Scott Rains - World Traveller, Disabled Travel Advocate & Expert on Universal Design
Scott contacted me about a week ago after having come across this website. We realized that we shared a lot of common philosophies and emails started flying back and forth furiously, capped off by a very long telephone conversation.
Scott is an interesting individual, he has studied linguistics and finished his academic studies with a doctorate in theology. He has worked as a social activist, ranch hand, in social activism, in higher education, as an author, in technology education and in travel. He has travelled to many countries, despite the fact that he has to use a wheelchair. Along the way he has become an expert on disabled travel and 'universal design', a design philosophy that makes buildings and facilities available to all people: young, old, tall, short, strong, weak - not just the temporarily able-bodied.
1. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
I grew up in Pacific Northwest. I believe I went camping once a month for all the years I was in Boy Scouts and on longer summer treks, canoe trips, or camps until I started working summers as a ranch hand on the North Platte River in Wyoming.
2. A major life event occurred when you were 17 years old. Please tell us
One Sunday before my 18th birthday I achieved what was then my life's dream. I was certified as a ski instructor. That Thursday afternoon I awoke from a biopsy on a spinal tumour paralysed.
Three months later, my best friends convinced me that I should get out of the hospital and go to a concert with them. Later still that the same group of us camped outdoors for a week to attend the Ashland Oregon Shakespeare festival. One day, driving back to camp, a guy sped up along side our pick-up on the country two-lane to ask if that was our wheelchair in the road about a mile back.
It was, of course, and that was about the time that I started thinking, 'I'm going to need to figure out a new way to pack for travelling. I guess every trip is going to be adventure travel now.
3. You are a self-described adventurer and have travelled to many places
since you became disabled. Please tell us about the destinations you have
visited and some of your experiences.
In college I studied in Brazil for a semester but I actually made a conscious decision not to travel as much as I could have when I returned in order to pursue the path of a social activist during the 1970's and 1980's. I kept on the move a bit with cross-country drives, a rail trip across Canada and academic travel to England and Wales. Mexico was on the itinerary as my wife and I took a group of students down for a service project. We actually won a free week in Kauai in the days before outfitters would let people with disabilities on Zodiac tours of the Na Pali Coast.
Recently much of travel combines research on destination accessibility like trips to Austria, Slovakia, New Zealand, and a day in Argentina. I have been fortunate enough to explore Australia, Taiwan, Japan, and Brazil on visits to speak on Inclusive Tourism in those countries. I am looking forward to taking up invitations to Nepal, Thailand, and Romania.
4. Please share with us your 3 favourite travel memories of all times.
My all-time favourite is a story of compassion directed toward me as a college student while living in Brazil.
A bit of history first.
In the mineral rich Brazilian state of Minas Gerais the wealthy sponsored construction of numerous chapels and commissioned artwork during the colonial period. The most famous architect and artisan of the time was a disabled man known popularly as 'Alejadinho.' One day, on my way to visit his most famous site in Congonhas, I asked three women begging in front of the church how best to enter in my wheelchair. Rather than answer me they placed all placed their entire day's earnings and hurried away in spite of my protests. I don't believe that I will ever be wealthier than I was at that moment.
I also recall being scared to death as the Volcan de Agua erupted a large plume of steam a few feet in front of us in the caldera. My Guatemalan friend had only just finished weaving a yarn about how the god of the volcano didn't like 'gringos.'
Right there at the top of my list is a much quieter memory. In the retelling it seems unremarkable, I suppose. Part of my doctoral work was done in Oxford, England. Meeting my fellow students was inspiring. One in particular had a life changing impact on me. What I recall most is that every day a small group of these friends walked me the two miles home - then walked back to their own homes.
5. What are the unique travel challenges of someone with a disability? How
accessible are travel destinations to disabled travellers today?
Quality information about accessible sites and services is key. People with disabilities travel by word-of-mouth recommendation more than other market segments I am told. Carting batteries for hearing aids; backups of medications; replacement parts for electric wheelchairs or speech synthesizers can all be part of the logistic task.
Some countries, notably Jamaica, will not let you in with a service dog. Many hotel chains, beautifully accessible in the US, apparently do not want our money in some of the hottest tourist destinations. That's unfortunate for them since the Harris Online survey commissioned by the Open Doors Organization in 2002 and again in 2005 documents that people with disabilities are travelling in ever greater numbers. In the US alone we number more than 46 million and spend in excess of $13 billion annually on travel. We also consistently report that we would travel more if the options were available.
Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions (www.travelandtransitions.com). Travel and Transitions deals with unconventional travel and is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences, interviews with travellers and travel experts, insights and reflections, cross-cultural issues, contests and many other features. You will also find stories about life and the transitions that we face as we go through our own personal life-long journeys.
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The full interview with photos is published at Travel and Transitions - Interviews