was that this would then clear the way for others who were considered, or considered themselves to be, disabled, to jump on the travel bandwagon and enjoy the ride.
I lived in the Sinai Desert with a Bedouin tribe, learned to scuba dive in the Red Sea, studied at the University of Melbourne, Australia, and took part in a scholarship trip to Sichuan University in Chengdu, China. But it was after an amazing two weeks of volunteering as a Games Maker at the London 2012 Paralympic Games that I was mentioned by Lord Sebastian Coe as somebody who had ‘lifted the clouds of limitation’ for those with disabilities.
It was then that I knew I must push myself further, and attempt to really make a difference in the world of adapted and accessible travel. I had enjoyed the positivity and the electric atmosphere of the Games so much, and was desperate to be involved in the next ones in Rio de Janeiro. It is an honour to say that I am now working in association with Rough Guides in order to write, publish and distribute an Accessible Travel Guide to Rio 2016, in order to provide information, guidance and encouragement to those who once considered themselves to be limited, and thought that travel wasn’t for them.
After lots of planning and networking, I traveled to Rio for the first time in November 2013, and was kindly hosted by the British Consulate. The city itself is an incredibly vibrant and exciting place and, although there are improvements to be made in terms of accessibility, projects of progression are already underway. I have never felt so welcome in a foreign environment before, and I cannot wait to see what is in store for 2016. I can guarantee that those who visit will really know how to celebrate after some time in Brazilian company!
I can’t deny that travel can be stressful, exhausting, and a ridiculous amount of hard work, especially if you are travelling with that ‘extra baggage’ of a condition that requires careful forward planning and a few special measures to be put in place. It is challenging, but it is not impossible. With accepting the possibility and opportunity of travel, you also immediately accept to experience some of the most exciting, fulfilling and life-affirming moments you will ever have. And hey, why should any of that ‘extra baggage’ that you might carry exclude you from grabbing a hold of that?!