Travelling With My Disability
By C.S. Jackson, Interviewed by Raf Bracho
What particular challenges do you face, and how does it affect your travel?
I think that the particular challenges I face when I travel are probably best summed up using a quote: “As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” For example, I know that transportation to and from the airport can be hard for me. I have to book my rides several days in advance. I am never quite sure what exactly an “accessible” room and bathroom will mean to the establishment where I’m staying. There are several things that I didn’t know I didn’t know, such as the fact that cobblestones can make life hell for people who use wheelchairs. I try to plan as much as possible and try to think of all the pitfalls I might encounter, but there are still problems that I encounter on every trip. It’s all part of the challenge and excitement of travelling.
Where have you travelled? Were you alone or did you have a companion? How do these experiences differ?
The first trip I ever took was to Washington DC when I was in ninth grade. It was a pretty cool trip and I think I might’ve scratched the paint at Monticello while being pushed in a manual wheelchair. It was a completely chaperoned and guided trip. There wasn’t a lot of freedom to explore. The second trip I’ve taken was to Cincinnati to visit a dear friend that I had met online. She worked at a Barnes & Noble’s at the time which introduced me to the amazing Sandman series as well as Vampire: the Masquerade so we can all hold her partly responsible for my nerdiness. This was my first trip as an adult and without supervision.
I remember that I went to a goth club for the first time but I cannot hang for very long because I had just gotten to Cincinnati that night. I wish I’d been more open and possibly less tired so I could’ve hung out longer and watch people dance. I had lots of fun on that trip, but I think my favorite moment was just listening to my friend and her friend talk about nothing while driving somewhere at night. I also took part in an exchange trip to the UK where I spent 21 days with other people with disabilities. Many of the people that I travelled with are still my friends today and I am very happy about that. I was over 21 at the time. The hostel in Leeds where I stayed for the majority of my trip had a bar in it and I had to explain to the bartender how to make a screwdriver. I obviously spent a lot of time there. There were a lot of conversations with other people and this was shortly after 9/11 so there was a lot of fear and talk. This trip also introduced me to the politics of being disabled. In the United States, The Americans with Disabilities Act was fought for and signed into law before I even became aware of what politics was. Meanwhile, in the UK, individuals with disabilities were struggling to obtain some of the same protections. I didn’t know it at the time, but some of the concepts that people talked about with me in Leeds would eventually form the central nexus of my political view in regards to disabilities.
My second trip to the UK in 2008 was part of an official invitation to present a talk in at the University in Leeds. I had made a name for myself (at least in my head) for researching disabilities in the ancient world. I had been invited to give a talk by one of my heroes and I was very excited to go. I happened to ask a friend of mine from college to come with me. They were very helpful in helping me conquer the challenges of international travel without an organization. I remember on the US side of my flight, I was placed in the middle row of the economy section. This made it extremely hard for me to get in and out to go to the bathroom on the seven hour flight. When I arrived in the UK, the ground crew asked me what I was doing there and that I should of been in the front row. I also got to meet another friend in Scotland who showed us around and introduced me to the wonder that is Haggis and Hadrian’s Wall. I’ve also been to Oklahoma City as an academic. I think what I remember most about this trip is that I was really nervous presenting my talk and that my cohort from graduate school was really supportive in their own way. I also became really sick or fatigued from travelling. I think I spent 18 hours in bed while in Oklahoma City. There were a lot of sidewalks without curb cuts in Oklahoma City but overall it was pretty flat and easy for me to get around.
The last trip I took was to Sacramento for my job. I currently work at a state agency that helps people with disabilities and I volunteered to take a week long course in work incentives planning. Work incentives planning means helping people receive some kind of government benefit realize that they are almost always better off working if they are able to. I think out of all the cities I’ve been to, Sacramento was my least favorite, but that may have also been because it was the first time I travelled by myself. I was very excited to attempt this and it worked out well. The staff at my hotel helped me with my coffee every morning and also my meals. My coworker, who also went on the trip, was also of great help when I thought I needed help packing.
Is there somewhere you long to visit, yet feel the logistics of the trip present too many challenges to undertake?
I really would like to visit Rome or Greece, but given how old the cities are, I am afraid that it would not be easy for me to get around. It is really too bad, as those places really appeal to me.
What would you recommend to other individuals who long to travel, yet are fearful because of their particular challenges?
Research as much as you can! Find out what you can about transportation, accommodations, your airlines. See if there’s a wheelchair repair shop in the cities that you’ll be staying in. There’ll always be problems that you can’t foresee or research for. You’ll just have to improvise and tell the story later.