Eléonore

#002 29/03/2021

Welcome on H comme Handicapé.e.s (D like Disabled) the podcast who passes the mic to disabled people, cause we need to hear them more. For this second episode I asked a few questions to my friend Eleanor. Most of our freidship has been a long distance friendship. Each of us in a different city or even sometimes in a different country. It was obvious to me that I was going to invite her to talk about travelling. A topic that we're both passionate about. Well, especially her! In this episode you'll hear anecdotes from her different travels and more specifically on accessibility in different and, the way they see disabled people.  Wherever you are I hope her story will make travel a little from this lockdown era.

So first of all, can you introduce yourself a little bit ?

My name is Eleanor, I'm a journalist, I work at Le progrès in Lyon. And you asked me to share my point of view on travelling when we're disabled, knowing that...Well I travel A LOT. So I visited something like...I was counting the other day...20 countries. Not entirely because I consider that when you've been only to London in England, you've not visited the country, you've just been to London. And I traveled on my own, with other people, with family, with friends, with a significant other... I did everything.

And after all those travels, what was the experience that stuck with you the most ?

I would say that it was a long trip, because it was my Erasmus exchange. Wich started this passion for travels. So I did the first year of  my Political Sciences Master degree in Grenada. So in the South of Spain.  And from there I had the opportunity to travel, often, in many different countries near Spain, and to travel on my own for the first time. Nothing extraordinary, I  only went to Madrid for a couple of days, but it was the first time where I told myself : "You have to go on your own. Your friends are not available, your year is coming to an end... So you're gonna take a backpack (I borrowed it from a friend I didn't have one at that time) and you'll see if you can manage or if it's hell. And it's important to know that I wasn't very well prepared. I didn't have a backpack, I didn't have a battery in my wheelchair. And if I remember correctly the wheelchair that I had was a rented one that I had at the pharmacy. Yes, the pharmacy. Not a crappy one. I was using it a lot so It wasn't too big for me and it was relatively easy to go around with.  But if you'd asked me the same question today, I would tell you that my material has improved. So yeah I started preaparing the trip. It took me like ten days to organize this little trip. When I think about it know it feels like an eternity. But yeah things change. So yeah I told myself "I'm gonna have to found a youth hostel or an hotel that is accessible. How do I do that ? So I first looked for a good location, then I contacted the hostels on Booking to know if everything was accessible. Then I told my "Ok so now I have the accommodation I need to find transports. How do I do that ? Same thing. Looked for an easy way to go from Granada to Madrid so it was by coach. Then checked if it was ok for my wheelchair.  And think about "I hope I'm not gonna be bored, three days on my own. Knowing that I'm someone who needs to talk who needs to be surrounded by other people. Cause even if I was leaving on my own, the point wasn't to be alone all the time. So I told myself "I'm gonna look at the things to do in Madrid, but I'm not worried cause it's the capital city, so it should be ok. And I booked a youth hostel who had a bar on the rooftop. A pretty common place to meet other people. And that's how my trip started the best way possible. I'm not guaranteeing you that it's going to happen to you but...I met this guy from Swissland, who wasn't even staying at the hostel. He was just there because he heard that the bar was nice. So we talked a little bit...And I ended up spending three days with that little Swiss guy. Which after that gave me the opportunity to travel to Switzerland and to other places. So yeah I would say that if I must choose one trip in particular it would be this one cause that's how everything started and that's when I told myself "If something like that happens all time, I have to do it again!" So yeah the Erasmus started that little passion for travels, ahd the first trip I think made me start in the best conditions. And since then I would like to add that I didn't meet any issues during my travels and I believe that they all went very well. So I don't know if it's luck or something else, but...

But it's good to point it out. So after travelling in all these countries, what are the differences that you noticed ? About accessibility or the way people see disability and disabled people ?

