What NSM client Rosie Dunn is learning about herself while living abroad
Last fall, Nashville native and National Seating & Mobility (NSM) client Rosie Dunn took a big step and moved to Ireland for a year to complete her master’s in disability studies at University College Dublin. A longtime travel enthusiast and a manual wheelchair user, Rosie shared a few thoughts about living abroad as well as some helpful tips for traveling in a wheelchair.
Tell us what it’s been like to live abroad.
There was definitely an adjustment at first, but I got the hang of things pretty quickly. The Irish people are so friendly and welcoming. I am glad I’m living in an English-speaking country since that’s the only language I can speak well. Being confident about my ability to communicate my needs to others makes living abroad a lot easier.
Traveling and exploring other countries has always been so interesting to me, so I’ve always wanted to study abroad. I was supposed to study abroad in London during my junior year of college, but I was not able to go because of the pandemic. After graduating college, I had a few friends from college move to Europe to either work or pursue master’s degrees, and one of my friends actually did the program I am doing now! When I found out about it, I reached out to him to learn more about the program. I was fortunate to be able to visit the school over my spring break to determine if I thought living in Dublin independently as a wheelchair user would be feasible. Thankfully, I was able to make it work!
What do you think fuels your passion for travel?
Travel has always been something that’s felt magical to me, especially when traveling to a new country for the first time. Even though it requires extra planning as a wheelchair user and sometimes is difficult, I almost always find traveling to be worth it. Traveling as a wheelchair user is also something I think a lot of people don’t think is possible, so I like proving to myself, to other wheelchair users, and to people in general that it can be.
What advice would you offer wheelchair users who are planning an upcoming trip?
Don’t try to do too much at once. This is something I am learning and trying to get better about. When planning a trip I tend to want to go see and do as many things as I can. This was very true on a trip I took in September. My mom and I had a wonderful trip, but it was the longest time we had ever been away from home. For the Switzerland portion of our trip, we never spent more than one night in any of the cities we stayed in. It was a lot of action and that was very fun, but it was also tiring. Then, when I ran into accessibility issues, I was less mentally equipped to handle them well.
You’ve been writing accessible travel guides and documenting your experiences on your blog, Rosie Roaming, and social media for years. Why is it important to you to create this kind of content?
Researching accessibility for trips can be overwhelming at times, so I want to share my travel experiences to help others who are in similar situations. I read other wheelchair travel blogs and follow other wheelchair travel creators to hear their experiences and find it to be very helpful. I also like going directly to other wheelchair users for this advice because I trust that they know what the important information is to share with other wheelchair users. Sometimes, people without disabilities will say something is accessible when it is not, or they judge my abilities quickly and tell me something is not possible when in reality it is for me, although it may not be for all wheelchair users.
I share the good to inspire other wheelchair users because I know traveling as a wheelchair user can be overwhelming. I also want to share the not-so-good sides of traveling as a wheelchair user to give an accurate depiction of the experience and to help advocate for changes that need to be made to help people with disabilities travel with the dignity and respect we deserve, such as implementing accessible bathrooms on planes, designing planes so wheelchair users can stay in their wheelchairs—this has already been proven to be safe, Delta announced it would implement this seat in the future!—and providing more rights and protections for passengers in wheelchairs that get damaged.
After she completes her master’s degree, Rosie plans to return to the United States, where she’ll start working on a degree in occupational therapy so she can work with spinal cord injury patients. In the meantime, Rosie intends to keep creating content for her blog and complete her goal of visiting all 50 states (only 11 left to go).
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