CURE NATION: Award-winning accessible travel author Sylvia Longmire spins the globe, documenting her international adventures on wheels as a way to encourage others to explore their world too. You’ll also recognize this Florida native as a Brand Ambassador for O, the Oprah Magazine and President of the PreJax Foundation, as well as for her frequent posts on accessible travel groups that are meant to help people find ideal destinations for wheelchair users.
We’re thrilled to welcome Sylvia to the CURE NATION as an ongoing contributor on the topics of accessible travel, adventure planning and more lifestyle pursuits!
On this particular day in July 2016, I was really glad I decided to wear my sunglasses instead of leaving them behind as usual. Sunlight reflecting off of a sheet of ice can be blinding, and I was experiencing a rather rare cloudless afternoon in Juneau.
Slowly, the helicopter I was in lowered to the ground—a “ground” that was actually the mile-thick Taku Glacier in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. As my pilot opened the helicopter door so I could view my alien surroundings, all I could think of was, What am I doing here???
Sylvia Charted Her Path After Learning She Had Multiple Sclerosis
I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2005, and I’ve been using a wheelchair full-time since 2014. While I can stand up with support, I can’t walk at all, which made my helicopter experience in Alaska so surreal. What business does a wheelchair user have landing on a glacier? Several years later, I would know the answer to this question, but it was a long and circuitous route to get there.
I grew up in South Florida as the daughter of Cuban immigrants. After graduating from college on an Air Force ROTC scholarship, I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, and spent just over eight years in the Air Force as a Special Agent in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. After my MS diagnosis, I was medically retired as a Captain, and my whole world turned upside down. I was driving towards this successful military career, and now I didn’t know what the future held.
Fortunately, I recovered quickly. I got a job as a senior intelligence analyst, focusing on Mexico’s drug war and border security. I later became an independent consultant and author on these issues, and within a few years, I became one of the country’s top experts. While it’s not my main focus anymore, I still write analyses for American Military University every month.
Considering the unique nature of my career over the last decade and a half, it probably sounds like a pretty bizarre transition to become an accessible travel writer.
However, travel has always been an integral part of my life. I started traveling at the age of five with my parents across the country to Canada, as well as cruising in the Caribbean. I began solo travel in my 20s while on active duty, and did a fair amount of domestic travel for professional reasons after my retirement.
After Significant Life Changes, SylviA Embraced the World
I was married for ten years, and for various reasons, I rarely traveled for leisure purposes. My passport collected a fair bit of dust. After my divorce in 2015, once again, my life turned upside down. My children began living with their father during the school year, and I found myself living alone for the first time in over a decade. I had a lot of thinking and healing I needed to do, and it made sense to turn to one of my biggest loves — world travel.
It wasn’t easy. I now had to figure out how to travel as a wheelchair user without the ability to walk. Even five years ago, there weren’t as many resources on accessible travel as there are now.
Fortunately, I was able to find enough information to encourage me to give accessible travel a shot.
Looking for accessible travel resources too? Download the Wheels UP! travel guide for FREE and begin planning your next adventure here.
In February 2016, I took my first trip overseas as a full-time wheelchair user and went to Dubai, UAE. I figured if I could survive a 16-hour direct flight and a week in the Middle East, I could do anything.
After about a year traveling to places like Alaska, Iceland, and Australia, I reminded myself that I was a professional writer. I asked myself, Why am I not writing about these experiences?
Helping Others Overcome the Fear of Accessible Travel
I took inspiration from other accessible travel writers and started my own award-winning accessible travel blog. Spin the Globe was born in November 2016, and since then it’s been my mission in life to encourage as many people with disabilities as possible to explore this amazing world. One year later, I became an award-winning accessible travel agent with my own agency, Spin the Globe/Travel.Unfortunately, many obstacles remain in this world that prevent us from fully enjoying the travel experience. Some of them are physical, like a lack of ramps, elevators, or accessible bathrooms.
However, sometimes the biggest obstacle to accessible travel is fear.
Many of these fears are well-founded, as U.S. airlines are damaging an average of 25 wheelchairs every single day. Many hotels do the bare minimum to attempt to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and more often than not, they fall short.
Sylvia’s Advice for Your Next Accessible Vacation
There are some great ways to dip your toes in the water, so to speak, of accessible travel. The first is to conduct as much research as possible about the accessibility of where you’d like to go. There are more accessible travel blogs than ever on the Internet, as well as Facebook groups dedicated to accessible travel. See my own blog here.
Every year, there are more tour operators around the world dedicated to providing accessible experiences for wheelchair travelers. Just this month, I published Everything You Need to Know About Wheelchair Accessible Cruising, the first and only book dedicated to providing wheelchair users the most complete information about the cruising experience.
Next, you should start out slowly. Explore in your own community, or spend the night in a hotel in a neighboring city.
Find out what it’s like to ride a public bus or use an accessible taxi. Develop your comfort level slowly, and it will increase your confidence with each successive trip.
SYLVIA SHARES HER LOVE OF CURE MEDICAL
Mobility aids and medical supplies that help wheelchair users and people with disabilities travel are also improving every year. Cure Catheters are crucial for many disabled travelers who otherwise would not be able to take longer flights or go on tours without regular bathroom breaks.
For example, did you know that Cure offers an extra long catheter that can save you from having to transfer onto a public toilet or needing to pack extension tubing? You can get a free sample of the 25-inch Cure M14XL extra long catheter below!To request free samples of the Cure Medical® Extra Long Pocket Catheter or any Cure Medical catheter, contact your local distributor of quality healthcare products, or click here.
By helping to provide much-needed medical supplies, Cure Medical is making it much easier for people with conditions like spinal cord injuries, spina bifida, and multiple sclerosis travel farther and more comfortably.
The information and the resources are out there thanks to friends like Cure Medical, and the world is just waiting for you. All that’s left to do is to ask the question, Where do you want to roll today?
About Sylvia Longmire
After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005, this Air Force veteran refused to let MS define her. She has also refused to let her wheelchair confine her. Sylvia has visited 54 countries, 43 of those as a wheelchair user and 34 of those by herself. She only writes about destinations she has personally visited, and as a result provides only authentic and reliable information about a location’s wheelchair accessibility.
Sylvia’s writing about wheelchair accessible travel has been featured in The New York Times, New Mobility magazine, on Lonely Planet, and the Matador Travel Network. She also posts regularly on her award-winning accessible travel blog, Spin the Globe.
Sylvia won the title of Ms. Wheelchair USA in July 2016 with a platform of promoting programs that support children of parents with disabilities. This platform grew out of The PreJax Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit she founded in November 2015 to provide college scholarships to students affected by MS. As a solo wheelchair traveler, she has also created a series of PSA-style videos about how to improve accessibility at the local level, one of which has garnered over one million views and counting.
Follow Sylvia’s adventures and browse her fantastic accessible travel resources at https://spintheglobe.net/. Her latest book, Everything You Need to Know About Wheelchair Accessible Cruising is AVAILABLE NOW on Amazon!
Founded by a quadriplegic, Cure Medical is the only catheter manufacturer in the world that donates10% of net income to support research programs in pursuit of a cure for urinary retention, paralysis, spinal cord injury and central nervous system disorders.
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