So I did a very big part of Europe. Spain, England, Italy, Malta... What did I do ? Western Balkan countries, Hunguary. I went to Morocco as well. So yeah a big part of Europe where the cultures are different but it's still European so it's similar to France. And I had the chance to go to Canada and to the USA in september 2020 if I'm not mistaken. And the culture and the way people see disability was already a bit different. So yeah I have a pretty long list. I was supposed to go to Japan but unfortunately Covid 19 decided that I wasn't going to Japan. We're almost a year after my potential trip to Japan, and I'm not gonna go this year either.
So when it comes to the way disabled people are perceived. First of all what you need to know is that in Spain the way they see disabled people is completely different. Meaning that for accessibility is something totally normal. It's not something they need to think about, it's not something they need to add. It's not something that...That is bothering them let's say. When you build a building it's normal to build a ramp, to built accessible flats... Why's that ? Well it's not the only reason but in Spain there are a lot of elderly people. They need those adjustments and we owe them, it's normal. So it transposes itself to disabled people. And they're treated the same way than anybody else.  I didn't feel any depraise or people putting us aside because it's difficult. Of course you can't make generalities, there are always people that have a problem with it. But I had people surrounding me all the time. There was always someone to help me. To help me climb the steps of the nightclub. I'm talking about nightclubs because it's not the easiest place. It's dark with a lot of people, you need to be careful..So I'm not talking about it for no reason. And then countries like Chec Republic. Yeah Chec Republic comes to me first cause I think it's the worst place for accessibility. First of all because there are paving stones everywhere. It's not their fault but it's not the easiest with a wheelchair. There are a lot of steps, it's old, and they don't do construction work very often. When for instance in Hungary or in Austria that are near, they're on another level when it comes to accessibility. So yeah I think it depends on the quality of life and on the country's wealth. On the other hand there are always people that are ready to help.  Really, be there when help is needed. And it's a really nice feeling. I don't know maybe it's because I'm a girl and I'm pretty good looking so it makes things easier for me. But in France, sometimes I can struggle to do something for like ten minutes, and see people pass by me, but nobody is going to do anything. I think it tells something about the culture...

Ah yes and I went to Canada.

Ah yes, let's talk about it !

Yes, let's talk about Canada. So I went to Quebec. I went to Quebec so the part where they speak French.  People were so kind, so welcoming, so careful, so positive...Real teddy bears ! I stayed there only a few days so once again I can't make generalities. And when it comes to accessibility, it's done with the same approach. Things are well made, they are thought for disabled people. I even saw an able-bodied person, a guy in a wheelchair, and a person of color on the same billboard. I found it very revealing...
I went to New-York as well. And I experienced something remarkable in New-York. So in New-York when a disabled person needs to take the bus (which happens to be free for disabled people) and there are too many people in the bus, the driver has to, I repeat has to make able bodied people get out of the bus. So I was a little bit embarrassed, I said if the bus is full I'll take the next one, it's ok. And no, the driver kindly replied "But miss it's the law, it's more difficult for you to go around, you need more space for your wheelchair, so four people will leave the bus. That's all" Well, Ok. Perfect.

 As in France it's already hard enough to make people move over so you can enter the bus with your wheelchair. So make them LEAVE the bus ! (laughs)
And what do you think are the biggest difficulties to deal with when you're disabled and you want to travel ?
 

First of all, I'm gonna say something I would have said disabled or not. The biggest difficulty is to jump ahead. Cause a lot of people want to travel, want to discover the world but they're like "oh my god, I need to prepare everything, I need to find some friends to come with me, it's expensive..." So yeah getting started, it's already something.  Then travel on your own, it's another step because the only person you can count on, is yourself. It doesn't matter if you're disabled or not, it's a challenge. Cause when I talk about it with fully abled people they're like : "There is no way I could do something like that, I don't know how you do it" . But more specifically about disability I would say that the biggest difficulty is going to check if it's gonna be just a little challenge, or if it's gonna be more like climbing Mount Everest. Meaning that it's a trip, and it needs to stay nice and enjoyable. It's a trip, it's not like going to war. So for me there are countries that I take off my list, at least until I find someone to come with me. Because it would be too difficult. too much to handle on my own. For example countries from South America, that are let's be honest, way less accessible than countries in Europe or in North America. And it's too bad, because I really wanna go. So yeah I took them off my list temporarily until I found a group of friends or a future boyfriend to come with me. And then, well you need to...But this, I think disabled people are used to it. About travelling or anything else. You need to be prepared. Think about what kind of potential problems you can avoid before you leave. You need to check if the public transports are accessible, if the hotel is not going to have like three steps at the entrance. Well, for me three steps I don"t know if they would stop me. Because I can stand up a little bit and it's an opportunity to ask for help. And in those kinds of situations, asking for help when you're travelling can make you have some very interesting encounters. Because if the person is not far from the hotel, that probably means they're also travelling. And it can give you the opportunity to spend the rest of your trip with them. But you still need to be prepared if you don't want to deal with that kind of situation. Same thing for the plane, you need to book the assistance. So it's not a last minute thing, and the compagny can't say things like : "Sorry we didn't know about your wheelchair, we can't have you on our plane" It never happened to me because like I said I try to be as prepared as possible. So nothing ever happened to me.
And then of course you need to check the level of violence in the country. But that's true even if you're not disabled. You need to check you have the right kind of credit card...But all those things are not specific to disabled people. I would say that except checking the accessibility of the transports and be sure it's not too complicated...There are not a lot of obstacles to travel when you're disabled. Of course it also depends on what kind of disability you have. It depends on what kind of wheelchair you have. I'm talking about my own experience where I have a wheelchair...So today...I was talking about it earlier. Today I have a Kuschall K series, so a manual wheelchair that I bought myself. With a Force Wheel, which is a powered wheel who allows me to do like twenty kilometers on my own. So with no problem to go around all day and then charge it during the night at the hotel. Which really changes the game. Cause when you've decided to cross New-York from point A to point B and that it's from one part of the city to the other...I did it once, not twice. (laughs) You need to have some good material. It's not with my small wheelchair from the Pharmacy, that I would have done that. And I'm currently thinking about buying a wheel that you put up front, to be even less bothered by the pavements and that kind of thing. It's another project but...

