I’ve talked to quite a few people who travel with disabilities or chronic health concerns, but Colin O’Donohoe, the composer, world maestro and writer, is probably the one who has inspired me the most. O’Donohoe, who has written the upcoming musical turned movie Apostrophate Me, which is dedicated to his beloved brother, is legally blind and has traveled to places as diverse as the Laos/Thailand border, where he and his two children slept in mosquito net beds as they soaked up the sounds, tastes and smells of the area. O’Donohoe is passionate about not allowing yourself to fear traveling with health conditions, saying, “Don’t put it off, Don’t give in to fear, Don’t hide behind your kids and use them as an excuse, I brought 2 kids to that border of Laos/Thailand complete with mosquito net beds. Just go and find a way to make it possible now. If you’ve always wanted to go to your dream country, go!”
Of course, traveling with a disability isn’t always easy. O’Donohoe has experienced plenty of difficulties while traveling. “The absolute toughest thing traveling while being legally blind is making connections in the short amount of time that they give you. I imagine it is hard for everyone but when you can’t see the screens it is nearly impossible to know which way to go. I’ve had to run to people at any random gate to ask them for directions. I’ve also just asked someone looking at the screen to tell me which gate I need to head to.”
So is following your dream really worth it? O’Donohoe feels it is more than worthwhile. “The foreign languages. The foods, smells, cultures, sights, history… all of it is intoxicatingly amazing. It changes your entire perspective and absolutely affects you in the best of ways.”
Don’t forget that there are people who will be able to help you navigate through your flight to and from each place you travel, from airport employees to airline staff. Almost all of these people will be genuinely happy to help you get through a big airport and onto your flight as painlessly as possible. O’Donohoe recommends identifying yourself as having a disability. He has a pin that says “I’m visually impaired.” and says he wears it with pride. “There is no shame in being disabled and you would be surprised. People are very respectful.”
One great tip for getting through the airport? O’Donohoe recommends you begin checking in by letting the employee who helps you know you need assistance. If you choose to accept a wheelchair, he recommends you give a small tip to the coordinator and the person who pushes the chair for you. If you don’t need or want a wheel chair, he suggests asking if someone can walk with you if you feel you need the assistance.
He adds, “As a legally blind person, they’ll mark your ticket and you’ll be able to get on the plane before the general population of the airplane. Don’t feel bad about this – you are disabled, they aren’t. It hurts you every minute of your life, if it helps you in this one instance? Enjoy it.”
Once you are on the ground at your new location, make sure you have the assistance you need. Some people feel more comfortable traveling as part as a tour group or with friends who are experienced world travelers. There is nothing wrong with starting slow with your adventures. Just remember to start. O’Donohoe says, “DO IT NOW. I can’t express how incredibly important it is to do what you want to do NOW. Don’t wait until you are in your 60s or 70s. Traveling is work. It is very difficult. I get tired and I’m still relatively young. I can’t imagine waiting 30 years to go do my traveling.”
Still feeling a little uneasy about traveling with health concerns? O’Donohoe has a final piece of advice. “Fear is never a factor in my decision making. I am a strong advocate that your readers do not allow fear to stop them from doing anything. As a legally blind mad I’ve traveled on my own escorting two children behind me all over the country. It is very possible.”