Mama Bear vs The Tourism & Hospitality Industries

Mama Bear vs the Tourism & Hospitality Industries

By Angela Wilson

The fun part of traveling and visiting new places are the attractions and activities that you have planned. There is usually another added planning step for those of us with a short- or long-term physical disability, other disabilities, or a family member with those concerns. How many hours will we have to spend to find and book the entire trip, because information from the tourism and hospitality industries our family requires is not easily available?

This is our family and, as you can see, we love to travel, locally and around the world. 

 A group of people wearing sunglasses

Description automatically generated with low confidence Central Park, NYC

 Pompeii

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 Barcelona

A group of people posing for the camera

Description automatically generated with medium confidence Alcatraz, San Francisco, California, USA

A picture containing floor, person

Description automatically generated Putt Putt – Disney Cruise Lines, The Bahamas

A picture containing water, outdoor, water sport, swimming

Description automatically generated The Bahamas

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The Coliseum, Rome, Italy

Due to a currently undiagnosed condition (8 years and counting), our son, Samuel, has been facing diminishing mobility. He has gone from no assistance, to wearing ankle foot orthoses (AFOs or leg braces), to using a walker, and now to using a wheelchair almost full-time. He still has strength in his legs so, with the use of other equipment or my husband’s or my own strength, we can assist his movement up and down stairs, over bumpy terrain, or through narrow spaces.  

Of course, whenever we go searching for our next adventure, the physical information about a business’ location, lodging options, restaurant features, or activity online either is inadequate, incorrect, or doesn’t exist at all. If you haven’t gone on one of the large travel planning websites, take a look. At least when I tried travel planning, the first place I would go is TripAdvisor, as do millions of others. Unfortunately, TripAdvisor, and most large international travel websites, do not offer any filters for mobility or disability in their activities and sightseeing offerings, or just list, “wheelchair accessible” or “not wheelchair accessible.” It’s like these industries do not think we exist, or worse, that we don’t matter.

Through my research and conversations with dozens of tourism and hospitality industry professionals, I’ve found that there are at least 4 potential reasons, or combination of reasons, that these industries do not provide the details our families need.

  • First, businesses believe that there is a binary definition of disability. (That is, the person is a full-time wheelchair user with no lower limb movement and then everyone else). Disability is a spectrum with lots of nuances, including aspects that have nothing to do with physical difficulties.
  • Second, at least in the US, businesses may misunderstand the execution of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The 1990 ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government’ programs and services. Even now, 30+ years later, the information that people with disabilities need to participate fully in life is not provided, does not exist, or is not prioritized.
  • Third, businesses believe that differentiating and marketing to this group is not profitable.
  • And finally, businesses do not know that, providing some details, along with some minor adjustments and some forethought, people with disabilities can also be profitable clients. 

When speaking to hundreds of individuals, family members, caregivers, physical therapists, disability professionals, and healthcare workers, when asked “What do these [travel planning headaches] problems cost you and/or your clients?” the top 4 responses provided were:

  • We don’t travel as much as we used to, 
  • The time we spend is far from restful, 
  • Feeling overall frustration, 
  • and it’s always more work than just staying home 

To me, this is unforgivable.

Because of these reasons, the incomplete solutions currently offered, and 1,000 more that I’m not even discussing, individuals and families spend an exhaustive number of hours researching the “standard” listings for things to do, accommodations, and restaurants, making an infinite amount of phone calls, and even then, still stressing about the conditions they will face when they arrive at a location or for an activity.  

Since I am not one to accept the status quo, I decided to act and began Exploryst.com. Exploryst is building the trusted travel planning destination where EVERYONE (not just the typical traveler) can confidently plan their next best trip, including accommodations, restaurants, experiences, and cruises (starting in Colorado). Along with educating the industry, Exploryst is completing the research to offer the granular information, such as stairs, deaf/hard of hearing details, blind/vision impaired details, restrooms, parking, hallways, endurance needs, hotel details, and more that WE require to confidently plan our own trips and outings, around town and around the world.

Exploryst wants you to Confidently Explore. Wherever. Whenever.

By Angela Wilson

Connect with Angela:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Exploryst

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/explorysts/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Exploryst

What is Internalized Ableism and What can We do to Overcome it?

