Cory Lee is one of the most intrepid travelers that I’ve had the pleasure to meet. His journeys to places like India, Morocco and Antarctica are just the start. In the past eight years, he has visited 39 countries and all seven continents. What makes this even more remarkable is that all of his travels were done in a powered wheelchair.
Diagnosed at age two with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (type 2), he got his first powered wheelchair at age 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. This is much more than a travel blog. Destination by destination, he details his days in a given destination, noting how accessible a destination is and the challenges faced by traveling in a wheelchair. Recent coverage includes wheelchair travel guides to places as diverse as Sarasota, Lake Tahoe and the Adirondacks. Not to mention Santiago, Chile and Montevideo, Uruguay.
“I began my website in 2013 when I was researching a trip to Australia and trying to find disability information,” Lee said. “It was hard to find which destinations were accessible. There was a lack of accessible travel info to destinations around the world. So I decided to become a resource and share that info.”
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. As a rule, the United States also does a good job. We’re lucky to have the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). On the other hand, if a country does not have an ADA designation, that doesn’t mean it’s completely inaccessible. Spain is doing 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’ve never seen that anywhere else around the world.”
That said, many destinations remain challenging. On a visit to New York City in 2005, he found only 15 accessible taxis, which required 48-hour advance notice. He adds that the city has improved a lot in the past five years and has become one of the easiest cities to get around in.
“My hardest trip was to Paris in 2011,” he recalls. “Back then, there was a severe lack of accessible transportation. There was only one van to call and it cost 800 Euros per day. I hear it has gotten better and I would love to revisit.”
Overall, Lee says that the world is becoming more accessible. Four years ago “I went to India. I had always wanted to visit and I found a tour company that specializes in accessible travel. They used an adapted van and they scouted accessible hotels and attractions. I had a phenomenal experience.
One constant, says Lee, is that the hardest part of travel for wheelchair users is flying, especially on long flights.
“They need to roll you onto the airplane and transfer you to an aisle chair. I can’t self-transfer and sometimes the crew is trained, sometimes not, and there can be language barriers. Using the bathroom can be an issue and I’m always worried about whether my checked wheelchair will be damaged during the flight because it frequently has been damaged. But I wouldn’t trade travel for anything.”
Lee is in demand as a conference speaker and clocked more than 100 nights on the road in 2021. His favorite trip?
“Morocco in 2018,” he says. “I had such a remarkable experience. I went to Fez, Marrakech and into the Sahara. The company I worked with, Morocco Accessible Travel Consultants, had an adaptive camel seat with a full backrest. It allowed me to have one of my most memorable experiences ever, riding a camel over the dunes.”
Lee has also just launched the CurbFree Foundation, a non-profit that provides travel grants to wheelchair users.
“I receive messages almost daily by people who are inspired to travel because of my site,” he says. “It reminds me of why I’m doing this.”
Visit CurbFree with Cory Lee.