As a wheelchair user, growing up I never saw myself represented in the media. It wasn’t really something that concerned me or something that I thought about often, until I joined social media and finally found the representation I had been lacking.
Through social media, Instagram specifically, I have been able to meet others like me, and truly connect with other wheelchair users- mostly women- on a level I have rarely been able to before. Through seeing them travel the world, go to school, work, get married, have children, and live with confidence and style, it has inspired me to do the same- both in my daily and life and online.
In 2019, I started my blog and Instagram page, “Rosie Roaming”. Travel is one of my favorite things to do, even though it can be challenging and draining as a wheelchair user. So far, I have been to 36 states and 7 countries, with my goal being to visit all 50 states and as many countries as I can! I started Rosie Roaming to share my experiences traveling as a wheelchair user, to connect with other wheelchair users, and to show how it can be done in a chair.
One great travel experience I had recently was a day trip I took to Saugatuck, Michigan with some friends. The reason the trip was so great for me (aside from the amazing company of my friends), was because of one simple thing: a boardwalk. The beach is a place that has traditionally been full of logistical nightmares for me. If you have any experience with sand and wheelchairs, you know that they do not mix. When a wheelchair is the way you move around the world, that makes navigating a place that is so alluring and relaxing for most into a frustrating and calculated experience. At most beaches, my options are to be carried across the beach or to use a beach wheelchair- both of which rely on several specific factors in order for the option to be on the table at all.
Until this beach trip, I had not been on a beach with a boardwalk, which allowed me to go onto the beach in my chair independently. This boardwalk at Oval Beach in Saugatuck extended onto the actual beach, and allowed me to go about halfway down the beach, then park my chair next to the boardwalk and lay on the sand. During the second half of the day, I actually stayed in my chair on the boardwalk, on the side so I’d be out of the way of the people heading back to their car, while sitting next to my friends who were on the sand beside me. This boardwalk is such a simple thing, yet it made all the difference for me.
Although I love to travel, it isn’t something I do in my everyday life, especially in the age of the pandemic and being a full-time college student. However, I still want to share my experiences, so I have started sharing more of my daily life too. I think this will be helpful to keep the page going as I continue throughout my life, wherever I may go.
My favorite part of this journey is finding a vibrant, passionate community. Life with a disability can be really hard, and it has been life-changing to find others who can relate to my struggles, because they have experienced them, too. When one of us is discouraged or facing a challenge, the others are always here to lift us back up. On the other hand, when one of us celebrates something joyous, the community is there to cheer right alongside. Disabled joy is something that is hardly represented in the media, yet it is thankfully a reality for me and many of us in the disability community. This community has helped me find my voice and helped sparked a new passion for disability inclusion and advocacy.
One area of injustice that my community has been facing lately has been the treatment of wheelchairs by airlines. In the past 3 months, I personally know at least 12 people who have had their wheelchairs lost, damaged, or destroyed while traveling on an airplane. This experience is often really traumatizing and puts a halt on their life- a broken wheelchair can take months to fix or replace, with the bill often being thousands of dollars. Even if this bill is paid for by airline companies, wheelchair users are still stranded- literally- until their chair is fixed or a replacement is provided to them. Wheelchair users like myself rely on our wheelchairs to connect us to the world. Without it, I would be stuck in bed. My wheelchair is absolutely essential to my independence, health, and livelihood- it is customized to fit my specific needs, and is not easily replaceable. Although I personally have not experienced a damaged wheelchair as a result of airplane travel, it is becoming an increasing concern of mine as I see it happening repeatedly to my community. Reports from the U.S. Air Travel Consumer Report show that in 2019, an average of 29 wheelchairs were lost, damaged, or destroyed every single day. Airlines need to start treating disabled passengers and our wheelchairs, which are extensions of our bodies, with the respect and dignity we deserve.
I hope to carry my advocacy work and internet presence into the healthcare field as a Physician Assistant. I plan on attending Physician Assistant school in a couple of years, after finishing classes and obtaining the patient care experience needed to apply. Physically disabled people are extremely underrepresented in healthcare, and I hope this is something that will increase in the future as part of important diversity movements. I believe people with disabilities are capable of providing excellent care to patients, and provide unique perspectives, often having had many experiences as patients themselves.
Representation, I’ve learned, is essential for envisioning a future where you belong. I hope by sharing my experiences on my Instagram and blog, I can help contribute to the representation of disabled joy and belonging for others.
This past fall I had the opportunity to write for Breaking Ground, a magazine on all kinds of disability topics by the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities. Here is the link to the online version of the magazine if you’d like to see the rest of the magazine! This link will also lead you to a place to access a plain text version of the magazine with image descriptions (Word document).