By Rea Strawhill

Before becoming chronically ill myself, I had no idea what ableism was. When becoming more outspoken about my condition and my experiences, I stumbled upon this word and realized that a lot of the things I had experienced, fell under the category of ableism. And along the way I realized, that I had internalized some of these things myself and that they were the root for a lot of my insecurities and distress.

But what is ableism?

When you google the word, you find this definition:

“Ableism is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities and/or people who are perceived to have disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons who are defined by their disabilities as inferior to the non-disabled.”

In my experience, ableism can have many forms.

There is structural ableism, where people are structurally and systematically discriminated because of their disability or illness, for example in universities or work places. Many times, there is a lack of accommodations, an emphasis on attendance (or even punishment for sick days), not to mention that disabled people often struggle to be employed in the first place. This often leads to bad financial situations, while getting any disability benefits is extremely hard and often humiliating, and life with illness and disability can be very expensive. People often report that they feel let down, when after years of paying their taxes and contributing to the social system, once they are in a situation where they need help, they face disbelief, medical gaslighting, humiliation and are far from getting any of the help that they need.

I never realized these things before becoming ill, but after I got diagnosed I became aware, how many barriers people with disabilities have to face in their everyday life and how much more difficult life becomes. Growing up, I thought that if I ever got ill, people would help me until I’m healthy again. The reality is much more complicated, and filled with bureaucracy and invisible barriers.

And then there is ableism on an individual level. People may suddenly treat you differently. They may doubt you, or treat you as if you are lazy, or attention seeking.

You hear remarks like “Oh, how nice that must be, I wish I could stay at home all day!”, or “Well, I’m tired too sometimes but I go to work anyway”, or, “Have you even tried xyz?”, or, “You don’t actually need this mobility aid. If you didn’t use it, your body wouldn’t get used to it and you would do better”, or, “You just need to get out more, it’s not that bad, you’re just stressed!”

Experiencing ableism anywhere can be difficult, be it from an employer, a professor, a medical professional or a friend or family member. And it may take a while to recognize it for what it is, because often it can be very subtle, but not any less harmful.

But what is internalized ableism?

We all grow up in a world, where certain values are taught. We are socialized in a capitalistic system, that praises people who are productive, diligent and never complain. We are taught to give, but not to take. We are taught that we all need to function well in order to be worthy, and that those people who take something out of that system are lazy, and that they cost us all money and those people are looked down upon. You learn, that you don’t want to be a part of that category. You want to be one of the “good ones”.

By describing those who are in need of help from the system as “lazy” and as failures on a personal level, society escapes its responsibility.

If you become ill or disabled at a certain point in your life, you may suddenly find yourself in a situation where you are in need of help. You are in a situation where you are unable to be productive, unable to work, and that you need help to survive. Suddenly you are not the “giver”, but the “taker”. Being in a position in need is very uncomfortable for most people, and in many cases connected to shame.

If you lived your whole life building your self-worth only on the things you can produce, on your career and your accomplishments, you will have a hard time if this career became unattainable to you because of an illness or a disability. Many people make the experience, that they had to learn to rebuild their self-worth on other things.

A new self-worth

We learn, that a “good” and “successful” person is someone who is independent, self-sufficient and is not in need of help. Someone who doesn’t impose on others, someone who gives more than they take.

If you are suddenly in need of help, you may feel bad about it. Disability means, in many cases, that you are dependent on others, may that be from a financial aspect, or day to day tasks. Especially when you acquire a disability and there are things you suddenly cannot do anymore without help, that can feel weird and humiliating.

At some point, we may realize that we often feel bad about ourselves, and that those feelings of guilt and shame are connected to our inner ableism.

We need to learn, that even though we are less independent and in need of help, we are still worthy and deserving of respect and dignity.

So, what can we do to overcome this internalized ableism?

  1. Know, that it’s an ongoing process

You won’t be able to overcome these feelings overnight. Maybe you won’t ever completely overcome them, and that’s ok. As with your self-confidence and your mental health, there will always be good days, and then there will be bad days. Don’t expect yourself to be perfect. There will be moments where it’s easier, and there will be moments where it’s harder. There will be ups and downs. Learn to be mindful about it, when there’s a moment when you catch your inner ableism, don’t be hard on yourself. Be patient. And with time, you may recognize some of your thought patterns and understand your own feelings better.

