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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Mayor of Wexford Cllr Frank Staples speaks out about mental health in light of suicide figures – Wexford People, November 19 2016

Mayor of Wexford Cllr Frank Staples says that speaking out about his mental illness was like ‘taking away a mask’ and is encouraging people to open up.

Cllr Staples, who has been open about his own battle with depression in recent years, said that suffering in silence is like wearing a mask – an ordeal that it can become very exhausting for a person over time.

‘It’s so exhausting to be covering up mental illness day in and day out,’ he said. ‘When you talk about it, it can only be described as taking away a mask. You feel instantly better. I encourage people to let down the mask and talk about it.’

‘For me as mayor to speak out about my own battle with depression, it has made a huge difference to me,’ he continued. ‘It feels really good to be open. I know now that if I’m not feeling well, I can talk about it. I don’t feel like I am making excuses.’

Cllr Staples acknowledged that it can be difficult for people to seek help themselves when they are suffering from a mental illness. With this in mind, he said it is important for everyone in the community to play their part in tackling the issue.

‘I have said before that I feel that anyone with a mental illness is strong. They have to face daily battles but they can’t keep fighting forever,’ he said.

‘We expect people to ask for help when they are struggling but not everyone is able to do that. We all have a huge part to play. It’s important to ask those close to you how they are and even though they might not speak out the first time, it might encourage them to eventually open up,’ he said.

At a higher level, Cllr Staples said that establishing a 24/7 mental health unit in Wexford is vital, not only for those suffering from mental illness, but for those close to them.

‘If somebody is suffering from depression for example, it’s good for their family to know that there is 24/7 support available. It gives them reassurance that there is somewhere that they can go if their loved one is in difficulty,’ he said. ‘Mental illness doesn’t only affect those suffering.’

Cllr Staples reiterated earlier reports that the County Council are currently in talks with the government on the possibility of an alternative use for St Senan’s Hospital. He said He would like to see a 24/ 7 unit on the grounds of Wexford General Hospital.

‘A 24/7 unit is definitely needed in Wexford and I don’t think anyone is going to argue that. There has been a lot of speculation about where it should be but I would like to see it on the grounds of Wexford General Hospital as you have access to other services there,’ he said.

‘I would love to see it soon but I am under no illusions; it takes a lot of time and money. Finding a building is no problem but hiring staff costs a lot of money,’ he continued. ‘But if we don’t at least talk about it, it will never happen.’

Improving education on mental health is also necessary, according to Cllr Staples, who said that many young people may not know if they are suffering with depression.

‘More could be done for teens and young people. They might be suffering from depression but don’t know the symptoms. There are so many symptoms of depression. They could be going around feeling terrible and not knowing why,’ he said.

Cllr Staples made his comments following the release of figures from the CSO, which showed that 405 people lost their lives to suicide in Wexford between 1995 and 2015. Commenting on the figures, he said that they were shocking and very high but said it is likely that they are even higher in reality. He said it is difficult to know for sure why Wexford has one of the highest rates of suicide in the country.

‘We have a high rate of unemployment and I am sure that isn’t helping,’ he said. ‘But that’s just speculation. I imagine it is linked in some way or another as unemployment puts more financial pressure on people.’

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/newrossstandard/news/mayor-of-wexford-cllr-frank-staples-speaks-out-about-mental-health-in-light-of-suicide-figures-35215238.html)

Clonard native Emer Mulhall makes a toast to the year ahead as Wexford Toastmasters president – Wexford People, October 22 2016

Having been born with a visual impairment, Clonard resident Emer Mulhall has faced many challenges throughout her life yet she has embraced each one with great enthusiasm.

Now, on recently been elected this year’s President of the Wexford Toastmasters Club, she is gearing up to take yet another one on board. Though such a responsibility could send even the most organised person into a frazzle, Emer is ready for anything that comes her way.

