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New resource aims to help people with disabilities travel with ease

Pam MacDonald wasn't always comfortable with air travel. But a new resource in B.C. is helping to change that, the 49-year-old Fort St. John resident said.

MacDonald is a full-time caregiver to her three grandchildren and was effectively paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident in July, though she hopes to walk again soon through rehabilitation.

She said that flying, especially out of B.C.'s small northern airports, presents challenges, but that a new Accessible Travel Project has eased some of her fears.

"I got to see different ways that they load and unload people and what the process is like," she said of the project's guide and YouTube videos. She said there are few disabled travelers in the north, and she'd never seen one travel, "so I found it very helpful."

The project, which includes a guide and YouTube videos, tapped into the knowledge of world travelers who have collectively traveled to every continent and who all use wheelchairs. The aim is to help people with disabilities travel more smoothly, and educate those assisting them.

Roger Jones was one of the contributors. The former public speaker works as a consultant on accessibility and inclusion issues and is a quadriplegic, the result of a car accident 27 years ago.

He said that the most important thing for people with disabilities to do when traveling is clearly explain their capabilities and limitations to others, because they may not know how to help.

"It's important for me to know, so I can direct them," he said.

The guide walks readers, for example, through the process of booking a ticket and boarding a plane, which involves transferring into an aisle seat, a special wheelchair designed to fit through airplane aisles. The videos demonstrate the various steps.

BC Spinal Cord Injuries created the project, and Candice Vallantin, communications spokesperson for the project, said the goal was to distill the wisdom of experienced travelers into easily accessible guides.

She said a lot of people with recent spinal injuries are intimidated by travel and worry that they won't be accommodated.

"They fear that their travel days are over," she said.

To address that, the guide includes links that brief readers of their rights both within Canada and internationally.

Both Jones and MacDonald hope that the project's audience isn't confined to those with physical disabilities.

"I hope that all people will take a bit more of an interest in what handicapped people have to do to live a normal life," said MacDonald.

Joel Barde is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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