In the last blog post we spoke about the Laureate Global Fellowship and the amazing things I experienced during the trip in Spain - what I didn’t tell you was how I found the accessibility in Dubai and Spain; especially for someone who uses an electric wheelchair. So here it is!.

As it was a long way to get to Spain, it was best to break up the trip so I could get some rest; Here’s an overview of the trip:

1. Sydney to Dubai (stayed for 3 days)
2. Dubai to Madrid (stayed for 10 days)
3. Madrid to Dubai (stayed for 3 days)
4. Dubai to Sydney

No matter how much planning and preparation we do, there will always be some things that are out of our control. When I travel on the plane I’m usually the last passenger off after landing as I have to wait for the ground staff to collect my wheelchair from the cargo and bring it to the aircraft door so I can be transferred from the seat to my wheelchair - when I flew from Sydney to Dubai, I was told the ground staff couldn’t find my wheelchair because it wasn’t stored in the container they expected it to be in, so it would take them around 20-30 minutes to find it. I was transferred onto a standard manual wheelchair and waited patiently at the baggage claim area - sitting in a standard wheelchair is a nightmare for someone who relies on a customized seat. A thousand thoughts flashed through my mind at that moment as I wondered how I would do the rest of the trip if they couldn’t find my wheelchair or damaged it along the way - it was like someone told you they’ve lost both your legs. What would you do?Thankfully they found it and returned it in one piece!

Despite the mini heart attack at the airport, everything went smoothly with the accommodation. It’s always difficult to have a conversation on accessibility as everyone’s definition of accessibility is different and there is only so much photos can do when you’re booking accommodation. When I made the booking with the resort in Dubai, I went through my own accessibility checklist:

  • Check for lifts and ramps
  • Check the width of the bedroom and bathroom doors
  • Ensure they have a walk-in shower
  • Ensure there are enough power points in the room to charge my equipment
  • Ensure there is enough room on either sides of the bed so I can be transferred from wheelchair to bed and vice versa

Dubai is a beautiful city and an amazing place to visit, but still have some gaps to fill in terms of accessibility. Accessing taxis was a difficult task as there are only eight wheelchair accessible taxis in Dubai and we waited a minimum of two hours every time we made a booking, despite putting in a booking request well in advance. We later found out that even though we put in a booking request in advance, it’s not processed until ten minutes before our designated pick up time. So if I learnt anything about the taxi booking system in Dubai, it would be to book it at least 2 hours before your actual pick up time!

It was also hard to find ramps to cross the road and that made it almost impossible for us to explore the place by foot. When we came across ramps in buildings, they were quite different compared to the ones here in Australia. Some of the ramps are fairly steep and don’t have railings on the side, which could be somewhat dangerous if you went off the edge.

The most exciting part of the trip was of course, in Spin! The overall accessibility in Madrid was great; definitely much easier to find ramps and pedestrian crossings. Although it was a little rough driving on the cobblestone streets in some areas and getting up and down the steep ramps on the footpath - there were times when the ramp was too steep so my friends had to form a human shield as I drove on the road. Innovative right?! Here’s an example of the ramp I avoided

Although it was a very intense week of leadership training, I left the retreat feeling well connected with a global network of social entrepreneurs, a load of knowledge to share with my community and of course, an unforgettable experience.