‘Its a challenge but I’m well used to challenges,’ said the Ashford native. ‘Despite being visually impaired, I have gone skiing and have a degree in Modern English and History from Trinity.’

Emer, who has been a member of Toastmasters for seven years, initially put herself forward for another role on the committee. However, she was thrilled when her fellow members suggested that she take up the reins as president.

‘It was a very nice feeling to be honest. I felt really good because it showed that the committee had faith in me,’ she said.

Following a survey of the members to see what changes they would like to be made, Emer made some plans for the year ahead including increasing the number of speeches people make and the incorporation of a questions and answers corner.

‘The questions corner will give new members a chance to ask anything they like about Toastmasters. It gives them an opportunity to learn what it is all about,’ she said.

Emer, who is completely blind, said that public speaking was something that once terrified her. Since joining the club in 2009, Emer said her confidence has greatly increased.

‘Toastmasters has done an awful lot for me and can do so much for so many people,’ she said. ‘When you are visually impaired, your spatial awareness is affected. If you get up to make a speech, you aren’t sure where the audience is, whether your movements or gestures are ok, whether you are doing anything wrong or whether you are facing the audience. The thing about Toastmasters is, when you are finished your speech, somebody evaluates it. People will offer you constructive criticism.’

‘It’s marvellous and has helped me enormously. I’m now much more confident standing in front of people. I’ve done ten speeches so far and an advanced manual.’

Though she reads braille,’ Emer tries not to use it when making her speeches.

‘If you don’t use notes, then you have a fluidity when you are speaking,’ she said.

She does bring one thing with her when making her speeches however: her guide dog Trudy.

‘I always have Trudy there beside me. She’s really well-behaved,’ she said.

With the Wexford Toastmasters Open Night coming up in Greenacres this Thursday night, Emer is looking forward to meeting potential members. She urges anyone with an interest to come along and discover what the group has to offer.

‘I found it all so nervewracking at first. For me, it was mainly because I didn’t know where the audience was. But you find ways around these worries,’ she said. ‘If I can do that, anyone can!’

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/clonard-native-emer-mulhall-makes-a-toast-to-the-year-ahead-as-wexford-toastmasters-president-35137560.html)

Brave Wexford women take a dip in aid of the Hope Centre – Gorey Guardian, August 27 2016

‘Girl power at its best’ is how organisers of this year’s Dip in the Nip described the recent event which saw 248 women bare all and make a splash at Rosslare Strand.

The event was the biggest of its kind ever to be organised in Ireland, beating the previous record by 48 people. Along with serving as an empowering social event for women, the dip aimed to raise money for The Hope Centre and at time of writing, over €13,000 had been raised.

‘It was a very emotional event for a lot of people. There was plenty of tears and plenty of laughter,’ explained organiser of the event Eileen Rowe. ‘It really was girl power at its best. Some women told their stories and those who didn’t got inspiration from others.’

Crowds of women sporting their finest dressing gowns gathered on Rosslare Strand in the cool morning air before the dip. Emotions were high for all, particularly for the many cancer survivors who came along to brave the swim.

Now in its second year, the Wexford dip attracted double the participants compared to this time last year. Many people took the icy dip in memory of those who they have lost to cancer. Meanwhile, other swimmers saw the event as an opportunity to celebrate an occasion, such as a hen party, a 50th birthday and a 30th birthday. Dawn Foley from Mayglass took the plunge in a veil and garter just two weeks before she is due to walk down the aisle with fiancé Conor Casey.

‘My sister Christine suggested that we did it as one last thing before I got married,’ said the Mulrankin native. ‘I would recommend it to everyone. You don’t realise what other women have gone through until you see them coming together and showing support for each other.’

The experience proved to be life-changing for Dawn, who said that it has made her look at her body in a different way.

‘It’s not that you are looking at each other but when everyone was running into the water you get that sense that every woman is beautiful in their own body,’ she said. ‘Beforehand, I would have been very self-conscious about my body and scrutinised myself in the mirror but now I am enjoying who I am as a woman.’

