Help me feed my 20-something wanderlust. Difficulty level: Wheelchair
January 19, 2014 12:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm like every other post-college twentysomething in lots of ways: I make too little money, watch too much Netflix and indulge in an existential crisis oh, about once an hour. Also, like many in my cohort, I love the idea of packing up a ratty old duffel bag and heading off to some far corner of the world to taste, see and do all I can, while maybe giving myself either a leg to stand on once I return to the job market here or the warm-n-fuzzies that come from volunteering and/or service learning. All pretty standard fare. Here comes the doozy of snowflake: I'm in a wheelchair and have certain difficulties with speech fluency, owing to my CP and spastic diplegia diagnosis. Try as I might, I can't get myself to give up on the dream of spending a year or more abroad, even with all this in my way. Help me get there, oh beautiful hivemind?

A backstory and a few more details:
Ever since before I began college, I always knew I wanted to go to Israel for a year. Most of my family is there and I had been going ( and continue to go) for vacation once every two years or so. I love the vibe, the national identity and the culture in general and my Israeli mother always encouraged these sentiments in me. I kept delaying things- to finish high school, to start college, to finish college, to lose weight- the anticipation and the dream never crumbled.
That is, until this summer, my first after undergrad, when I swelled with excitement after thinking I would finally have the time and freedom to pursue that dream. I did all the basic research- went poring through MASA Israel's catalog of programs and internships , went through disability advocacy organizations and even had a few people personally advocate for my acceptance to programs like Hebrew U, Career Israel and the Kibbutz Program Center.

Nothing. As soon as people caught wind of the disability and its potential consequences on the trip ( the vast majority of which were assumed without ever giving me the opportunity to meet with organizers), emails started going unanswered ( or I would need to beg for a response), nonrefundable application fees remained nonrefundable despite the circumstances and I was poo-poo'd away from every otherwise tantalizing opportunity.

All this rejection left me almost physically ill. I was disgusted, because while Israel is nothing like the war-torn wasteland that it's sometimes portrayed to be the media- it's a modern, cosmopolitan country with most every Western amenity and disability legislation that at least on paper rivals that of the US- the attitudes of its people are backwards. On Birthright ( a 10 day tour of Israel for college students), the tour guide would constantly marvel at how it could be that an 'invalid' like myself was on the trip. People on the street take the liberty of gawking at you without a second thought, even as you're staring them in the face and are visibly flustered when you attempt interaction with (most of) them.

This spiraled me into what has now been an 8-month long relapse of my depression. I gave up looking for a job or any opportunities here because everything just seemed so impossible. But I'm done sitting back. I need to start exploring.
All this having been said,I've divided up the question around an if/then framework. Keep this in mind as you brainstorm.

I love Israel, even if it doesn't, and may never, love me back. I want so much to be there for somewhere between six months and two years, gathering experiences both professional and cultural. The thing is that, even though I'm lucky enough to have family there, I can't let myself go until I have:
a) ANY reason to be there ( in the form of program)
b) Accessible and independent long-term, but not permanent, housing ( living with my family members just isn't an option)
c) Reliable transportation ( I can and do use public transportation and paratransit in NY)
I would literally do anything even remotely related to my interests and goals at this point- something in a hospital, writing, volunteering with at-risk populations, the army ( I've seen more than one person with CP serve), kibbutz living, *travel*, or a combination of any of these.
Some of the more popular options for touring Anglos- teaching English and working in communications- aren't going to happen for me, not with the stutter in play.

I should note here that most of the ways in which I've tried to get around this problem of prejudice have come up short because most advocacy organizations or accessible travel groups are either aimed at permanent residents and their struggles or 10-day hotel-and-tour bus types. These people have no idea how to handle a study abroad type of situation. Same goes for the housing issue. I've always loved being unique, but there's a limit. Heh.

Now, I've realized that, despite every effort on your part, MeFites, Israel may just end up being a pipe dream.- a place I can visit but never call my own. That's fine... I've grown considerably since my days of unencumbered idealism. You might also just have no idea about how to navigate this part of the world or the opportunities available there. That's also cool. This is MetaFilter, not my synagogue.

