Jo Tolley

The World Will Be Our Oyster

by Jo Tolley | March 2020

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Jo Tolley is a passionate writer, public speaker, blogger and advocate of integration, authenticity and creativity, but most importantly a wonderful and warm-hearted person. Her words and actions have touched the lives of many people through the ‘Written Wheel’, her regular blog posts and her work in the community.

I’m the last person you’d think to hire as an Accessible Travel Consultant: I’d score zero in an orienteering exam and my common sense wouldn’t rate much higher. Just last week, I braved Dennis’s storm and trekked to the bus stop, but my path was flooded. So, instead of finding a drier route, I waded through what can only be described as a ginormous puddle. Did I mention I use a powerchair to get around? I was playing Russian Roulette 2.0, designed especially for the thrill-seekers on wheels. My eyebrows have had a tough time lately: frazzled in a surge of electricity on Monday and almost shaved – courtesy of the pavement – on Tuesday. What can I say, I didn’t see the step which was marked in fluorescent yellow paint!

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I have learnt to work backwards from the worst-case scenario; if all else fails, I wing it.

I know you think I’ve lost my marbles in a game of Kerplunk and you’d be right, but I like living on the wild side. The thing is, travelling isn’t always about going around the world in eighty days. As great as that sounds, before you explore the world, you have to have the confidence and ability to step out of your front door. This couldn’t be truer for someone living with a disability: a simple trip to the shops can take time, energy and determination. For us, life is meticulously scheduled – we are the Masters of Planning. What if there are steps, crowds, flashing lights, flesh-eating zombies.

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The energy it takes to plan to get out of the door is enough to put anyone off, but then we have to put the plan into action.

We go out in the knowledge that we’re probably going to need to ask for assistance or deal with people who we’d rather not deal with. Sometimes, living with a disability makes you stand out in the most visible ways and sometimes, it means you have to explain the ways in which your invisible disability makes you stand out. Both can be equally exhausting.

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All of the above takes determination. Against all odds, floods and undetectable yellow paint, we’ve made it out of the door. The world is our oyster.

When you go on holiday, what do you think of? Whether it’s sun, sea and sangria or trekking up a mountain with Bear Grylls, relaxation and escapism of the daily grind will be your main aim. As people with disabilities, we have the zest for life and the resilience to conquer everything that blocks our path, but the world can only be our oyster if it’s prepared and equipped for our crash-landing. A prime example of this is last year’s expedition to Istanbul…What a mighty fine experience that was! The Turks are kind-hearted, willing souls who persistently attempt to sell you a job lot of carpets, gold and parrots, but their genuine generosity doesn’t extend to accessibility. Don’t get me wrong, I’m the first person to say that access doesn’t always have to take its conventional form – good old-fashioned manpower to heave-ho me up a curb is more entertaining. But then, there’s no such thing as conventional access. Accessibility isn’t just about dropped curbs and ramps: it’s as diverse as the people who need it.

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In an ideal world, the tourism industry should be accessibility-ready for disabled people to crash-land for a relaxing holiday.

In an ideal world autism, visual impairments, hearing impairments, mental health conditions and rare conditions would all be understood. However, there’s no sign of the globe being on the same accessible page. For sure, it’ll be a long road filled with potholes to get to that place: culturally, politically and economically, we’re not even in the same book. Of course, we’ll get there. We give the time, the energy and the determination to step out of the front door, so without a doubt, the world will eventually be our oyster.