After the dip, which Eileen said ‘sent screeches up through the village’, all of the participants gathered in Rosslare Community Centre to pop open some prosecco and enjoy a well deserved feed.

In the coming weeks, the final figure will be officially announced and Eileen expects it to exceed €15,000.

‘We have about €13,000 so far and I know so many people still need to hand in their sponsorship cards in the coming days,’ she said.

(First published in the Gorey Guardian newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/goreyguardian/lifestyle/brave-wexford-women-take-a-dip-in-aid-of-the-hope-centre-34986256.html)

Frank is our new mayor – Wexford People, July 9 2016

From Wexford’s first rural mayor came Wexford’s first farming mayor as Cllr Ger Carthy handed over the rope and chains to new mayor Cllr Frank Staples last week.

‘I am deeply honoured to be elected mayor of this historic borough,’ Cllr Staples said in his acceptance speech following last week’s 5-4 vote at the Wexford Arts Centre. Cllr Tony Dempsey was elected as deputy mayor following a 5-4 vote.

The proud Mayglass-Ballymore man began his term of office by thanking his wife Trish, seven sons, friends, family and everyone who showed their support to him. He also thanked his aunts Eva (88) and Janie (90) for their support, along with his sister Mary who was unable to make it on the night.

Cllr Staples (58) outlined his main priorities for the coming year, of which he said mental health is a key focus.

‘We have a mental health crisis at the moment and the mental health services are struggling to deal with it. We need a dedicated 24/7 mental health facility to facilitate people in crisis.

‘We have a situation at the moment where people in desperate need of help are being turned away from hospitals because of lack of services.’

Cllr Staples said that from his own experience, he has learned that sometimes the little things can help.

‘Speaking from experience, sometimes it’s the little things that count.

‘So, don’t be afraid to ask, call or send someone a text if you know they are going through tough times, because you may be the person they open up to if you reach out to them.’

‘If you take nothing else from this evening but that you can make a positive impact on other people’s mental health, it will be worthwhile.’

Cllr Staples said his other priorities include job creation and advancing projects such as the development of Min Ryan People’s Park, Trinity Wharf Development and the Technological University for the South East. He also spoke about the Local Economic and Community Plan, which he said is ‘crucial’ for growth in the Southeast.

A tribute was also paid by Cllr Staples to his friend and colleague the late Cllr Fergie Kehoe.

‘A lot has been said about Fergie and I suppose if I was to pay him a compliment, it was hard not to be his friend, because once Fergie got to know you he would be your friend.’

Outgoing mayor Cllr Ger Carthy received unanimous praise from his colleagues for his year in office, with many paying reference to the more difficult tasks he has taken on over the past 12 months.

All of the councillors paid their best wishes to the new mayor, including Cllr George Lawlor, who joked that he was Wexford’s first farming mayor.

Following the election of deputy mayor Tony Dempsey, Cllr Staples said that he was delighted to have him on board.

‘I look forward to working for Wexford Borough and District with you in 2016 and 2017.’

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/frank-is-our-new-mayor-34870319.html)

A Wexford man with a happy future in his sights – Wexford People, July 7 2015

Vincent Mulligan is a man who has overcome all of his obstacles, regardless of what has been thrown at him.

At only 26, when he lost his sight due to diabetes, the Wexford resident witnessed his whole life being taken away overnight.

‘I woke up one day and couldn’t see very clearly,’ explained Vincent, who is originally from Kilmuckridge. ‘I panicked and went to the hospital where they told me that I had diabetic retinopathy.’

In the following months, Vincent received laser treatment and an operation on his right eye, both of which were unsuccessful. As a result, he found himself completely blind on one side.

‘The doctors then concentrated on my left eye and stabilised it with laser treatment,’ he said. ‘I am registered blind in that eye too but I can see light and can read or watch television if I readjust myself.’

