At age 2, Cory Lee was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy. At first he could walk a few steps at a time as long as he was holding onto something, however over the years his muscles weakened and soon he could not walk at all.
A true inspiration, he has not allowed his circumstances to prevent him from his dream of traveling and exploring the world. Making his way through destinations such as Paris, London and Austria, he does not see himself as restricted to his wheelchair, on the contrary, sees the world as his to explore.
And, in an attempt to inspire others to step outside of their comfort zone, Cory has recently established a travel website ‘Curbfree with Cory Lee‘ with the message that anything is possible. He decided long ago that if he couldn’t stand up, he was going to stand out.
Cory Lee is a truly inspiring traveler.
What do you love most about traveling?
Everything! But… If I have to narrow that down, I love being able to go somewhere and just clear my mind for a while. There is no time for worrying about school, money, or life’s other issues. Instead, I just get to relax, meet new people, and see remarkable sights. Currently I take a couple vacations per year, but I’m hoping to turn traveling into a full lifestyle in the near future.
What inspired you to start traveling?
I think that it was a culmination of a lot of things. The desire to travel has always been inside of me in some way.
When I was younger, my mom and I would take a trip or two every year. It was usually to Disney World or a beach in Florida, but when I turned 15 we went to the Bahamas. This was the first time that I experienced another culture and it really opened my eyes as to how big the world is. This fueled my wanderlust more than ever.
What is Curb Free with Cory Lee all about?
Curb Free with Cory Lee is my new travel blog that is devoted to sharing the world from a wheelchair user’s perspective. I don’t like to say that it is strictly a “wheelchair accessible travel blog” though because it is about more than accessibility.
I share the places I have been and experiences I have had, while providing information on what is and what isn’t accessible. My goal is to inspire everyone to venture out of their comfort zone and see all of the beauty that the world has to offer, regardless of what obstacles life has thrown their way. Anything is possible.
How long have you been restricted to a wheelchair for?
I got my first wheelchair when I was four years old, but I was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy at the age of two. I could walk a few steps at a time as long as I was holding onto something for the first couple years, but soon I could not walk at all.
SMA has weakened my muscles over time so throughout the years I have gradually gotten weaker. I am doing well though and while I am in a wheelchair, I don’t feel “restricted” to it. The world is mine to explore.
Does your wheelchair make travel difficult?
At times, traveling in a wheelchair can be quite the challenge. This is especially true in older European cities because places may not have curb cuts, elevators, or even ramps to get inside buildings.
It definitely takes a lot of patience and determination, but it can be done.
Do you travel alone or with company?
I always travel with someone because I need help with different things. I have traveled with friends a few times, but it’s usually just my mom and I. She is the strongest, most caring person that I know and is always up for a great trip.
Growing up, she always told me “If you can’t stand up, stand out” and I try to live up to that every day.
What kind of things do you need assistance with while traveling?
I try to be as independent as possible, but I do need help with different tasks while traveling.
I am unable to transfer myself so I need assistance getting in and out of my wheelchair, the bed, the shower, etc. Getting into a plane seat is especially interesting as well. My mom, with the help of a flight crew member sometimes, has to pick me up and put me in the seat.
What makes this so difficult is the fact that the aisles are so small on a plane and it doesn’t leave much room to maneuver while lifting me. The armrests on many seats do not lift out of the way either, so it can be difficult to lift me that high over the armrest. However, once the whole flying part is getting easier over time.
Have you ever missed out on a destination due to your wheelchair?
No, I haven’t. I tend to do a LOT of research about a place before I book it and go, but so far I have been pretty fortunate to always find accessibility in some way or another. In most cases if there’s a will, there’s a way.
Have you ever encountered a country or place where it was incredibly difficult to get around?
The only place that I had immense difficulty in was Paris, but luckily we were only there for one day. The trains were not accessible so I booked a wheelchair accessible taxi to get us around.
Apparently, this was the only accessible taxi in the whole city however so we ended up having to book it for the entire day. This cost us a whopping 650€. Our driver was very nice and we enjoyed seeing the sights of Paris, but if you’re in a wheelchair and going to Paris be prepared to spend the big bucks.
In your view, what could countries do to make destinations more accessible for wheelchair users?
I would love love love (times infinity) to see more accessible transportation within cities. Many cities have wheelchair accessible taxis, but there are nowhere near enough of them in a lot of places.
I have had to wait on an accessible taxi for over three hours before. When you’re waiting that long, you are missing out on getting to see the sights. If there was more accessible transportation then I could also be more spontaneous and wouldn’t have to plan my trips out so far in advance.
Describe your travel personality – what do you like to do while abroad?
I love experiencing all of the typical touristy things such as seeing the landmarks, eating the local cuisine, and souvenir shopping until I drop. I always go with the mentality that I may never get the opportunity to visit that place again, so I try to do everything that I can while I’m there.
Three things you can’t travel without?
First and foremost, my wheelchair battery charger. Without it, I can’t do anything really because my wheelchair will be dead! Using my charger in countries with a different voltage can be quite interesting and I have even managed to blow up a couple chargers (accidentally) when plugging them into the hotel outlets.
Secondly, my iPhone AKA the love of my life. It serves as my camera, phone, GPS, and more. Lastly, my MacBook Air. It’s extremely lightweight so it’s easy to travel with and I usually have to stay caught up with school work while on the road.
Which destinations are at the top of your bucket list?
Australia has always been my number one dream destination and I am finally going to Sydney and Melbourne at the end of February. I am beyond ecstatic! Other bucket list destinations include Iceland, China, Kenya, and Egypt.
Do you think the world is seen differently from a wheelchair user’s perspective?
I think that us wheelchair user’s are more conscious of our surroundings while traveling. We study the destination in advance more, and are constantly looking to see if places are accessible or not.
If an attraction is not accessible then we may have a different opinion of it than everyone else. For example, people always tell me how amazing Paris is and I just can’t agree. When I think of Paris, the first word that comes to mind is “inaccessible” due to the lack of accessible transportation in the city.
Most practical piece of travel advice for wheelchair users wishing to travel?
Whew, the list could go on and on… Seriously. I actually wrote a blog post on the 7 most important travel tips for wheelchair users. But aside from those tips, I would say to never be afraid to travel.
I know so many disabled people that are scared to travel because the destination might not be accessible. To that, I would say “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game”.