Growing up holidaying with family did not affirm Deirdre’s love for travel as much as traveling for regular checkups with her 20-year-old son Damian did! Her son is a wheelchair user. It all started off with taking the edge off a medical visit! In this conversation, we learn about her views on accessible travel & understand more about her initiative @WarriorOnWheels.
Tell us something about yourself- your background, interests, and passion in life?
I am a mom to a 20-year-old young man who has a physical disability. We love the outdoors & are happiest on a mountain trail. I am a horse trail guide at @horsesatpetes My passion is to create adventure opportunities for children with disabilities & thus, @WarriorOnWheels was born.
When and how did you get bitten by the travel bug for the first time?
I grew up holidaying on the Transkei wild coast with my family, but as a young adult & parent, I think traveling to other towns to take my son to doctors affirmed the love of an open road & road trip. The thrill of a new place & adventure taking the edge off a medical visit.
It's truly amazing how travel or the outdoors can take the edge off many complexities of life. Before becoming a mother, have you ever traveled solo?
I became a mother young, so no, all of my travels have been with my best adventure buddy, Damian. We have explored quite a bit of SA, mostly coastal, but had our first international trip in 2017 to Ireland.
What is Damian's opinion about traveling? Does he have the never say die spirit, despite all compulsive restrictions?
Damian has an adventurous spirit second to none! All he wants to do is fly... He loves being in the sky whether plane, helicopter or ziplining.
You've been to Ireland lately, how would you rank the country out of a 10? Did you confront any challenges while on the road?
Ireland has been calling me forever and it exceeded all my expectations. We loved every moment. We didn't specifically book accessible accommodation as it was just for stopovers and we had a hire car, so I can't really compare accessible transport and accommodation to SA. We had a bit of a funny moment when we visited Dun Anghoasa, a cliff top fort. It is not wheelchair accessible & they told me I'd never get to the top carrying Damian. Of course, we did, we have been hiking since he was two! And it had nothing like the Table Mountain, in intensity.
Are you a massive planner before your travels?
I'm actually not, I probably should be. Besides Damian's physical limitations he is healthy & doesn't have other risk factors, so besides the obvious... Wheelchair, medication & clothing, we are flexible & easy. He is quite small, so we can make a plan if not 100% accessible.
Pertaining to accessible travel in general, do you think travelers should be very stringent about planning a trip?
What is accessible for one person in a wheelchair may be inaccessible for another. I can leave a w/chair in a car & carry Damian up steps to accommodation. For an adult wheelchair user that would be impossible. Researching facilities is important for the best travel experience.
Which was born first- @AccessibleSA or @warrioronwheels? What propelled you to make this shift from your previous jobs?
I spent 15 years in insurance. WOW had been a dream for many years, initially as an adventure centre, but when I moved to CT in 2010, I realised there was a wealth of adventure opportunity here that didn't need to be confined to one centre. I left insurance in 2013 & we travelled locally for a year, volunteering through WWOOFSA before starting work with the horses & launching WOW in 2015. ASA is an initiative of WOW that came about through seeing the need for access to information on accessible travel.
“Tourism for All”- how far is SA in this case?
There is still a lot to be done. I think we, Warrior On Wheels, get to see the genuine willingness of service providers to adapt the way they do business & become inclusive but, there is still so much that is inaccessible & also a lack of awareness of what access for all really is.
In the age of the Internet, almost every information is out there. What do you think poses as the root of this lack of awareness?
I think for someone who hasn't experienced disability it's easy to think that installing a ramp, for example, means a building is accessible. But there are many types of disability... Blindness, deafness & also invisible disabilities, so accessibility requires a holistic approach.
Could you brief us about how you are promoting accessible travel via @AccessibleSA and what do you plan to introduce in future?
For establishment who have gone the distance adapting facilities, we want to showcase their offerings to the right audience. Our podcast features travellers with disabilities about their experiences. Our platform will also provide employment for people with disabilities. Our website aims to be a one-stop platform for travellers to plan a trip to South Africa from start to end... Not just accommodation, but transport, restaurants, activities etc. The domestic tourism market of disabled travellers is a potential 600,000 we aim to make their planning easier.
That's commendable! you have our best! Can we get a top five from your bucket list?
- Northern Lights (for me)
- Lapland Christmas (for Damian)
- Riding safari in Kenya (when I'm brave enough to ride where there are predators)
- Namibia & Botswana
What do you think the role of Attitude is when it comes to accessible travel?
Communication is key. Willingness from a service provider to adapt, & from a traveler to engage with specific needs. This is our approach if we try to force them to build a ramp, by law they must do it but they won't welcome us. Work with them, we make it better for the next person.
What according to you is the essence of traveling?
Discovering the unknown, exploring different ways of being, and learning more about yourself in relation to these and outside of what is known and familiar. Appreciation of the beauty of other landscapes, cities, and cultures.
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