It was not only sight loss that Vincent had to learn to cope with. As a qualified electrician, Vincent was forced to come to terms with the fact that he would no longer be able to continue in his profession. In the beginning, he found this difficult to accept.

‘I was feeling sorry for myself for months,’ explained Vincent.

This wasn’t the first period of hardship in Vincent’s life. Only a year previously, he fell from scaffolding while working abroad, an accident which left him in a coma.

‘When I woke up to find the tubes in my throat, I panicked and pulled on them,’ he said. ‘This caused a leak in my throat but I didn’t know this so I went back to work.’

One week later, Vincent was wiring tunnels in Paris when he began experienced breathing difficulties.

‘I jumped into the car and drove myself to hospital, which probably wasn’t the best thing to do,’ he laughed. ‘I had to get a throat operation which went well but the whole event had affected my body. I couldn’t speak for a while and had to learn how to walk again.’

This physical trauma coupled with Vincent’s diabetes eventually led to his sight loss. For the young man, this was the final straw.

‘The sight loss affected me in ways that I thought were life-ending,’ he said.

Thankfully, a family member introduced Vincent to the National Council for the Blind (NCBI). He was put in touch with support worker Michael Benson and for the first time in several years, began to feel hopeful about his future.

‘They encouraged me to do a computer course and this completely opened up my world,’ said Vincent. ‘I realised that, although I may not be able to do practical work anymore, I am capable of other things. So I turned my attention to learning.’

Vincent didn’t enjoy school as a child and left at the age of 16 to do an apprenticeship. However, through working with Michael, he was persuaded to give studying another go.

‘Michael told me that I could do whatever I wanted to do. I told him that I wanted to do what he did – to empower people and encourage those in unfortunate situations,’ he smiled.

The pair researched numerous colleges until they came across a course in Applied Social Studies in IT Carlow’s Wexford campus.

‘They took me in straight away which is an important thing to highlight,’ said Vincent. ‘People with disabilities can get into college and be supported while they are there.’

Vincent’s four years in college were anything but easy. His vision impairment made college life incredibly difficult, especially when it came to reading books and completing assignments. Yet, aided by some special equipment and Aidan Barry from the NCBI, he managed to secure a 2:1 degree.

‘They were the most difficult years of my life, but definitely the most rewarding,’ he said. ‘I suppose when you are interested in something, you will do well.’

Following college, Vincent had another challenge to face: finding a job. For him, the key thing was to be optimistic.

‘I tend to be quite positive and do well in interviews anyway. Though, I am fortunate as I am on the right side of vision,’ he said. ‘I see so many others with bad vision impairments who have more talent and ability than me yet, are unable to find work.’

As a man who has experienced sight loss first-hand, Vincent believes it is important for employers to recognise the special skills that the visually-impaired have.

‘I can pick up on hints to tell how a person is feeling, but I couldn’t do that before. I was a typical man!’ he laughed.

Vincent now uses these skills to help others. At present, he works in a residential unit for men with autism, a role that he finds ‘really rewarding.’

‘My job requires me to educate, support and look after their needs in society,’ he explained. ‘I give people hope and show them that their situation can improve.’

Vincent’s own unfortunate experiences have given him this newfound positivity which he enjoys passing on to others.

‘It has made me appreciate the little things in life,’ he said. ‘I used to work hard so that I could get things for myself. That doesn’t really matter. What’s important is having people that you can depend on.’

Soon, Vincent will be welcoming a new addition to his life who will be dependent on him. In October, Vincent and his wife Labhaoise will welcome their first child into the world. The due date is October 1, which also happens to be Vincent’s birthday. According to the father-to-be, the couple are nervous, yet excited.

‘I suppose we’re like every couple though,’ he smiled. ‘It’s going to be the best birthday present ever!’

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/lifestyle/a-wexford-man-with-a-happy-future-in-his-sights-31360318.html)