Our co-founder Julie Jones spoke with Kia Handley on ABC Newcastle Mornings about planning travel when someone in your family lives with a disability, and why she started Travel Without Limits.
You can listen to the full interview here, or read the transcript below.
Transcript: Julie Jones with Kia Handley on ABC Newcastle Mornings
Kia Handley: You might ask friends, look at reviews, maybe read blogs or articles and that could be how you decide where you go on holidays, what you do while you’re there, but you might still be left with questions. Will they have what I need? Am I able to ask for these things if they aren’t? Why is it so hard to get some basic information? How will I know if a place has the accessibility I need? And that’s where Julie Jones and her Aussie travel magazine Travel Without Limits comes in. Let’s learn all about it this morning and how we can all be a little bit better at promoting accessible travel. Julie, thanks so much for being here today.
Julie Jones: Oh, thanks so much for having me.
KH: What inspired you to start a travel mag?
JJ: Well, basically I have a son who lives with a disability who’s a wheelchair user, and lives with cerebral palsy. We’re a travel-loving family that really wanted to continue to see the world and to see Australia, despite any challenges that we had. Really, I couldn’t find anything in mainstream media at all that covered off our travel needs, so it was really about fulfilling a gap in the market, showing what is available and trying to make it easier for people to actually travel.
KH: Tell me about what you were noticing through your own family’s experience, where there was that lack of information sometimes.
JJ: Well, I remember just saying to my husband, while we were planning a trip to America, when Braeden was a lot younger- I remember saying to him, ‘we can’t be the first travel family with a wheelchair to travel to the US’. But there was just nothing at the time. We just couldn’t get the information that we needed, that was quite specific to a wheelchair user and to a family travelling with a wheelchair user. The extra equipment, things like that. There’s been huge improvements since Braeden was little, so I can say there’s positives on the horizon, but there’s still a long way to go. We need to catch up faster.
KH: What was the information you’d be seeking?
JJ: We just wanted to know when we went to, for example, get on the plane, how we did it and whether there was any harness to keep him [Braeden] more upright on the plane, and give him a little bit more support. We knew sitting on the aircraft would be really lengthy for him. When we got to Disneyland, we really wanted to know how to make the most of our day, were there any extra accommodations for him as a wheelchair user, because he can’t stand waiting (like most of us, but he just won’t tolerate it). Those sorts of things. Hotel accommodation that didn’t have stairs, so many things that we needed to find out. Whether busses were accessible, public transport at our destination.
The U.S. does it better than a lot of places as far as information, because they have an Americans with Disabilities Act, which actually means that places do need to do things within certain specifications, which is fantastic. But we could always have more, and I think people are looking for a trusted source, people who have already done it with a wheelchair or done it with autism or with a vision impairment. We all want those voices of people who really get it, and that’s why I started the magazine. We always have people with lived experience writing the stories so people know it’s a trusted source of information.
KH: And this is information everyone can use. I know, working with my grandparents to book a hotel somewhere. They need to know if it’s a step into the bath, or a straight-in shower. Just improving understanding around accessibility creates inclusive travel for everyone.
JJ: That’s right, and I’ve actually had- because I also have a blog called Have Wheelchair Will Travel, I’ve had people message me and say they have a pram, so they follow my blog simply because they know if it’s wheelchair accessible, they know that there won’t be stairs for a pram. And like you say, many elderly people have got different mobility restrictions, or they might just need the ease of not having stairs, if you know what I mean. We all want to make sure that when we get to our destination, we maximise our time and enjoyment. That might mean that if somebody’s older, they’re still mobile but they do need to have a few accommodations that make it easier for them. That’s where we need to look at it as more of a universal design. If we’re designing something to be accessible, it’s also going to help many other members of the community as well, so it’s not just about a wheelchair. It’s about somebody who’s currently got a broken leg, or elderly grandparents, or a pram.
KH: I know that I can’t pack well and my suitcase is 32kg and I don’t want to lug it up the stairs.
JJ: Been there, done that!
KH: How’s it grown as you’ve started this? The conversation changed around it as well?
JJ: Around travel?
JJ: I think the conversation’s changed and I’m certainly seeing destinations now that are really looking at targeting this sector, and really providing better for them. There’s definitely a lot more social responsibility. It often frustrates me because we hear about ‘responsible travel’ and that’s usually around the environment and the footprint that we leave at a destination- whether that be how we interact with locals or whatever. But to me, responsible travel should also include this population of people that have additional needs when they travel, and just need to have that information provided. It’s good to see some destinations really coming on board, and there’s some really exceptional things happening in this space. We just need more across the sector. We also need- with airline toilets, do you know that none of our domestic airlines provide an accessible bathroom on the flight?
JJ: A basic human need, to be able to go to the bathroom, and those tiny cubicles most of the time challenging to get into, but if you need to assist somebody to go to the bathroom, then there’s just no way, no how. Some of the international flights, you get the larger stalls in, but not the domestic. So, as a society, we really need to address the basics before anything else, really.
KH: What feedback are you getting from Travel Without Limits?
JJ: Really positive feedback. It’s really unique, it’s the only print magazine around the world- we also have it on Amazon. Anyone who’s blind or has a vision impairment can read it in a digital format. So, we’re really trying very hard to cater to the people that have been overlooked for so long in mainstream media.
