Cory Lee is one of the most intrepid travelers I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. His travels to places like India, Morocco and Antarctica are just the beginning. Over the past eight years, he has visited 39 countries and all seven continents. What makes this even more remarkable is that all of his trips were made in an electric wheelchair.
Diagnosed at the age of two with spinal muscular atrophy (type 2), he got his first electric wheelchair at the age of four and went to Walt Disney World on his first trip. Now he documents his travels on his website CurbFree with Cory Lee: Sharing the World from a Wheelchair User’s Perspective. It’s more than a travel blog. Destination by destination, he details his days in a given destination, noting the accessibility of a destination and the difficulties encountered when traveling in a wheelchair. Recent coverage includes wheelchair travel guides to places as diverse as Sarasota, Lake Tahoe and the Adirondacks. Without forgetting Santiago, Chile and Montevideo, Uruguay.
“I started my website in 2013 when I was researching a trip to Australia and trying to find disability information,” Lee said. “It was difficult to find which destinations were accessible. There was a lack of accessible travel information to destinations around the world. So I decided to become a resource and share this information.
So which countries or cities are doing a great job?
“I think a lot of places are,” he says. “Scandinavia is one of the most accessible places. In Helsinki alone there are 300 wheelchair accessible taxis. In general, the United States also does a good job. We are lucky to have the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). On the other hand, if a country doesn’t have an ADA designation, that doesn’t mean it’s completely inaccessible. Spain does a phenomenal job and in Barcelona the beaches are the most accessible in the world. They even have staff on hand to transfer you from your wheelchair to a beach wheelchair. I have never seen this anywhere else in the world. »
That said, many destinations remain challenging. During a visit to New York in 2005, he found only 15 accessible taxis, requiring 48 hours notice. He adds that the city has improved a lot over the past five years and has become one of the easiest cities to navigate.
“My hardest trip was to Paris in 2011,” he recalls. “At the time, there was a dire lack of accessible transportation. There was only one van to call and it cost 800 euros per day. I heard it got better and I would love to come back.
Overall, Lee says the world is becoming more accessible. Four years ago, “I went to India. I had always wanted to visit and found a travel agency that specialized in accessible travel. They used an adapted van and scouted accessible hotels and attractions. I had a phenomenal experience.
One constant, Lee says, is that the hardest part of travel for wheelchair users is on the plane, especially on long flights.
“They have to get you on the plane and transfer you to an aisle chair. I cannot self-transfer and sometimes the crew is trained, sometimes not, and there may be language barriers. Using the bathroom can be a problem and I’m always worried if my checked-in wheelchair will be damaged during the flight as it has often been damaged. But I wouldn’t trade the trips for anything in the world.
Lee is in high demand as a speaker and has logged over 100 nights on the road in 2021. His favorite trip?
“Morocco in 2018,” he says. “I had such a remarkable experience. I have been to Fes, Marrakech and the Sahara. The company I worked with, Morocco Accessible Travel Consultants, had an adaptive camel seat with a full backrest. It allowed me to live one of my most memorable experiences, riding a camel on the dunes.
Lee has also just launched the CurbFree Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides travel grants for wheelchair users.
“I receive almost daily messages from people who want to travel thanks to my site,” he says. “Reminds me why I’m doing this.”
Visit CurbFree with Cory Lee.