So you already talk about it a little bit but...You traveled on your own and with other people. Do you have a preference for one or the other ?

I would say it's a pretty difficult question cause they're both different ways to travel for me. Being on your own like I was saying earlier, it's a real challenge. You need to be very open to meet the maximum of people. At least that's what I want. So you need to be...Pardon me the expression but you need to shine. You need to be very comfortable with yourself so you can attract other people.  But when you're with someone else, like if you're with your boyfriend you're gonna say with him and there will be less difficulties cause he will be here if you need him.  And you're both thinking about what you want to do.  And with a group of friends, you're gonna have to find activities that everybody wanna do, on the same budget. Or being OK to let everybody do their own things. Which works with some people but not with others. Not leaving someone behind...So for me it's really different. If I go to the same country on my own or with a boyfriend, it's not gonna be the same. I think that I need to frequently travel on my own. Because I need that little shot of adrenaline. This little challenge I was talking about. It's kind of magic this feeling of being like : I CAN DO IT. I can do it and I don't need anybody else. If I didn't have that, I think I would miss it. But there are some times where I need to find someone to come with me cause that's a trip I don't wanna do on my own.

Yeah that feeling when you come back home after travelling on your own and your like "Yes ! I did it !" I found it very gratifying.
 
So we talked about travelling on your own, and now I would like to talk about travelling when you're a woman. Cause without even talking about disability, we know that when you're a woman and you travel alone people are often like "But aren't you scared to go on your own ? It's dangerous" And when you're getting close to thirty, they will ask if you're gonna have kids, and make you understand that maybe you should calm down on the travels and think about settling down.
Didi already hear that kind of comment ?

So...About the fact that you need to be careful, that it's dangerous... I'm gonna play devil's advocate here, but yes. You actually need to be careful. Check the level of security of the country, don't trust everyone you meet. Keep an eye on your belongings, keep them close to you...There are some things you need to be careful about. But I think you got it by now, I travel a lot and it doesn't keep me from going.  It's going to become an obstacle, if you start thinking things like it's too dangerous, I'm not gonna make it" Don't do that. Because even a man  can be attacked on the street, he can lose his bag...Male or female. It's going to be the same scenario. Unfortunately that kind of thing happens to everyone.
At the beginning my parents were very worried. They were asking for a text every hour. Ok maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit but at least one in the morning, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. Since then they realised that I was independent enough and that they didn't have to worry that much. And they also realised that even when I was alone I was always meeting other people, so I think it got them less worried. About having kids and settling down... First of all I don't want kids. Or if I want them it's gonna be in a few years and it will be one and not ten. And that's something that I have in mind since I'm eighteen and even younger. So my parents got used to the idea, my family as well. For settling down I think that...I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by people who understood that travelling for me was something that made me feel alive. Who gave me the opportunity to shine, to feel good, to really bring me something positive. So I think that's why those kinds of comments are pretty rare. And I think that the fact that I have a stable job, a flat...I already have some kind of a routine. So they're not worried because I dropped out of university and I don't have a job or something like that...And I think I'm that kind of person who finds something else when they don't like something. I move on with my life. For example at the moment professionally speaking I have some new training for a reorientation in another field who's gonna fulfill my current activity. And I think being in that mindset doesn't give them too much concern... But I know it can be more complicated for other families, and I think it's a shame because why should we travel before turning thirty and not after ? Why should having kids be an obligation ? Why settle down right away if we don't want to ? I think life is a progression and everybody choose their own path at their own speed...If you want to do that at eighteen, you do it at eighteen, if you want to do it at the thirty you do it at thirty and if you want to do that at forty five, you do it at fourty five. I think the most important thing is to be who you want to be. To find yourself and to feel good about yourself and about your life. There is no need to follow a clock who's just a path that society wants us to choose.

I approve this answer ! (laughs) Yeah I totally agree. So now we're getting close to the final question...Do you have any advice for disablrd people who would like to travel alone ? Which advice would you give them ?

Just do it. If you need advice don't hesitate to ask on social media like on groups of travelers who give a lot of tips. It doesn't have to be specifically disabled  travelers cause it's more rare, but they exist as well. But ask your question before you go.  Don't go with some sort of doubts because those doubts will disappear once you'll be there. You'll be so taken in the moment, you will be like " Wow I did it ! I'm enjoying myself, I'm living my best life" . So it would be a shame to not try. Then if you don't like it, if it doesn't work for you, if something goes wrong...Ok. But at least you tried.

