SUSIE TWYDELL has always loved travelling and seeing the world.
And she was determined she wasn’t going to let a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis stop her.
But Susie quickly discovered that taking her wheelchair around the globe isn’t always straightforward.
She pulled together her experiences plus those of others to create wheelchairworld.org — a website full of information, advice and useful links for wheelchair users planning trips to over 90 countries.
“I was diagnosed with MS 10 years ago when I was 29,” says Susie.
“For the first few years, I was OK — ish! — but then things started to go wrong.
“I went from walking OK, to using one stick, then needing two sticks, then finally being in a wheelchair.
“Of course, this has caused many complications for my life.
“You don’t realise how difficult many things become when you are a wheelchair user — and going abroad was one of the major unexpected difficulties.
“I absolutely love travelling and before my diagnosis, I had been to more than 60 countries,” she reveals.
“I’d climbed the Himalayas to Everest base camp, and spent a year on tour with a Latin American rock star.
“I used to just pack my bags and go.
“Now, I have to plan every single detail very carefully.
“What happens if I need the loo on a long-haul flight and they put my seat 15 rows from the nearest toilet?
“What about hotels?
“Only wheelchair users will tell you about the flight of steps that lead up to the entrance of the ‘wheelchair-accessible’ hotel!
“Did you know that cobblestones, which bring rustic charm to many an old town, are a complete nightmare for wheelchair users?
“They cause you to be rattled around in your wheelchair like a solitary pound coin in a charity collector’s tin!
“And what about disabled toilets?
“In the UK you can just pop into a McDonald’s, confident they will have a disabled toilet, but not so in the rest of the world,” Susie says.
“Cue hours of online searching to find out if there will be an option that you can use.
“So I thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I could just consult another wheelchair user who had been there before me?’
“Every single one of us who travels has an amazing amount of knowledge and useful information about the destination.
“Every time I have gone somewhere I have found a few snippets of online information put there by other wheelchair users, so I had a great idea.
“I’d create a site that brings all this traveller information together, links to all of these really useful reviews and resources, and also provides a place for people to add their own reviews.
“The great thing about the site is that all the other wheelchair-user sites are more than happy to be linked, and many of us are now in touch.
“We’re working together to share information because we all have the same aim — to make accessible travel a lot easier!
“I have spent over a year trawling the internet for blogs, groups and sites and every time I search, I find something new to put on wheelchairworld.org,” says Susie.
“And even better, I often find information about places that I would love to visit myself.
“Wheelchairworld.org now has thousands of links to other wheelchair review sites, as well as links to things that are really useful for wheelchair travel, such as the step-free Tube guide for London.
“It now has information about more countries than I have been to — 90 at last count.
“There’s more information about some countries than others but hopefully, it’s all helpful to wheelchair travellers.
“Next year is my 40th birthday, and I am determined to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda.
“Obviously, there is not a huge amount of information available from wheelchair travellers, but what I have found has helped me to make my dreams a reality and to know that it is possible, and that it has been done before.
“For starters, I’ve found that Kigali, the capital, is very hilly and not great for wheelchair users at all, so I’ll take it from there.”
And for more information on MS visit the Multiple Sclerosis Trust at www.mstrust.org.uk or call their helpline on 0800 0323839.
Source: Sunday Post