Swimmer and three-time Paralympian Yip Pin Xiu, 25, travels every few months for work and pleasure. Work trips come in the form of training camps and competitions, though “hands down,” she prefers to travel for fun.
“Travelling for training, I wouldn’t call it travelling it all. It’s like going to a factory, competing and then coming back [laughs].”
Pin Xiu started swimming at the age of five to strengthen her muscles as she was born with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a type of motor and sensory neuropathy. Having jaunted through countries in Western Europe such as Spain, Germany and Austria, Pin Xiu is also no stranger to the less accessible countries in Southeast Asia and China.
“When I travel I prefer to be away from the city. Because I think Singapore is already very city-like. I would like to be nearer to nature.”
Like other wheelchair-using travellers, Pin Xiu has to do a fair amount of planning before a holiday. The first thing she looks for when deciding where to visit around her destination is the accessibility of the location.
“I think that’s one of the most important things as a person with a disability [PWD]. But because I’ve never actually travelled alone, for me it’s not that much of a concern. I’m quite light and people can carry me around. I don’t mind being carried. But of course, I’d rather choose accessible places.”
Other than that basic information, she does not really “plan it down to every detail”. Part of this is the privilege of being able to transfer independently in and out of her wheelchair, as well as being comfortable with other people transferring her.
“I plan where I will be. But I will find things to do [once] I get there. I’m not a super planner: today I have to go to this and this place. I have a list of what’s there to do in say, Brisbane. I’ll pick two of the closest places to where I am, or that I’m interested in and then go.”
While she could be called a seasoned traveller, she does have some worries, especially when travelling alone.
“I don’t know if I will get enough help. For example, London has very good wheelchair assistance on the ground [at the airport]. They’ll take your bag out, bring you to the taxi stand, [or] anywhere you need to go.”
More specifically, she worries about being able to handle her own baggage.
“I guess I could, but I haven’t tried to take my bag [down] from the luggage belt. But I haven’t faced a situation where people haven’t helped me before. I realise that if they don’t help me, I can just ask. Once I ask, they are okay with helping.”
The accessibility of train stations is often helpfully indicated by small wheelchair signs on transit maps. However, in cities with older subway systems, this simple method may not indicate the distance between lifts (and the extra travel time needed), or even between the older and newer parts of the station.
“In London, I went out once at a station that didn’t have a lift. It wasn’t that bad because I could just get back on the train and go back to another station. It’s just very troublesome. I had to hop over to the other side and take the train again, because this station only had a lift at the other exit.”
Pin Xiu takes such challenges in stride and as just another part of what it means to travel as a PWD and wheelchair user.
“At this point of time I really want to go back to US because I haven’t been there in a while. Or Australia or New Zealand.”
“You get to see new things, meet new people, see different cultures, eat new food, experiences different things. There’s so many things to do when you’re travelling for holiday. It’s like your holiday is never long enough.”
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