20-year-old Alicia, & 23-year-old Leah are out to pursue their dream of adventures and thrill and nothing can stop them! After a school camp, the two became inseparable as friends and soon after, Leah became a caregiver for Alicia, who was born with spastic quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy. The conversation follows their story and outlook on accessible travel as a whole.
Let's get to know you both better, individually. Also, why traveling of all things?
Ever since we met we just wanted to find things to do that were fun and not be stuck inside all the time so whenever we had spare time it was always "where shall we go today?" And, the adventures seem to get bigger and further every time. The more we've traveled the more we want to do.
Alicia: I was born with spastic quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy which affects my muscles but not my mind. I am 20 years old and I am in my third year studying part-time a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Criminology and minoring in Māori Studies at Auckland University, I have also just got a job as a mentor at a primary school. I hope one day to get a job in the youth justice system in a mentoring type role. In regards to how far I intend to inspire people, I don’t really know as I never see myself as inspirational so I just intend to live my life the way I am now without thinking too much about how I can inspire people.
Leah: I'm 23 and I have a background in filmmaking. Alicia and I met in 2012 at Botany Downs Secondary College. We were in the same house at school and we became good friends after Alicia's school camp. I became her caregiver very soon after and continued after finishing school. I worked as a freelance camera operator for a few years and now work full time as a complex care support worker for a five-year-old boy, as well as traveling lots with Alicia - but we always say friend first, and caregiver second. WheelyWacky Adventures started as we had been making lots of videos of our thrill seeking adventures and Alicia's mum said we should put it on YouTube! We didn't realize we would end up with followers all over the world, we were just having fun but we soon realized how important it was to show the world what we were doing.
Alicia & Leah in Miami.
How did you guys come up with the name for your YouTube channel, Wheely Wacky Adventures?
Alicia: The name Wheely Wacky Adventures was suggested by my mum. I’m Wheely and Leah is wacky. We thought about different names but Wheely Wacky Adventures fitted as people always call us crazy for the things that we do.
When did you begin your crazy travels together?
Leah: The first thrill-seeking adventure we did was in our hometown Auckland, we did a vertical Bungy called the Sky Screamer. You get strapped into a ball and basically get launched into the sky. It was terrifying. It was Alicia's idea and we wanted to do it at night time to get a cool view of the city lights. It was quite scary but even after that, we were like ok what can we do next. Our first adventure out of town was our first flight together to Christchurch. We went down and did rafting and abseiling with family friends of Alicia's. That was in 2014. After that first plane trip, we had figured out that we worked quite well together traveling and had our own system of doing things without needing any help. People are often surprised that we do so much with just the two of us but we wouldn't have it any other way. We can't explain it but, it just worked.
Alicia, what drives you to do things "crazy"? Also, Why do you feel you've gained many followers to your channel?
Alicia: I enjoy getting out of my wheelchair and doing things people think I wouldn’t be able to do so, in short, I like proving people wrong I think we gained so many followers as we have two groups of followers. We have other disabled people who see what I’m doing and realize they can do more then we have able-bodied people who don’t know a lot about disabilities so they think what we’re doing is really cool. Most of the time we find ways to do things so I cannot think of everything I wasn’t able to do because of my wheelchair. We’re good at finding ways around things when people say I can’t do something.
Taupo Bungy. PC- Alicia & Leah
Leah, do you intend to merge your passion for film-making with that of being a care support worker & promote accessible travel likewise?
Leah: That's the dream! To find a way to combine the two passions - which we get to do a lot through WWA. I often find that when I am doing filming it is always for projects or documentaries where I really care about the cause. So I filmed a lot for a television documentary series that was about people with disabilities. I think my purpose is to benefit the greater good using my filmmaking skills, so I'm always looking for new ways to do that.
Which were the most and the least accessible countries that you've been to? And what were the up's and challenges involved?
Alicia: The least accessible country we have been to is Fiji where we went to in 20!5 on a school trip. It’s not very developed especially in the areas where tourists don’t usually go as there are broken pavements and steps and you hardly see people with disabilities out. In saying this, the tourist places are quite accessible. The people are happy to help, which made the trip possible. For example, I would never be able to go in my power wheelchair because I need help getting lifted up the stairs. And, there were a lot of stairs!
