Four travellers who aren’t letting their disabilities stop them from seeing the world – Zafigo.com, July 26 2017

Even the best laid plans can go awry, and if regular travellers inevitably face that while trotting the globe, imagine how much more difficult it is for those with disabilities. But, as these four bloggers/YouTubers and intrepid travellers share with us, it’s no reason to not explore the world.

Dilara Earle and Justine Eltakchi @ The Pickle Sandwich

Dilaraand Justine of THe Pickle Sandwich in Madrid (Photo Credit: Instagram @ ThePickleSandwich)

Dilara and Justine of The Pickle Sandwich in Madrid (Photo Credit: Instagram @ ThePickleSandwich)

Jet-setting duo Dilara Earle and Justine Eltakchi are shining a light on accessible travel through their hilarious and thought-provoking YouTube channel, The Pickle Sandwich. The duo joined forces after meeting through AirBnB. Justine, an Australian, is legally blind while Dilara, a Scottish, is profoundly deaf. Since then, they have travelled across Australia, New Zealand, Spain, and Scotland together, documenting their adventures as they go.

“We want to raise awareness through sharing our experiences and through comedy. If one person out there realises not to walk away when talking, or not to downplay our disability when we’ve explicitly told them that it’s real and it’s serious, then I’ll be happy!” says Justine when asked about their goal.

Dilara and Justine in Spain

Dilara and Justine in Spain (Photo Credit: The Pickle Sandwich)

Biggest challenges “I have to prepare my equipment really well,” Dilara shares. “I need a million chargers and adapters to make sure I can recharge all my batteries on the road. I also have to try and remember to tell reception to come and get me if there is a fire.”

Recommended destinations Though unable to pinpoint a place that ‘has it all’, Justine and Dilara find that anywhere with big signs, warnings on the walls, step railings and good lighting are easier to get around. Streets that have lots of street art and musicians playing are always going to be easy on the eyes and ears! The secret to it is the locals though. If the people are willing to help you out and reach out to make your day easier, we never forget it,” says Dilara.

Top tip “Your disability can be a healthy part of your identity! The deaf culture and community is amazing, for example. But don’t let it define you. Let your curiosity and love for the world define your experiences of life instead,” says Dilara.

Jeanne Allen @ Incredible Accessible

Jeanne at the Alpine Meadows. (Photo Credit: Facebook @ Incredible Accessible)

Jeanne at the Alpine Meadows. (Photo Credit: Facebook @ Incredible Accessible)

With limited information about accessible travel online, planning a trip can be a feat in itself for someone with a disability. Jeanne, who has lived with Multiple Sclerosis for 30 years, learned this prior to visiting Chicago several years ago, when it took hours of online research and phone calls to concoct the perfect itinerary. “When it was over, I was about to throw away the itinerary that I spent hours putting together and thought, this is crazy, I could share this with others. So, I decided to start a blog,” explains Jeanne.

Biggest challenges On day one of her ongoing 66-day European trip, Jeanne was presented with one of her greatest challenges yet. “Upon landing in Oslo, the plane crew couldn’t find my chair. It was eventually found but the right arm with the controls was dangling off the side and it was broken,” recalls the US native. “Fortunately, it was still drivable but I had to bend forward so it wasn’t very safe.” Jeanne quickly took action by filing a claim and making contact with the wheelchair manufacturer. “They tracked down a manufacturer in Scandanavia and miracle of miracles, things were set into motion. A day later, the repair man drove to Oslo and fixed my wheelchair on the spot.”

Jeanne’s experience didn’t dampen her spirits but rather, gave her a renewed appreciation in the kindness of strangers worldwide. “While waiting to get my chair fixed, our hotel was tremendous. They found zip ties and duct tape and used them to bring the armrest to the right level. They then propped an umbrella under the armrests to keep them upright so I was going around Oslo with an umbrella across my knees. I felt like MacGyver!”

Kayaking lesson with Allie Ibsen at Achieve Tahoe (Photo Credit: incredibleaccessible.com

Kayaking lesson with Allie Ibsen at Achieve Tahoe (Photo Credit: incredibleaccessible.com)

Recommended destinations Having toured the United States (US), Canada and now Europe too, the city of Victoria, Canada currently tops her list of accessible destinations. “Our hotel there had something I had never seen before. My husband went to the room before me. By the time I got there, he was grinning at me like a Cheshire cat. He handed me the key card and said to open it. I did…the door automatically swung open, and stayed open long enough for me to roll in with my scooter.”