  • Stop comparing yourself to others.

We always tend to compare ourselves to others and admire those who can get lots of things done, and think: “they are so much better than me”. But we can’t forget that every person is individual and that comparing ourselves to someone who is healthy and able-bodied maybe isn’t that good for our mental health.

Of course, someone who is fit and healthy and has a lot more energy can do more than me, someone who is chronically ill and severely fatigued. That doesn’t make my accomplishments any less valuable, on the contrary! We all are different and we are good at different things in life. And that is a good thing! Imagine how boring it would be if we were all the same, and all good at the same things. Being different is good, let’s learn to embrace that.

  • Learn to love yourself for who you are, not what you do

Your worth is not connected to what you can do, but who you are. Our ability to be productive may fluctuate in life, but our worth does not. And sometimes we can give more, sometimes we can give less. That’s part of being alive! And other people are not more worthy than you, just because right now they can do more.

We all have different things to give, and one isn’t’ inherently better than the other. We may grow up thinking, that only those things are valuable that can be monetized and capitalized. We admire people who have a good job, have accomplished a lot in their career and make lots of money with what they do. But some things in life are just as valuable, or even more valuable, apart from how much money that can make. If you are a good listener, someone who can make other people laugh, someone who creates art, someone who uplifts others: you are valuable. There is no need to think less of yourself, just because you can’t accomplish something, that someone else can. You are you, and you are good the way you are. And you are allowed to remind yourself of that.

  • Celebrate your small wins

In our capitalistic society, we learn to celebrate the big things in life, and everything else is taken for granted. We celebrate our graduation, getting a promotion, getting married or other important life events. But all the other stuff that is part of life too, should not be taken for granted!

If you struggle a lot with your energy, and you manage to cook a meal all by yourself and keep yourself fed, or keep your place in order: that is a great accomplishment. You are allowed to pat yourself on the back. If you struggle with depression and you manage to make it out of bed: you are allowed to be proud of that. We are allowed to celebrate our small wins and be proud of things that may be small for other people, but a big deal for us!

  • Surround yourself with people who uplift you

Learning to love yourself may be difficult as it is, but it is nearly impossible when there are people in your life who tear you down. It is easier said than done, I know, but believe me: those who make you feel bad about yourself do not deserve a place in your life. You are allowed to kick toxic people out of your life. If that is not completely possible (i.e. family): set very strong boundaries. You deserve to have people around you who make you feel good about yourself, who really listen and support you, no matter what. A real friend will never make you fell lesser-than. They will make you feel equal, loved and appreciated. A good friend doesn’t look away when a friend is in need, they will offer you their support and they won’t mind it.  And if you ever feel guilty about needing help, ask yourself this: would you do the same for your friend? The answer is probably yes, and in that case, there is no need to feel any guilt or shame.

I also have to mention that online communities can be great, and I have learned a lot about ableism from people I have met online. Maybe you don’t know anyone in your personal life who is disabled too, that’s why online communities can be really great to find people who “get” you and don’t judge you.

If you want to educate other people in your life about ableism and how they can be a better ally: check out this article: How to be an ally for disabled people

  • Practice positive self-talk

Have you ever noticed how you talk to yourself? How you treat yourself in your thoughts?

We often learn to be very self-critical, to be perfectionistic and only be happy with ourselves if we do everything right. These thoughts my sound like this: “I did it wrong again. I’m so stupid” or “I can never do anything right! Everyone else is better than me” or “I need to function better”.

Ask yourself this: if a friend makes a mistake or does something imperfectly: what would you say to them? You may say something like “Don’t worry about it, you gave your best!”, or “Don’t beat yourself up over it, you did well!” or “It’s ok if you need to take time for yourself, I want you to be healthy and happy!”  This is the way you should talk to yourself too: talk to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend. Positive self-talk has nothing to do with toxic positivity or forcing yourself to be positive when you’re not: it is about being uplifting and supportive to yourself, in your own thoughts.