So now we're at the final question. Do you have any cultural recommendations that talk about disability or travels, or even better disability and travels ?

That is a question that I find a little bit more difficult to answer. Well first of all I think there is a movie that everybody needs to watch, or read the book. It's a film called Eat Pray Love. It's about a journalist who leaves everything behind and goes on this life changing trip between Italie, India, and Bali. She eats in Italy, she prays in India and she falls in love in Bali. And she has all this progression, and then she's like an accomplished woman at the end of the journey. She's not disabled but I found this character very relatable for many reasons. And then there is a film called "Une Margarita avec une paille" And I'll let you the honor to say it in English because it's an English title and I'm not the best with the English accent.

Yeah it's a film called "Margarita with a Straw" And for the anecdote, you recommended that film  to me and that's thanks to or because of that film that I started my Netflix subscription. (laughs) But yeah I let you introduce it

Well it's about a girl who I think has cerebral palsy or something very similar because she uses a powered wheelchair. She wants to go study abroad and her family is not a big fan of this idea because of disability. They think it's going to be a huge obstacle. But she finally manages to convince them and she leaves for a university abroad where she's going to start a new life by making friends, falling in love and exploring her seuality. And she's also experiencing travelling cause she lives very far away from her family. I'm usually not a big fan of films that talk about disability cause I found them badly made, badly played (cause often played by abled-bodied actors) with stereotypes that give me chills (but not in a good way) But this one don't go this way. So I'm not gonna recommend a lot of things around that topic, but I can recommend you this film. And then I would say just make your own film, or write your own book.

(Laugs) Exactly. Make your own podcast as well (laughs) Yeah that film...You were saying that disabled characters are often played by disabled actors, and here that's the case too. And the first time I watched I really thought she was disabled, but then I did my research and I found out that she was abled-bodied. And usually...Usually it bothers me. And it's another debate, I could actually make a whole episode to talk about that. But in that film, the story is so well written, it's really about discovery and it's such a positive message. So yeah I'm not gonna say anything about that on this one. Especially because like you said she has cerebral palsy so the same disability as us. She's bisexual, she explores her sexuality and all that...And as a disabled bisexual woman myself...It was the first time that I saw a character that looked so much like me on a screen and it was very inspiring.

Road movies are a genre that often had disabled characters as the main characters. There is Hasta La Vista, a belgian film where the main characters are a group of friends who are in a hurry to begin their sexual lives and want to go to Spain to find a brothel specialized for disabled people. More recently on Netflix was released the film "The Revised Fundamentals Of Caregiving" But in both films all the disabled characters are played by non disabled actors (and like you probably understood, Margarita with a Straw is the only exception where I can accept this) In Hasta La Vista one of the characters dies at the end of the film. In the other one he's bitter and his level of self esteem is close to none. Always the same pattern. And on top of that you can add a few sexist jokes and a lot of male gaze. But I finally found a film that doesn't follow this pattern and it's going to be my recommendation for this episode. It's a film called "Give me Liberty" His main character Vic is a young man born in the US with a Russian background who drives a van accessible for disabled people. The director of this film used to be a paramedic in another life and I think that's why there is no pity or misery in the way disabled people are portrayed. Here there is just a genuine sense of reality. Sometimes not far from documentaries. Some scenes even reminded me of Crip Camp. Another film I need to tell you about in another episode. This very realistic feeling also comes from the cast. None of the actors are professional but all of them  are nothing but authentic. You can see Lauren Spencer an influencer and disabled activist, really impressive for her first time as an actress.  Somewhere between comedy and car chase, Give me Liberty makes us travel between the Russian community and the Black community of Milwaukee's popular area. More than just a road movie, it's a feel good movie that I highly recommend

Thanks a lot Eleanor for your participation

My pleasure

And thank YOU for listening to  this second episode of H comme Handicapé.e.s (D like Disabled) Thanks a lot for all your feedback on the first episode! They mean a lot to me. A little reminder that you can find all the information about this podcast on the website : hcommehandipodcast.fr and on the Instagram account @hcommehandipodcast. The third episode will be out on April 19th and we will talk about tattoos with not one but two guests

Cultural recommendations :

Film : Eat, Pray, Love (2010)
Directed by Ryan Murphy
Available onNetflix (FR)

Film : Margarita with a straw (2014)
Directed by Shonali Bose
Available on Netflix

Film : Give me Liberty (2019)
Directed by Kirill Mikhanovsky
VOD available on YouTube

References :

Film : Hasta la vista (2011)
Directed by Geoffrey Enthoven

Film : The Fundamantals of Caring (2016)
Directed by Rob Burnett
Available on Netflix

Film : Crip Camp (2020)
Directed by James Lebrecht & Nicole Newnham
Available on Netflix

Lauen Spencer @itslololove on Instagram