The Wheelchair Diaries: Traveling Through an Inaccessible World

  • August 2, 2013
The image is of an old European buildings with plain columns. Several people sit on the steps in front of the building. Reid Davenport sits in a red electric wheelchair in front of them.
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During Reid Davenport‘s junior year at George Washington University, he did what many of his fellow students were doing–he applied to study abroad in Florence, Italy. Once he was accepted to the program, he mentioned that he has Cerebral Palsy and gets around with an electric wheelchair. That’s when the problems began. The program directors warned him that they may not be able to find a host family for him. He would likely have to use a manual wheelchair pushed by an aide to navigate the cobblestone streets. Finally, they doubted his wheelchair would fit in the academic building’s elevators. Faced with these accessibility challenges, Davenport realized it wasn’t feasible for him to study abroad. Following his graduation in 2012, Davenport decided that he would see for himself if Europe really was all that inaccessible for people with disabilities. This decision led him on a journey that culminated with “Wheelchair Diaries: One Step Up,” a documentary that chronicles his eventual travels through Europe.

The image is of a movie poster. A man in an electric wheelchair sits in front of a tunnel, on some train tracks. White text at the top of the poster reads "Wheelchair Diaries: One Step UpThe movie poster for Davenport’s film

Davenport used a fellowship and crowdfunding to raise the funds necessary to travel and create a movie.  He began his Eurotrip in Dublin, Ireland, where he encountered the first of many accessibility challenges. His wheelchair arrived at the airport disassembled, and finding accessible buses required a day’s notice. The rest of the trip would be quite similar. Davenport realized that the accessibility he was accustomed to in downtown Washington, DC was nowhere to be found in the narrow streets of Europe. Finding inaccessible bars and coffee shops was unsurprising, but Davenport was even unable to get to the top of the Eiffel tower in his wheelchair–a flight of stairs led to the elevator.

While Davenport’s journey is material enough for a movie, he made it even more intriguing by telling the stories of Europeans with disabilities he met along  the way.  While in Brussels, Belgium, he interviews Francois Colinet, a man with CP. “Colinet said that he feels much freer when he travels to the United States to see family, because it’s a lot easier to find buildings with access ramps and accessible bathrooms. ‘Europe is an old continent, so we have a lot of old structures, old buildings,’ he said. ‘And we don’t have [things] like the Americans With Disabilities Act.’” The film is full of contrasts between American and European accessibility that demonstrate the work that must been done in Europe to “catch up” to the standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Hopefully, the awareness raised by Davenport’s movie will be the extra push European officials need to take another look at the accessibility of their continent.

Davenport’s film premiered in Los Angeles last weekend. It will be shown in Washington, DC at the George Washington University.  Davenport is accepting donations to assist with promoting and distributing his film. Watch the trailer below to get a sneak peek of the movie!

 Featured image courtesy of The Washington Post

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