Travel around the world in a wheelchair

Cory Lee is one of the most intrepid travelers I’ve ever met. His travels to places like India, Morocco and Antarctica are just the beginning. In the past eight years he has traveled to 39 countries and all seven continents. What makes this even more remarkable is that all of his travels have been done in a power wheelchair.

Diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (Type 2) at the age of two, he got his first power wheelchair at the age of four and went on his first trip to Walt Disney World. He now documents his travels on his website, CurbFree with Cory Lee: Sharing the World from a Wheelchair User’s Perspective. This is much more than a travel blog. Destination after destination, he describes his days in a particular destination, noting how accessible a destination is and the challenges of traveling in a wheelchair. Recent coverage includes wheelchair user guides to places as diverse as Sarasota, Lake Tahoe and the Adirondacks. Not to mention Santiago, Chile and Montevideo, Uruguay.

“I started my website in 2013 while researching a trip to Australia and trying to find disability information,” Lee said. “It was difficult to find which goals were achievable. There was a lack of accessible travel information to destinations around the world. So I decided to become a resource and share this information.”

So which countries or cities are doing a great job?

“I think there are many places,” he says. “Scandinavia is one of the most accessible places. There are 300 wheelchair accessible taxis in Helsinki alone. The US also generally does a good job. We are fortunate to have the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). On the other hand, if a country doesn’t have an ADA designation, that doesn’t mean it’s completely inaccessible. Spain is doing phenomenal work and in Barcelona the beaches are the most accessible in the world. They even have staff on hand to transfer you from your wheelchair to a beach wheelchair. I haven’t seen that anywhere else in the world.”

However, many travel destinations remain a challenge. On a visit to New York City in 2005, he found only 15 accessible cabs that required 48 hours notice. He adds that the city has improved a lot in the last five years and has become one of the easiest cities to get around.

“My toughest trip was to Paris in 2011,” he recalls. “Back then there was a huge lack of barrier-free means of transport. There was only one van to call and it cost 800 euros a day. I heard it got better and I would love to come back.”

Overall, Lee says the world is becoming more accessible. Four years ago “I went to India. I’ve always wanted to go and found a tour operator that specializes in barrier-free travel. They used an adapted van and explored accessible hotels and attractions. I had a phenomenal experience.

One constant, Lee says, is that the hardest part of traveling for wheelchair users is flying, especially on long flights.

“They have to wheel you onto the plane and put you in an aisle chair. I can’t transfer myself and sometimes the crew is trained, sometimes not and there can be language barriers. Using the toilet can be an issue and I am always concerned about my checked wheelchair being damaged in flight as it has been damaged frequently. But I wouldn’t trade travel for anything.”

Lee is a sought-after conference speaker and traveled more than 100 nights in 2021. His favorite trip?

“Morocco in 2018,” he says. “I had such a remarkable experience. I went to Fez, Marrakech and the Sahara. The company I worked with, Morocco Accessible Travel Consultants, had an adaptive full-back camel seat. It gave me one of my most memorable experiences ever, riding a camel across the dunes.”

Lee also just launched the CurbFree Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides travel grants to wheelchair users.

“I get messages almost every day from people who are inspired to travel through my website,” he says. “It reminds me why I’m doing this.”

Visit CurbFree with Cory Lee.

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