When you actively practice this, you may notice, that you become more patient and forgiving with yourself. If you want to improve on your self-love, this is a great way to do it!

  • Therapy!

As I’ve mentioned in the past: therapy has helped me a lot along the way. I am lucky to have a therapist who is very understanding, patient and empathetic and I have learned so much since then. Together with my therapist I learned to be more patient with myself, to accept myself the way I am and to become more resilient.

I discovered resources, that help me in moments of distress or when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and I learned that it is ok to ask for help.

My therapist knows about my chronic illness and is educated about ableism and other forms of discrimination and can guide me through it. But I know, that many people with chronic illnesses, especially those who have experienced medical gaslighting within the psychiatric field, struggle to find someone, who they can trust.

I understand that it can be hard to trust psychiatrists or psychotherapists again, and that is ok too. Therapy is something that can only work if you are ready.

If you are interested in therapy and are trying to find someone, I would take time to find the right person. Not every therapist can work well with any client- the relationship must be based on trust in order for the process to be successful! If you can, then talk to a few therapists before deciding to which one you want to go, and then decide based on your gut-feeling.

Self- love is not steady; it is a process. But it is a very meaningful one.

Have you ever dealt with internalized ableism? What helped you the most?

Check Rea at Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rea.strawhill/ and Twitter: https://twitter.com/ReaStrawhill

Blind Teacher Coming Down the Hall By Leah V. Herzog, M.Ed.

I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa when I was 18.  RP is often known as “tunnel vision” because it affects peripheral vision first. To get a sense of how I see the world, form a circle around your eyes with both hands; see how 360 degrees of vision is affected.  Rather than thinking of myself in a tunnel, however, I view myself as walking down a hallway.  This makes walking for me an experience in expert navigation.  Everywhere I turn is like a long, narrow hallway complete with obstacles and hidden surprises.  I’m anxious about tripping, falling and knocking into other people and things (which happens daily) as I go down the hall.  Blind Teacher Coming down the Hall is not only my moniker, but a paradigm for my life especially during Color War.  

I am a life-long educator.  I was first introduced to Color War in school when I was a young high school teacher.  It was an unwelcome addition, I was unabashedly opposed to it, and I thought of it as a waste of precious teaching time. It took me a number of years to recognize that color war can teach valuable lessons: resilience, collaboration, alternately succeeding and failing, being part of something greater than yourself and going outside your comfort zone. 

On a very practical level, however, Color War presents me with a specific challenge: The Hallway Competition.  

In color war there is a theme, and each team is assigned a color and a name based on that theme. The Hallway Competition requires each team to decorate and arrange a hallway that represents the team name.  The hallways in these schools are, at most, six feet wide, but they can be 20-30 feet long.  

The competition can take up to a week, and the hallways are under constant construction for that entire time.  This includes covering the ceiling lights with cellophane of the team color.  For someone with RP, walking through a red or blue hallway, even an unobstructed one, is challenging, if not physically painful.  

The Hallway competition also involves mounting something akin to an interactive museum exhibition complete with art, props, music and narration.  There are multiple things happening on both sides of the two-meter wide space, as well as for its entire length.  Invariably, there is a ladder in the middle of the hallway. During any given hour, four to ten students are busy painting, building, pasting, arranging furniture and other props, and climbing up and down desks.  There is loud music blasting all day, so the students are also shouting and intermittently dancing.  Even for the most abled, traversing The Color War Hallway is tricky.  

In my last school, (Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, NJ) I had an office, located at the intersection of two hallways and around the corner from a third.  This meant that during Color War there was no way I could get to my office without going through at least one Hallway.  I could come up the front stairs, turn right and go through a Hallway.  I could come up the back stairs and go down another Hallway.  Or I could ride up in the elevator and walk down a third Hallway.  For up to a week, I had no choice but to painstakingly make my way, blinking rapidly, hands out-stretched, through a red/blue/green/yellow/purple/orange lit hallway.  Students filled the hallways, kneeling in front of large rolls of paper stretched the length of the floor, and setting up the displays on the walls and along the edge.  There were things hanging down and a horizontal strip of tape at either end to keep competing teams out.  For me, it was more than a navigation challenge, it was a nightmare.  