IF ( remember this part?) either of these are true, I'd still LOVE your help along these exact same lines in getting ANYWHERE. So many of my friends are now either traveling or have moved abroad, and I need a salve for my cabin fever desperately.

I've always wanted to go back to the UK ( I was born and lived there for a few years and so feel emotionally tied to it) and it would probably be number two on my list aside from Israel.
The rest, in order of preference:

California ( I know, not abroad, but still a dream of mine)
The rest of Europe- Spain, Italy, Czech Republic, Ireland, France, etc. etc.
South Africa
Feel free to dream up the rest.

I know Asia is a popular choice. I'm just as deeply curious about it as I am about these other places, but honestly, the culture shock and language barrier might be too much for me at such a nascent stage in my exploration. It's not completely out of the question though, so feel free to make your case.

TL;DR Help a disabled college-aged dude add a couple of visas to his passport and grow/learn in the process.

So, wonderful MeFites, help me believe that I can travel and function in a global society in 2014. I believe I can. Am I wrong?
posted by marsbar77 to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you're under 30 you can get a working holiday visa to Australia, which qualifies you to stay for a year (if not longer?), including eligibility to work.

The UK also seems like a good choice, and if you were born there, that implies that you probably have (dual?) citizenship and could stay, work, etc. for as long as you wanted.

Australia and the UK have the benefit of being Anglophone countries in the developed world, where there will be accessible facilities. I don't think people are going to gawk at you, call you an invalid, or shun you, but I haven't lived in either country so that's for others to say.

Re Israel, to be honest, if you want to try living there, just do it. Why wait for someone else to stop responding to emails when they find out you're disabled? Why let people gawking at you keep you from doing what you obviously really want to do? What's the worst that could happen, you're unhappy so you go back home? You wouldn't be the first person to try living abroad and find that it wasn't for them. Could you get your family to help you find a job/project and an appropriate living situation, and maybe to be somewhat of a buffer for the assholes?
posted by Sara C. at 1:19 AM on January 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

California is going to be much, much easier than anywhere else on your list. Even European countries with very progressive legislation on disability access are hampered by 600-year-old buildings. There's a reason that the U.S. is the most popular vacation destination among people with mobility issues, and it's basically the combination of good disability access law with young buildings and infrastructure.

That said, is ACTUALLY studying abroad through a US university an option, perhaps while working on a master's degree? That would probably be the type of organization that would do the most to ensure your accommodation.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:27 AM on January 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Not to threadsit, but I feel like this might be a common point of confusion, so just to clarify:
I know I CAN go to any of these places. A visa or any other ' we won't kick you out' piece of paper isn't necessarily my issue (but thanks Sara!). I need ideas for how to practically make use of my time there ( wherever there is). Also, not, unfortunately, a UK citizen... the laws changed just before I was born.
posted by marsbar77 at 1:28 AM on January 19, 2014

Response by poster: Heading to bed so just one last thing.
Making myself an itinerary is just too much work and too fraught with possibilities for failure ( in my case, failure could even be dangerous all that way from home).
The flights and insurance and the visa are all clerical things that would work much the same way for me as they do for others. What I need is some sort of a framework so that I can actually enjoy myself and not worry about getting stranded or sitting around begging for handouts or what have you. Try to assume, if you happen to see this, that I'm not ACTUALLY able to do the fully independent backpacker thing. I need to balance my dreaming with a heavy dose of reality.
posted by marsbar77 at 2:21 AM on January 19, 2014

Mod note: One comment deleted. There's no requirement to answer this question, so if you don't actually have any specific helpful advice that takes into account the details of OP's situation, please pass it by.
posted by taz (staff) at 2:37 AM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: ...a heavy dose of reality.

Which is what you make it. I met a man who left his home in Kathmandu to travel to Kanyakumari. Without any legs. On something like a skateboard. In other words, you don't have to focus on your negatives.

Here's the thing. You are contradicting yourself. On the one hand you need ideas for how to practically make use of my time there ( wherever there is), yet on the other you say that [m]aking myself an itinerary is just too much work and too fraught with possibilities for failure. Wanting both of these things means you want someone/thing else to organise your visit O/S and guarantee your stay there.