KH: Are you finding people are reading it from right around the world?
JJ: Yes, yes, we have subscribers from right around the world. And it’s really heartening to have stories- I have one lady in the Netherlands contact me about my blog, and she said that she’d travelled from the Netherlands to New York, which her family thought there was no way she could do. She was new to being disabled, and she said ‘I just followed your tips and it gave me the confidence to do so’. That’s what we want to do, we want to really give people the confidence to travel. For anyone travelling, things can go wrong.
KH: Yeah! Oh yeah!
JJ: I always say to people, you just say home if you want things to go smoothly, stay home. Particularly in the COVID era, it’s been very well publicised, all the challenges.
KH: It is kind of the joy of travel, isn’t it? Dealing with whatever pops up.
JJ: Look, sometimes the best stories I have are the ones from when things went wrong. I’ve been in a hurricane, I’ve been in a typhoon, we’ve had an earthquake. We’ve covered off most of the-
KH: When the bag doesn’t arrive, and just working out where you can find some free undies from.
JJ: Exactly. You know, for a wheelchair user, if their wheelchair doesn’t arrive, or arrives damaged-
JJ: That’s like your legs being broken. When you get to your destination, you just can’t- you just literally cannot function. There’s a serious side to things going wrong as well, that’s for sure. I don’t want to be too flippant about it!
KH: No, no, as you said, it does elevate the stakes. The more that airlines are made aware, the more that hotels are made aware, then you know that extra care can be taken to make sure that- I know it’s not a perfect system, and there’s humans behind the scenes, but we can start conversations to make sure that it’s never a wheelchair being left off the plane.
JJ: That’s right. And also, if people book an accessible hotel room, they need an accessible hotel room. You can’t just bump them to a different room. It makes the difference between whether they can stay at your hotel or they can’t stay at your hotel. As you say the more we talk about it, the more we make people aware of it. So, thank you for shining a light on it.
JJ: That’s what we really need, for it to become a mainstream conversation, so people as a general rule have a greater understanding of, as you say, the high stakes of not providing the right service.
KH: You mentioned the c-word, COVID. It’s hard. I don’t want to bring it up anymore, I want us to move on.
JJ: We’re over it!
KH: Yeah, I want us to move forward. But it changed travel, did it change what you were doing at Travel Without Limits?
JJ: I guess we focused a lot more on domestic travel, and I think there’s still quite a lot of people with a disability who prefer domestic travel, just because of the healthcare system and everything else in Australia. I think people turned to alternative accommodation of family when COVID first hit and then we could travel again. We went to self-contained accommodation, instead of big hotels where we had to get in a lift with our son, because he won’t wear a mask. He can’t wear a mask. It was a case of- we needed to change things up a bit, and be a little bit more conscious of being so- It’s definitely still a challenge fore many people, especially those with compromised health.
This week’s change in policy of isolation [deep breath] will definitely have a great impact, I think, on what people will do. But during COVID, we shared a lot of the museums that were doing virtual tours, so it was really nice that people could still have a way of travelling virtually. I think that’s one of the great advantages of the technology these days. You can still do quite a bit online. But I think people are very ready to get back to travelling, and seeing things in person, and meeting people, and hearing the foreign languages, and everything else.
KH: There’s lots of people listening around New South Wales this morning who might work in hotels, restaurants, tour companies, everything that has to do with tourism. We know tourism holds up our regional towns. What would you say are the key things they need to look at and see if they’re ticking off, to make sure they’re inclusive?
JJ: I think the number one thing is communication. So, asking how you can help, rather than assuming what somebody needs. I always say to people, what my son needs is very different to what another wheelchair user needs. There’s no one-size-fits-all. Understanding that is great!
I think a lot of regional areas have challenges with building access and things like that, and having something like a portable ramp, and having signage to let people know that you’ve got a portable ramp to bring out if they require it, is really great.
Really, number one is just asking people how we can help you, how we can make your stay better, or is there anything else we can do for you to make you more comfortable. That’s really great, particularly if it’s just in a helpful way, rather than a patronising way.
KH: And anyone can go and check out Travel Without Limits mag, right?
JJ: Yes, you certainly can!
KH: I know you’re on social media, the internet is the best place to go?
JJ: Yes, they can get magazine subscriptions through travelwithoutlimits.com.au. Or it’s on Amazon, all English-speaking Amazon. We’ve also got Have Wheelchair Will Travel, which is our family blog and website where we share our tips on travelling as a family with someone with a disability.
KH: Perfect. Julie, it’s been really great to meet you. I know this isn’t the start of the conversation, but it’s good just to continue to have it, as you said, so we can all do our little bit. So everyone can get out and explore. It’s such an important part of living life, really.
JJ: It’s something we all look forward to, and particularly people who have a lot of extra daily admin with appointments and therapy and everything else, they look forward to it even more. It’s really important that we keep this conversation going, and I thank you very much for opening up the conversation this morning.
KH: Anytime! It’s been a pleasure Julie, thank you.
JJ: Thanks so much.
KH: Julie Jones there, founder of Travel Without Limits.