Leah: The most accessible was the USA. They have the ADA there so lots of laws and rules around accessibility and disability. Everywhere you go has to be accessible so there are ramps everywhere and we even found lots of accessible yellow cabs in New York City. We also enjoyed Disneyland in LA where a lot of rides have specific carts for people in wheelchairs to stay in their chair and be strapped into the ride which was really cool. However, we found that because of them having these laws around disability people are scared to do anything wrong so they kind of treat you differently like you are a ticking time bomb. Things like insisting that they push Alicia into the taxi instead of letting me do it in case I did it wrong and they got in trouble. Also at Disneyland every time we got to the front of a queue for a ride the staff would tell really loudly over their radio 'IVE GOT AN ADA HERE, IVE GOT A WHEELCHAIR' then five people would come running to help. It's good they have systems in place but it is a bit over the top when they make you stand out.
Alicia, could you tell us more about your 10 day trip to Fiji? What was your takeaway from the trip?
Alicia: Our school has a sister school over there so we went on a service trip to do work at the school, such as painting and filling their library up with books as well as visit an orphanage. We were in Suva for 6 days doing service activities then we went to Nadi to relax and do some tourist things. My takeaway from the trip was how lucky I am to live in a country where I don’t have to worry about accessibility. The other thing I took away was how happy the people were even though they have so little.
Little is a lot if one looks at it with the right attitude! That brings me to the Attitude Awards 2018. Being one of the finalists for the Youth Spirit Award, how can these awards contribute to society's awareness?
Alicia: It made me feel really good to be recognized for doing nothing that I perceived to be extraordinary but to know that a lot of people care about the advocacy work I’ve done without actually realizing is really cool. It was really nice to dress up and have a nice evening with family there to Support and also to meet so many inspiring kiwis who have done so much in the disability world. It’s important to have these types of awards so everyone can be aware of the things disabled people are able to do.
Leah, you've recently been awarded the ASB Award. How do you think such recognition will help people become more aware & eager to work in this field as you have?
Leah: I absolutely love my job and would never have considered a career in disability support if I hadn't met Alicia. I had no idea that I had this nurturing side in me, to be honest. If you told me ten years ago what my life would be now I would probably laugh. People don't see disability support as a career, yet they go to work and hate their job and wish to escape for a life of travel and adventure. Learning about me and where Alicia has taken me, leading me to now work in complex care, can make people see that this work, while not for everyone, never really feels like work. It is so rewarding and fun every single day.
I'm really passionate about encouraging other young people to consider becoming support workers. I think it's so important that people like Alicia have someone relatable and their own age to support them in the community. From the first day, I met Alicia I thought about all the things that she could do, not the things she couldn't. All anyone wants is to be treated the same as everyone else and if I can help Alicia do that and also the boy I look after to live life to the fullest, then I could never imagine doing anything else for work!
Seven Sharp. PC- Alicia & Leah
Could you share an experience that even you were skeptical about while on the road but, did it anyway?
Alicia: Every time we do something there’s always a thought in the back of our minds that I might not be able to do it but we go and see anyway. I think the Skyscreamer was something we weren’t sure about but did it anyway, we had to sign a waiver saying that I took responsibility for myself if anything went wrong.
Hint us about some of the top adventures on your bucket list, that you can't wait to do?
Our South Island Road trip is probably the main adventure that we can’t wait to tick off. We’re working on the camper van and are leaving Auckland in July. The Queenstown Bungy and Europe are also on our bucket list.
Top priority 3 things each, that you cannot travel without?
Alicia: My wheelchair (obviously haha), my commode for the bathroom and my iPad so I can keep WWA updated for our followers on what we’re up to plus for photos.
Leah: Alicia, Lipbalm (I'm addicted) and Comfy track pants.
Friends for Life, Alicia & Leah.
Do you think that the world is seen differently from a wheelchair-accessible traveler's perspective?
Alicia: I think it depends on the outlook on the person. For example, for me, I don’t see the world differently because I can manage to do most things with the help of people around me whereas someone else might see it not accessible at all because they expect or need everything to be accessible to them.
Apart from the crazy adventures, what else do you look out for while traveling?
Alicia: I like experiencing the real culture of the country I’m in. For example, when I go to places such as Hawaii or Fiji I like to go out of the tourist places and see how they really live, that gives me experiences that I come away feeling good and appreciative of the life I have.
Any word of advice that you'd like to give to a fellow wheelchair user, who might think traveling and living their dream isn't possible?
Alicia: I guess my advice would be to just get out there and enjoy life. I’ve been raised on the basis that I can do everything other people do just differently. So other people with disabilities should live their life to the fullest instead of focusing on their limitations.
Alicia editing. PC- Leah
What's your upcoming adventure?
Our upcoming adventure is our road trip but we’re hoping to do a mini trip somewhere before then.
What is the "essence of travel" to you guys?
The essence of travel would be experiencing the world and what it has to offer. It is being spontaneous and not letting anything stop you from seeing what you want. Traveling is getting an understanding of life from all different walks of life and letting people know that anything is possible when you plan right and set your mind to it.
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