Yet, by the tone of your OQ, I don't think you really want that sort of babysitting. I think you want to explore the world and have experiences. Maybe what you need is to take a tour before you leap into a whole year abroad. Or as a compromise, you could do something like get an Australian visa as mentioned above, book a tour for when you arrive so you can see the country, then get yourself some accommodation in a place such as St Kilda or Caulfield in Melbourne, Australia where there is a high concentration of Israeli connected people, and find yourself some work. After that, things will take care of themselves. Travelling for many people is about coping with all the many wonderful and questionable unplanned and unexpected experiences they encounter amongst others and within themselves.

If your main concern is health then not so much a concern in Australia. You will need pre-bought travel insurance that covered your medical conditions but once you had that, Australian hospitals and health services will be a breeze to navigate if you need help. They really have an 'ask questions later' approach and manage OS insurance billing well.

Don't talk yourself out of travelling and experiencing another country. Work out what you need and you'll be talking yourself into it soon.
posted by Kerasia at 4:28 AM on January 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Phone typing issue earlier, sorry.

First, I want to say that I totally understand where you're coming from re: street life in Israel. I am disabled, but not in a wheelchair, and the stares got really, really old fast. Naar hayiti, gam zakanti, I used to be young but now am old, and I now think that the stares are just rudely showing what most Americans are more discreetly thinking.

My apologies if you've tried these things earlier. Anyway, I suggest not giving up on Israel yet.

(1) Actual disabled person who's spent time in Israel. I have a college acquaintance, though not a friend, in a wheelchair, with very limited mobility besides. If you memail me, I can try to put you in touch with him.

(2) Israeli disability organizations. I know you said you went through advocacy orgs--I am just checking to make sure you tried Israeli, not US, groups. You never know. I am just checking.

(3) I would survey the various liberal yeshivot, just for the record. Pardes, Hartman, Conservative Yeshiva, many more that I am sure have cropped up in the past few years. You may not be interested in full-time text study. That's cool--they have part-time programs. I suggest this because, despite PR efforts, most of these places are fundamentally American orgs. with American sensibilities. And American funders. I can 100% see you being turned away from something large like Masa. I would be surprised if Pardes, just for example, had absolutely zero ideas for you. I personally knew a blind woman who studied at Pardes for a year. She was, shall we say, not of an independent mindset, and she did it anyway. I am not attesting to the wheelchair accessibility of any one of their buildings. I am merely giving examples.

(4) In that vein, also check out the Dorot fellowship, if you haven't. They are (I count myself among the limousine liberals) a bunch of US limousine liberals who would, I think, be interested in hearing your story. You will note that you're officially supposed to set up your own gig, but on the contrary, let them use their contacts.

To me, your problem is not Israel itself so much as funding. I could see you having a great year or two, as long as you had, say, $1500/mo. to live on (good money in Israel) and an accessible apartment. To get an official program to throw you that money, that's the problem. Can you obtain some kind of online work and take it over there?
posted by skbw at 5:44 AM on January 19, 2014

Best answer: Here are some more ideas in the liberal/secular text study vein. The site says all locations are wheelchair accessible unless otherwise noted...who knows?
posted by skbw at 5:48 AM on January 19, 2014

Best answer: If you don't know him, I remember seeing this great article in the New York times about Matt Getze, 'Wheelchair Adeventurer'. He developed a website to help other wheelchair bound frugal travelers at Maybe that might help with some of the practicalities of travel?
posted by anitanita at 6:11 AM on January 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, honey, if you want to be in Israel, nothing else will do. It's hard to explain this to people who have not experienced it, but for the benefit of those reading, I'm going to try:

For some people, going to Israel the first time changes you in a way that other travel does not, and you experience a profound sense of unrest until you get back there. No replacement travel will do.

So, with that being said, I think trying some other place to go to satiate your wanderlust is not going to cut it. The feeling of hurt and rejection you feel can be overcome. There are ways for you to experience Israel. And trust me, Israel wants you. Your mother is Israeli. You have a college degree and a strong sense of belonging to Israel. They want you there. You just haven't figured out how to show them yet, and it will be harder to get them to notice.