Top tip Plan in advance and be specific with your hotels about individual needs. Using all available tools is also a message that Jeanne tries to spread. “We all hate the idea of disability and giving in to it. But once I did, I found life so much easier. For example, I recently got a van ramp which allows me to travel completely independently,” she explains. “If the tools exist, don’t resist them. They really will change your life.”

Cory Lee @ Curb Free With Cory Lee

Cory and his mother on a hot air balloon ride over Israel (Photo Credit: )

Cory and his mother on a hot air balloon ride over Israel (Photo Credit: curbfreewithcorylee)

Despite being diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy at age two and getting his first wheelchair at four, Cory has never allowed his disability to restrain his wanderlust. “I started travelling at a young age in the US and that sparked my love of travel. I never saw any limits, even though I use a wheelchair on a daily basis,” he says. “When I was 15, I took my first international trip to the Bahamas. It was the first time that I saw a different culture and way of life and I decided that I wanted to go much further. I have since been to six continents, with just Antarctica to go.”

In 2013, Cory set up his blog Curb Free with Cory Lee to share his adventures with friends and family. He documents his experiences in faraway and unusual places, from hiking through the Amazon rainforest to soaring over Israel in a hot air balloon. Before long, he was being featured on the likes of Travel Channel and Lonely Planet. “People have contacted me to say that my blog has inspired them to travel to Africa or Israel. Some are travelling for the first time. For many people with a disability, it can be hard to get out of your comfort zone and go abroad. When I go out to different places and write about them, I’m testing the waters for these people,” explains Cory.

Cory in the Blue Lagoon (Photo Credit: curbfreebycorylee.com)

Cory in the Blue Lagoon (Photo Credit: curbfreewithcorylee.com)

Biggest challenges While Cory’s posts are brimming with positivity and snaps of enviable locations, he remains honest about the challenges that he faces. Air travel can prove particularly problematic and on several occasions, he has arrived at his destination only to discover that his wheelchair was damaged. “I’m always worried about it being damaged but I try to have a backup plan. It is important to know of wheelchair repair shops in any place you go to,” he advises.

Recommended destinations “Australia was great; Sydney in particular was spectacular. I could ride every ferry, see every attraction and all of the restaurants were accessible. Iceland also really surprised me. The Blue Lagoon even had a special chair to get into the water,” he says. “Also, the people in Iceland were really friendly and willing to help.”

Top tip Cory is constantly thinking about his next destination and when it comes to accessible travel, he believes planning is key. “Start planning as far in advance as possible. Reach out to other wheelchair users that have gone to the destination. Look for blog posts and get that first-hand perspective.”

(First published on Zafigo.com on July 26, 2017. Available online at: http://zafigo.com/stories/zafigo-stories/travellers-who-arent-letting-disabilities-stop-them-seeing-the-world/)

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Couple vow to fight HSE decision to relocate severely disabled daughter from Dawn House – Wexford People, November 3 2015

A couple whose severely disabled daughter can no longer avail of the services at Dawn House have said that they ‘won’t give up’ in the fight to help their loved one.

Ferrybank residents Noel and Kathleen DeHora had been bringing their daughter Leah to the HSE-run respite centre for 24 years until they were told last September that she would be moved elsewhere.

Following months of unresolved discussions since then, the couple decided to take action by arriving at the centre with their daughter on the day she was due to be relocated.

‘We have always kept Leah’s life private and I didn’t want it to come to this,’ said Kathleen. ‘All she needs is to be comfortable, dry and fed and have a bit of interaction. Hopefully with moral support we can do something. People power is the only thing that can change this.’

Over fifteen friends and family members came out to the centre on Monday to support the couple’s plight. Cllr Anthony Kelly, who was a neighbour of the DeHoras in the past, was one of the people who met them outside Dawn House.

‘We need to try to resolve this peacefully,’ said Cllr Kelly on Monday morning. ‘When I went into Dawn House, they said that the services are inadequate for Leah. What we need to do is talk about this and try to find a solution.’

In an attempt to resolve the issue, Cllr Kelly arranged to attend a meeting along with four representatives of the HSE and the DeHora family. However, speaking after the discussions yesterday evening, he said that no progress was made.

