I met a family once in the parking lot of a grocery store. It was a mom and dad with their six-year-old son in dad’s arms. The son had a smile like the mid-May sun, his tiny arms rigid, his legs wrapped like a vice around dad’s hips.
They called out to me from a ways off, recognizing my friend and I from our travels through Europe, when a handful of buddies carried me in a special backpack to explore places my wheelchair couldn’t go.
I was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, which progressively weakens my muscles, but we’d found a way to get around that foreboding limiter. As it turned out, this family had followed our adventures on social media, and the dad especially was curious to know more about our backpack design. He was a camper and hiker, and had taken his son camping a bit. This was difficult, though, as the son has Cerebral Palsy, making him dependent on a wheelchair to get around. A recent growth spurt in the boy compounded the challenge, too, and they were looking for ways to pull off their next trip—exploring the Rocky Mountains. A backpack might be helpful, they thought, and I couldn’t agree more.
Over the next few months, we worked together to copy the backpack design, with adjustments to fit the six-year-old trailblazer. By the time they were headed for the Rockies, the family had tested and approved their new contraption. They drove out to Colorado, pitched their tent, and stepped out upon the wild world.
Back home, we received photos of the family trekking epic landscapes of green, red, and grey, with blue skies overhead and joy overflowing from each of them. A boy rode on the back of his father in places otherwise deemed inaccessible to him. A dad whose love-language was hiking could finally take his son through canyons, along endless stone paths, and to the very peaks of mountains.
Castles aren’t “accessible” because there weren’t elevators available in 600 A.D. and even the best trails in the woods get broken by growing roots, so…how do we make waterfalls wheelchair-friendly? You don’t. You find ways to make it happen.
But it wasn’t all done with just the backpack. They also used a three-wheeled all-terrain manual chair for some of the step-free-but-still-rough sections, and there were just good old fashion arms too. And a year later, when they visited New York City, the police department hosted the family for a day, the boy in his wheelchair, around the city and on a speedboat tour of the Statue of Liberty.
At home, he plays power soccer, too, in a custom wheelchair. And who knows where this family will travel to next! All I know is, they’re just getting started, and the world will continue to be more and more accessible to them because they’ll keep at it.
It’s more than just gear options, and obviously far beyond ramps and standard rated setting. It’s about people. This mom and dad and son will never give up living to the fullest. They will decide where they want to go and what they want to do, and they’ll find ways to make it happen.
As I’ve travelled and spoken these past few years, I have gotten to meet families like this all over the world. They remind me of my family, growing up, hiking mountains, going to the beach, and playing on the slip-n-slide in our own backyard.
A lot of people look at the world around them, and they see it as a daunting thing. Castles aren’t “accessible” because there weren’t elevators available in 600 A.D. and the Great Wall of China was made to keep everybody off, let alone disabled people. Even the best trails in the woods get broken by growing roots, so…how do we make waterfalls wheelchair-friendly?
This family at the grocery store, and my family and others, would say, “You don’t.” We would say—and more importantly, we would work—to find ways to make it happen.
If we are creative and courageous, families and friends working together, then the world (all of it!) becomes accessible like it never has been before.