Providing Exceptional Experiences for All
On a warm evening last June, I witnessed a remarkable interaction that impacted me both personally and professionally. At the Juneteenth celebration at the Museum of Fine Arts here in Boston, I watched a dancer delicately lift her arm in the air as she gracefully spun her wheelchair back and forth. She arched her back within her chair and lifted her leg as she ended her dance program with a bow. After her performance, a small girl walked up to her and started to sign, and to her surprise (and mine), the dancer then began to sign too! The little girl’s face lit up with glee at the realization that the woman could communicate with her. The child’s mother turned to me and said, “She wants to be a dancer too, and after seeing [this dancer], she believes anything is possible.”
What I witnessed at that moment was something more than just a cute child and a talented woman dancing in a wheelchair. For the little girl, I saw a sureness in her stance and a sparkle in her eyes as she imagined herself in new ways, thanks to her newfound dance role model.
At WorldStrides, one of my primary responsibilities is helping make our travel programs more accessible for people with mobility impairments. When one of our travelers has a disability, I am one of the first people to find out. I then work closely with the operations team to arrange any special accommodations before the tour departing, navigating some of the challenges inherent in travel and especially in Europe where local architecture is frequently centuries-old. Finding appropriate accommodations and coaches is a vital part of the work, and I try to learn as much as I can about the experience each traveler will have at sites and activities that are part of the itinerary. Transparency is essential; I try to provide as much information as possible about the experiences and challenges that may come up for our travelers who have sight, hearing, or mobility issues on fast-paced tours like ours.
I’m proud of the work I’ve been a part of to create best practices and guidelines for how we deal with our traveler’s accessibility concerns. I see this as a way to challenge antiquated attitudes about people with disabilities. It’s my mission to provide an enjoyable experience for all of our travelers despite any disability, both visible or invisible, that they may have. I’m also passionate about making sure they can see our travel programs as an option for them. As an Afro-Latina woman of color with a diverse background, I was privileged to relish in the differences and diverse customs and cultures of my history. I am a first-generation Afro-Latina woman. My father is African American from a Southern background, and my mother is Costa Rican. I view my family as a kaleidoscope with each color merging perfectly to make a beautiful image. I have taken these lessons with me as I have traveled around the world. There is a large, fast-growing community of trailblazing black, gay, trans, and travelers with disabilities that are at the forefront of shattering myths about what makes a typical American traveler.
That’s why the interaction I saw between the dancer and the little girl was so powerful. The little girl was ready for a champion, and the dancer was there — and not just there, but featured in a prominent dance performance. Representation is so important, not only for little girls but for society as a whole. If we can see it, we can be it!