‘We may have to resort to protesting about this and I am prepared to stand with the family,’ he said. ‘The HSE representatives said that they might seek an injunction if we do protest but they can’t if we stay within the confines of the law.’

Leah, who is a non-resident at Dawn House, suffers from severe epilepsy and scoliosis. She was one of the first service users at Dawn House and according to Kathleen, herself and her husband were very happy with how she was being treated. However, in September 2014, they were informed that Leah’s situation would soon change.

‘I got a phone call from the HSE asking Noel and myself to come to Ely House. When I went in, there were a number of representatives of the HSE in the boardroom. They told me that they intended to move Leah and that HIQA were behind the decision due to funding cuts,’ explained Kathleen. ‘My whole world fell apart that day.’

Noel and Kathleen were invited to a second meeting but were later devastated when the possibility of a bed for Leah in the Wexford area was ruled out.

Leah was offered a place at the Millbrook facility in Enniscorthy, which would require her to be collected from her home in Ferrybank each day at 9 a.m. She was due to begin attending the centre on Monday. However, according to Noel, this is not a feasible solution.

‘It wouldn’t be good for her at all,’ he said. ‘We even got a letter from her neurologist who said that moving her wouldn’t be good for her epilepsy. He said that it would be detrimental to her health.’

Cllr Kelly said that he brought up the neurologist’s concerns during Monday’s meeting, but ‘they said that they were complying with a HIQA request and that they have Leah’s best interests at heart,’ he said. ‘The HSE is in ribbons. They don’t seem to me to have the patient’s interests at heart at all.’

Kathleen echoed what her husband said earlier, saying that the idea of taking up a place at Millbrook was an ‘impossibility’.

‘It takes us hours to get her ready and there’s is no way that we can have her ready by 9 a.m.’ she said.

Kathleen said it would require Leah to return home each day at 4 p.m.

‘I suggested at the meeting that I could drive her up myself to Enniscorthy at 11 a.m. every morning if they bring her back to a home such as Dawn House and give her tea. The HSE representatives said that it was not possible,’ she said.

‘I would be fearful of allowing somebody into my home in the evenings. Agency nurses move around to different homes and it can take the nurses nine months to get used to a service user.’

Leah is the only non-resident to avail of the services at Dawn House, something that Kathleen feels has made her an ‘easy target’. She said that earlier this year, she was told that they didn’t want to mix residents and non-residents as it might cause a disturbance.

‘That really was the pits. Leah is one of the quietest children that there is,’ she said. ‘We contacted HIQA about this and they said that they would never single out one person for being a non-resident.’

A member of the DeHora family who wished to remain anonymous said that the ongoing issue was putting great strain on the family.

‘It has deeply affected everyone,’ she said. ‘It’s terrible to think that people in the health service can just do this.’

The family member said that the staff at Dawn House were not to blame as their ‘hands are tied’. Cllr Kelly echoed these sentiments, saying that the staff provide an ‘excellent service.’

‘We aren’t attacking Dawn House at all. We’re attacking the system,’ he said.

Kathleen agreed, expressing her satisfaction with the service that her daughter has received until now.

‘Dawn House have been fantastic. We couldn’t praise them enough,’ she said.

However, as their situation remains unresolved, she said she is worried for Leah’s future.

‘From the beginning, we were given the idea that even if something happened to us, she would be looked after. This doesn’t seem to be the case if they can’t even look after her when we are here to fight for her,’ she said. ‘We don’t have a life and we are happy with that. As long as Leah is healthy and happy, that is all that we want.’

A representative from Dawn House was unable to comment on the matter on Monday. However, the HSE have released a statement on the issue in which they said they are in ongoing communication with the family.

‘At all times, the HSE’s services are acting in the service user’s best interests. In addition, on the grounds of confidentiality of treatment, the HSE will not be publicly discussing any individual’s circumstances. We will do so, however, directly with a service user and/or their families/representatives.

‘Specialist day services in the Wexford area are provided at the state of the art Millbrook facility in Enniscorthy, to and from which the HSE can arrange transport suitable to the needs of service users around the county,’ said the statement.

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/couple-vow-to-fight-hse-decision-to-relocate-severely-disabled-daughter-from-dawn-house-34168187.html)