Grace Kestler is a passionate traveler who tales keen interest in learning about & understanding new cultures. While growing up in Columbus, she’s been to many family trips but, her first solo was to Spain during college. She is currently running for local city council & she is very much a community person which is why alongside working for a non-profit Grace is also into Accessibility Consulting. The conversation follows her travel journey & lookout on global accessible tourism as a whole.
I have found that people are usually kind, no matter where you go and they are always willing to help.
Tell us something about yourself! Your background, interests, passion.
I grew up in Columbus, Indiana. And attended University at DePauw University. For a few years, I worked in Indiana and then. I decided to move to Berlin, Germany to get my Master's in intercultural conflict Management. Till then I had never studied abroad and really wanted to take advantage of the international schooling program. Working at a summer camp in Indiana with a few people who lived in Ireland allowed me to explore a new place. Living in Germany for 3 years, studying refugees from Syria who were living in Berlin, gave me an opportunity to travel much of the expanse of Europe.
Apart from Travel, learning and understanding of new cultures have also been a passion. I really missed the community in Columbus, thus, I'm currently back working at a nonprofit and also doing Accessibility Consulting. I'm also running for my local city council. I think it's really important to have diverse perspectives in broad experience, represented at the city government level.
How did you become a wheelchair user?
For most of my life, I have been using a wheelchair. I have something called muscular dystrophy which was diagnosed when I was a child.
When were you bitten by the travel bug & how has your experience been over the years?
Traveling has always been something that was really important to me. I grew up traveling a lot with my family, mostly around the U.S. However, my first international travel was to Spain when I was in college.
It's definitely been an interesting experience traveling as a wheelchair user. Many countries are not necessarily very accessible and that can be difficult. But, I have found that people are usually kind, no matter where you go and they are always willing to help.
As an upside to running for the local city council, in regards to accessible travel how can the perspectives be broadened on a government level?
I think cities and communities have to realize that people with disabilities want to travel and experience things just like everyone else. So, as a community, we want to ensure that we're the most welcoming Community, to not only residents but also those who might be visiting. I think that goes true for all over the world.
In the streets of India. PC- Grace
Which has been the most and the least accessible destination you've visited?
In terms of accessibility, Germany is pretty good mainly because of its public transportation and it is very inclusive. I think transportation can really contribute to the quality of life, especially for individuals with disabilities. Also, the United States is pretty good all-around.
My favorite, however, is Italy, but unfortunately, it isn’t very accessible. Italy is a fun country full of culture and food. One of the most difficult places I traveled to was India. They have very little infrastructure for someone who uses a wheelchair.
Is it better if the government to establishes an infrastructure that allows people to travel independently?
There should definitely be regulations that are implemented by the government. In fact, the United Nations is already trying to ensure that. However, I don't necessarily think it means that people have to travel alone or independently. For some people, that’s just not an option either. I too prefer traveling with someone in case a need arises.
What are your thoughts on Inclusive urban planning and universal design? What can be the baby steps towards the inclusive strategies?
These are two things that are very important to me. When I do accessible Consulting I'm really thinking about things above and beyond the ADA or the law of regulations. Thinking about how we can make things more inclusively designed. Little changes. I think a lot of it is about education. There’s a continuous need for people to advocate the importance of inclusion.
Little things such as thinking about accessibility when new buildings are being built can be a great opportunity to make something really inclusive. Also, businesses can start to look at their own facilities and think about the little things that they can do like maybe, adding a portable ramp in front of a few steps. And, we need to showcase the businesses and places that are doing things really well because they can be an example to others.
Grace on Mt Aspen.
You launched your brain child, GK Consulting in 2018. What are you guys trying to do?
Most of what we are doing right now is very local in Columbus. We are working with businesses and staff to think about how they can work better with all people. Lots of customer service staff. Also, looking at facilities and helping them make quick, low-cost changes. Majority of what we do is based on the user experience. We put our efforts to see how an individual with a variety of disabilities or not may experience the space. We want people to feel welcome.
Belonging is such an important thing. It comes in many shapes and forms. Not just in terms of disability but, it is something a Community should always think about.
Does your business have plans of integrating or associating with businesses, with special focus on accessible travel?
Not as of right now. There are a lot of organizations working on accessible travel that are doing really great. I might do some partnering with them but, the focus isn't directly traveling, while some organizations I might work with, deal with tourists and visitors.
Where would you place Columbus on accessible travel in a rank of 1 to 10?
We do a pretty good job. I'd probably give us an 8. We need to continue to work on public transportation but of course, we're a small town.
What do you feel is the role of attitude when it comes to traveling with a disability?
Honestly speaking, travelers have to be realistic. Whether you have a disability or not, traveling is about experiencing new things that are different from your own. So, if something is not completely accessible you have to realize that every country is at a different stage in this regard.
I try to focus less on accessibility and more on the culture itself in the people. For example, I have traveled to Vietnam which is also not very accessible, but the people are extremely kind and helpful and didn’t really care that I had a disability. They were willing to help me in every manner so that I could have a good experience. So, it's vital to maintain a positive attitude. Traveling can be overwhelming but one must be flexible.
Which destination tops your bucket list?
I really want to go to South America and Japan.
What is the "essence of travel" to you?
Travel is purely a way to broaden our perspective and find common ground between people across the world.
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