I truly hate asking for help and loathe only slightly less accepting it.  Nevertheless, when one of the kinder students took pity on me, offering to guide me through the Hallway, I would place my fingertips lightly  on her shoulder and tentatively walk through.  Sometimes, the discomfort of being helped was outweighed by my stubbornness, so I picked my way down the Hallway, taking mincingly small steps the whole 10 meters.  

I was perpetually terrified of tripping, of bumping into something and of looking like a bumbling idiot.  I was also plagued with the fear that I would ruin something the students had already put a lot of effort into.  I knew that they wouldn’t blame me if this happened, but I also knew that they would be upset and then have to deal with both the practical implications of redoing what I had ruined, and the emotional fallout of feeling both annoyed with and sorry for me simultaneously.  

It finally came to the point when I was old enough, grumpy enough and completely fed up enough with the whole scenario.  Several years ago, in the middle of the first day of Color War when the Blue team had put floor-to-ceiling streamers at the entrance to their Hallway as well as covering the lights with blue cellophane, and they were absorbed in their work, moving and painting and dancing and texting, I stood at the beginning of the Hallway for a moment debating what to do next.  

I took a deep breath and said loudly:  “Excuse me!  Blind Teacher coming down the Hall!  Coming through!  Blind Teacher Coming Down the Hall!”  

One or two looked up and a third one waved.  They didn’t stop what they were doing but they did shift a few props a little to the side and temporarily moved the ladder.  I picked my way down the 30 feet of Blue Hallway, got to my office, let out the breath I didn’t realize I was holding, closed the door, and sat down.  

My daily life is a lot like Color War.  There are a lot of activities I am not good at and don’t particularly enjoy.  There are always obstacles, anxiety-provoking scenarios and embarrassment.  But there are also areas in which I can shine, and valuable life lessons that I continue to learn and to teach to others.  

My white cane announces my Blind(Teacher)ness as I navigate the Hallway of life; a lot of people are kind and want to help, and most just let me do what I need to do and try to accommodate me. But when they don’t, and when things get too overwhelming, I sometimes just retreat and close the door.  Sometimes I even cry.  Then I breathe, pull myself together, open the door and emerge, announcing: Blind Teacher coming down the Hall! 

You can find me on Facebook and on LinkedIn—I would love to hear from you!

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/leah.herzog.3

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/leah-herzog/

To the People that Post “Hearing for the First Time” Videos by Larissa Martin

     I Get it, I do. You are excited. You or someone you love is hearing for the first time ever and you want to capture the moment and share it. Think about this for a second though, how refreshing would it be for a young deaf or hard of hearing person to see someone like them learning American Sign Language aka ASL for the very first time? Not everyone wants or finds a need for a cochlear implant. I think there needs to be more of that and more understanding of this community from everyone. 

     See, I know a little about this community. My friend from high school has two deaf parents and had to learn ASL at an incredibly young age in order to communicate with her parents. I cannot get over how fast she can sign. She now is a teacher at a school for deaf and hard of hearing students. I think there needs to be some more diversity in the world we live in today, where deaf/hard of hearing people and hearing people can learn from each other and see other things from both worlds; to create more diversity in our communities.

       Am I saying that posting these videos are bad?  No everyone can do what they want, but what I suggest is instead of posting these videos of how amazing you think it is for someone to be hearing for the first time, we should be posting someone learning American sign language for the first time. To me that seems so necessary for the young kids that don’t have a cochlear implant. Not everyone that’s hard of hearing or deaf wants to experience that because they are just fine with not hearing and just using ASL and there is nothing wrong with that.

    I personally believe that if we as a society viewed ASL as amazing and special as those hearing videos we would value ASL and just how important and valuable to this community it is. We could show the hard of hearing deaf community that we as a society not only see you, but we are actually listening to you. Not just when we want to see it in a video to get that happy feeling, but we truly understand and respect how you choose to hear or not.

      So, to those people that post those hearing for the first-time videos; think about what you’re saying to those that don’t choose to get a cochlear implant. You’re pretty much saying to those people; we value hearing people more than you. I am sure this is not your intention but it’s happening far too often. we want to live in a world with inclusion, not exclusion. So, think before you post or even watch one of these videos.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Larissas-writing-417791061892597

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