It sounds like what you're missing is an "in." There is a Birthright tour operator that does trips for people in wheelchairs: - and here are all the special needs trips for those who visit this thread later: I know you've already been on a Birthright trip, but the agency that does the wheelchair tour is an Israeli agency. If you contact them and say, "I've already been to Israel on Birthright, but I'm looking to go back, can you connect me with someone on your team to talk about how that might work?" you are likely to get a response from someone who gets it.

You also say above that you don't feel like there are programs that are geared toward people like you but you do feel like there are some for permanent residents in their struggles. But would you would be willing to stay for two years? That's all it takes for citizenship, my friend. And having citizenship, even dual citizenship, will open doors for you. You don't have to feel bad about knowing in advance that you'll only be there for two years. They know you'll be back. :) (And every time you go back to visit family after you move to wherever you end up after Israel, you'll touch down at Ben Gurion and as you disembark the plane and get your passport stamped, the agent will say "Welcome home." And you might cry. Not that I know anything about that.) If that sounds appealing to you, I encourage you to contact Nefesh b'Nefesh to get more information. Again, for those visiting this page later, here's a link to NbN's disability resource page: - You might be most interested in connecting with ILAN, which specifically serves people with CP and neuromuscular disabilities.

Please don't take the attitude of your Birthright chaperone, or the people you've already dealt with, as a mandate on your suitability for going to Israel. You may have noticed that Israelis are, as a cultural trait, rude-seeming to Americans (and most other nationalities). It's well known enough that it's sort of funny. Israelis are rude. You definitely have to adjust your mindset and learn new ways to communicate because it is a cultural difference. Seriously, the people who have put you off - they can go fuck themselves. Yeah! See? It's easy. You're an Israeli already.

Memail me if you need more support. I'll do what I can to help.
posted by juniperesque at 6:32 AM on January 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Chiming in to say that your question was so well-written -- and your written personality is so charming -- that I would read a book, or a blog, about your adventures. Have you considered a trip with a journalistic side -- blogging and photographing your adventures? Going as a travel writer might open up some options of tours, programs, etc. who might be willing to work with you in exchange for some publicity. Good luck, and keep writing!
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 7:40 AM on January 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Aaaand this is why I love MeFi! Keep em coming guys.
A couple of comments on some of the details that have been brought up:
I'm already an Israeli citizen through my mother and have been through Nefesh B Nefesh, which made an off-puttingly passionate case for my staying put until I was ready, whatever that means.
I'm checking everything else out- thanks for naming names!
Refocusing this on Australia for a second= which, now that I think about it, is more like my third choice... any specifics that anyone can offer up there?
posted by marsbar77 at 7:41 AM on January 19, 2014

Best answer: I think planning to travel to Israel again when your first trip to Israel was so demeaning it spun you out into an 8-month depression is a really bad idea. YMMV.

Have you seen this NCDE resource list for travelling abroad? There's a whole section on programmes and volunteering. There are also online forums for disabled world travellers and it would be nice for you to be able to read how specific destinations went for other folks.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:50 AM on January 19, 2014

Best answer: I always felt like I was being stared at in Australia because I am so pale and have a definite non-Aussie accent. Certainly folks aren't shy about talking about foreigners, let alone disabled foreigners. Work/study programs may be different than a simple holiday, but I remember being relieved on coming home because I wouldn't have to answer questions or listen to talk about being different.

If I were you, and I could afford it, I would take a tour of top destinations before committing to six months or a year. Australia is crazy expensive though.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:10 AM on January 19, 2014

Best answer: Just a thought- the Center for Independent Living might have some ideas for you.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:32 AM on January 19, 2014

This is so late in the game that I don't know if you're even checking this thread anymore, but for what it's worth, I knew a paraplegic college student who volunteered as a teacher in rural South Africa. It wasn't that difficult, she said, because there were no sidewalks and none of the buildings had second stories--so no stairs. I did not inquire what she did about bathroom arrangements but I presume a suitable arrangement was made.

Also, for what it's worth, I am fairly certain that in the past couple of decades Barcelona has made itself almost entirely wheelchair-accessible. I'm not sure what their standard is and how far they went to retrofit their old buildings, but it might be worth exploring. (Spain is also unbelievably cheap right now because they are in a depression.)
posted by elizeh at 7:54 AM on April 15, 2014

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