Before I introduce myself, I would like to share a photograph. In it, a smiling 18-year-old girl wearing a faded sleeveless vest and ragged jeans leans forwards to counterbalance a backpack. She is embarking on her first intrepid adventure, standing on the precipice of a journey, but also of girlhood. She's at that giddy time when everything seems to offer the promise of potential
opportunity. The world is her oyster, and she knows it. When I look at this picture, nostalgia twists gently in my stomach. Then the feeling tightens with foreboding. In just a few weeks, that girl—her wanderlust tickled from a trip around southern India—will be paralyzed in a car crash.
Twenty years ago, when my spine was injured and my ability to move or feel two-thirds of my body was lost, the free-spirited, indomitable, adventurous version of me was not. That feeling endured and, if anything, became galvanized, fueled by a refusal to accept that adventure was something I had to give up. I was paralyzed, but I refused to sit still.
“I want to go to some extraordinary places, meet some extraordinary people, and do some extraordinary things," I wrote from my hospital bed the day I was discharged. But let's be honest: as a freshly injured paraplegic woman, I would face barriers as complex and nuanced as my impairment itself. When it comes to travel, total satisfaction can be hard—if not impossible—for disabled people to find.
The physical barriers—steps, stairs, uneven terrain, and narrow spaces, to name a few—present one set of challenges. But then there are the financial, medical, or, most insidious of all, attitudinal barriers. They cordon us in, creating comfort zones within which life can stagnate. But despite how differently I have had to navigate the world since the accident, my North Star will always be to travel.