“Even though traveling in a wheelchair can be difficult, it is also extremely worth it,” says Shannon Kelly who began traveling abroad right out of high school. “I was 17, in a wheelchair, and a newbie to international travel, but I didn’t want to let any of these things stop me from having the adventure of a lifetime.”
An opportunity to go abroad
With the help of Mobility International USA, an organization that assists people with disabilities, Shannon’s first trip abroad was to Costa Rica with a volunteer program. There, she was able to “see the Irazu Volcano, swim in the La Fortuna hot springs and even go bungee jumping.” But her trip wasn’t without challenges. Much of the terrain in Costa Rica was not wheelchair friendly, and she had to rely on strangers for help navigating the roads and accessing some buildings.
These challenges didn’t stop Shannon from wanting to travel more. Her next adventures were two faculty-led trips to South Africa and Sweden.
“Planning is definitely the key to successful accessible travel. Although it takes more time and effort up front, it makes the trip go so much smoother during your time traveling.”
Shannon was able to spend a few weeks in both South Africa and Sweden, but now she was ready to spend more time exploring one area. So she applied for a semester abroad to the University of Melbourne in Australia.
A new beginning on a semester abroad
When I first arrived in Melbourne,” Shannon says, “it felt like freshman year of college all over again. I had to make a new group of friends and find my way around all while adjusting to the new culture.” And she admits it was tough in the beginning, especially being faced with a hilly landscape, and not all the transportation and buildings were accessible. Shannon has since met some great friends who are willing to help her out with accessibility issues when needed, and she’s been able to see sights like the Harbour Bridge in Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns!
Shannon’s experience of studying abroad has helped her grow as a person. She wants every student to be able to experience the thrills and challenges of studying abroad, especially students who are wheelchair users. It’s her hope that study abroad programs can become more inclusive for students with disabilities. She cites improved accessibility as well as an increase in society’s acceptance of people with disabilities as key factors in making that happen.
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