When John Morris was 23, both of his legs had to be amputated below the knee after a life-altering car accident. His right hand was amputated as well, necessitating that he move around in a powered wheelchair.
For many, this would end all dreams of travel. But John Morris isn’t most people.
Just six weeks after the surgery in which his legs were amputated, the Florida State graduate journeyed across the country with his sister to see his school’s football team play in Pasadena, California’s Rose Bowl.
Since then, Morris, now 28, has traveled all over the world, from Moscow’s Red Square to the Burj al Khalifa in Dubai, to Beijing. Eventually, he decided to launch a website, called Wheelchair Travel, to inspire other disabled individuals to go see the world.
Folks sat down with Morris to learn more about his love for travel, and his belief that travel can be accessible to anyone.
I love travel for all of the typical reasons—new sights, sounds, tastes, and experiences —but also for the opportunity to test the boundaries of my abilities as a person with a disability. Travel presents challenges and conundrums, exposes me to new people, cultures, and languages, and demands my attention. No two days are the same, and I love having a life of travel that is filled with unique experiences.
I love travel for all of the typical reasons…but also for the opportunity to test the boundaries of my abilities as a person with a disability.
You had a life-changing car accident in 2012, but you haven’t let it stop you from traveling. What are some of the biggest roadblocks disabled travelers deal with?
There will always be people in our lives who focus on what we can’t do, things that our disabilities make difficult or impossible. But accessible travel is possible… even for this triple amputee who relies on a wheelchair to get around. Convincing ourselves that travel is possible is easier said than done, though. And, when we do take that leap of faith, we’ll encounter obstacles that test our spirits. Broken elevators, sidewalks without curb ramps, hotel rooms that don’t meet our needs, inconsiderate people and discrimination: we’ll encounter all of those things at some point. But there is always an alternate path. When a street is blocked, we don’t stop and give up, we circle back and search for another way. That’s what makes every trip so rewarding—opportunities to overcome, to work out solutions and to prove ourselves as capable.
What motivated you to start your website and to develop it into a resource for traveling while using a wheelchair?
Information unlocks possibility. When I took my first trips as a wheelchair user, information on the disability travel process and the accessibility of destinations was lacking. I created WheelchairTravel.org to empower people like me with information about travel, allowing them to unlock new opportunities and open the world to themselves.
What has been the biggest surprise for you since launching the website?
The demand for accessible travel information has been overwhelming. When I first began living my life from the seat of a wheelchair, I saw only a couple others like me each week. But, amazingly, when I launched the website, readership quickly grew to exceed even my wildest expectations. The truth is, nearly one in every five people have a disability, and we have the same dreams and desires as our able-bodied peers. Among those are travel and the opportunity to see things like the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. I am honored to show them how to make those dreams a reality.
The truth is, nearly one in every five people have a disability, and we have the same dreams and desires as our able-bodied peers. Among those are travel…
What’s some advice you give to disabled people who want to start traveling?
Never be afraid to ask for help. Normally, the people we turn to in times of need are our closest friends and family members. But there is a much bigger safety net that protects us all: our humanity. You will always find someone willing to help – whether you are the homeless guy living on the street, the tourist who needs directions, or the wheelchair user who ran out his wheelchair’s battery in Beijing, China. Yes, that last one was me – and my safety net was there. A total stranger pushed me and my wheelchair all the way back to my hotel. So, if you need help, don’t shy – ask! When we work together, we all achieve more.
What’s something that non-disabled people don’t realize about traveling while using a wheelchair?
Few of my able-bodied friends understand accessibility, which can make planning outings or trips difficult. Hail an Uber? Not with a power wheelchair. Restaurants? They don’t all have accessible entrances. Theme parks? I’m charged the same for a ticket, but can only get on a ride or two. Stay at a friend’s apartment? Walk-in showers are not the same as a roll-in shower. The majority of people in our lives don’t understand the world was built for the able-bodied. As a result, people with disabilities must spend time planning their travels to account for any accessibility barriers that may exist. Travel—even local nights out—aren’t as straightforward for disabled people. Hopefully, as our community works to educate our friends and society at large, we will put a greater focus on the need for universal design and the creation of public spaces that are accessible to all.
The majority of people in our lives don’t understand the world was built for the able-bodied.
What are your future traveling plans? Future plans for the website?
The world is enormous, and I will never run out of places to go or people to meet. But I’m especially looking forward to visiting some places this year that I have already been to many times – Beijing, Boston, and London are all on my schedule, and I look forward to exploring new neighborhoods and meeting old friends. And, no matter where life takes me, I am committed to maintaining WheelchairTravel.org as a resource for my sisters and brothers in the disability community. Whether through injury, old age or an unexpected diagnosis, the community is growing every day. The world should be open to us all, and I’m happy to help in whatever way that I can.
Anything else you’d like to add?
One of the greatest gifts travel provides is the opportunity to enrich our perspective by meeting new people. But the opportunity to grow in understanding of the world doesn’t have to stop when our vacation ends. Say hello to strangers—at the grocery store, at the dog park or on the city bus – say hello and expand your horizon. Life may not be a constant vacation, but we should never stop traveling.