Tag Archives: wheelchair travel

Meet ‘The Most Accessible CEO In America’

Americans who use wheelchairs spend billions annually on travel and entertainment. Are American restaurants, hotels and hotspots prioritizing accessibility? Brett Heising, the founder and CEO of the accessibility review site brettapproved, Inc., shares his perspective.

Brett Heising founder CEO brettapproved disability accessibility review

What is brettapproved all about?

Our platform offers user-submitted accessibility reviews for restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues across America. Brettapproved allows people of all ages who use wheelchairs to mindfully plan out their next excursion, whether they’re heading to a neighboring town on a Saturday night or across the country to visit family.

Are American hotspots making an effort to improve accessibility?

For the vast majority of the establishment owners I speak to, their hearts are in the right place. They are in hospitality, so they really have an inherent dedication to customer service. Every property has elements that need to be overcome or altered, but owners can do a lot: little things, like reconsidering furniture placement in a hotel room or extending the width between tables in a restaurant, go a long way toward improving accessibility for people in chairs.

People in wheelchairs are just like everyone else – we just sit down more. We have the same hopes, dreams and aspirations. When the stigma surrounding us disappears, anything is possible. Attitude is everything, for travelers who use wheelchairs and for business owners.

Do you ever receive negative reactions to your visits?

It all boils down to one word: responsibility. Often, when I talk to a hotelier or restauranteur, I am able to show them a brand new context and a new perspective on accessibility. I’ll say to them, “I’m glad you have never had to think about these challenges before. But now that we’ve met, you have a responsibility to do your best.”

No one wakes up and wants to treat a group of people disrespectfully. They just don’t know that it’s a problem until we show them. Once you know, you have to do the best you can to fix it.

How has the public responded to brettapproved so far?

There are so many people who have reached out to me via email supporting the platform! I remember one conversation with a woman named Cathy, whose daughter, Maria, is disabled due to hydrocephalus. Maria is just the most beautiful little girl you’ve ever seen – there is life and light in her eyes. Cathy told me how much she and her family depend on brettapproved and use the site not just to read reviews but to write reviews together when they visit new hotspots. They are not only using the platform for their own purposes but using it to contribute to greater advocacy and support for the entire network.

It’s amazing to see people gravitate towards the brettapproved online community. As human beings, we want to give of ourselves, regardless of our ability level. That’s a fact that drives me and so many others. It’s a powerful aspect of brettapproved, and we will never lose sight of it.

Brett Heising CEO founder brettapproved

Can individuals who do not use wheelchairs still be a part of your mission?

If you are someone who doesn’t have a friend or a loved one who relies on a wheelchair, that’s a blessing. As an able-bodied person, you can still support brettapproved, and we highly encourage it. Maybe you don’t need a room with a rolling shower, but if you find yourself in an accessible room the next time you visit a hotel, take pictures of the room, add the room number and property name and post it on brettapproved.com. The more we share the better the site will be! You can reach out to us to learn more about becoming a certified reviewer. I love seeing individuals with all different ability levels come together to support this cause.

Should people who use wheelchairs just stay home to avoid complications with accessibility?

Absolutely not. Your body is just a cradle for your mind. Being nervous or anxious can definitely be a barrier to travel, but there is no ‘reset’ button. This life is the only one we get, so make the most of it! Resources like brettapproved can help you to plan appropriately so that natural anxiety does not overwhelm you or ruin your trip.

My goal is to be the most accessible CEO in America. If you’re nervous about travel, give me a call or shoot me an email. It’s always possible to work through anxiety and travel confidently.

Ultimately, just because a specific location receives a low rating on brettapproved does not mean that people who use wheelchairs should avoid those locations. It just means that if you go, you should be prepared for an adventure.

What I’ve realized over time is that when people extend themselves to you and tell you they can help you, on some level, the person who is offering you help feels rejected if you decline that assistance. It’s actually mutually beneficial for you to accept help when it’s presented to you. Say yes! Thank people sincerely for being part of the process!

What sort of expenses will people who use wheelchairs have to cover to travel comfortably?

Most people with a permanent physical disability do not earn the same as their able-bodied counterparts. To add to that injustice, people with wheelchairs inevitably have higher expenses to maintain quality of life. A wheelchair cushion alone can cost hundreds of dollars. Wheelchair tires or tubes can run $100 or more per component.

I think it’s important to realize that just like everybody else, people with disabilities run the socioeconomic strata. We strive to showcase upper-crust hotels but also budget-friendly hotels and restaurants. Find places that work for you, based on your budget and your needs.

What should someone do if they encounter resistance or hostility from staff at a particular establishment?

Let me tell you what I do myself. Instead of getting heated, I roll back for a second, and take 30 seconds, two minutes or whatever it takes to cool off a little. Then, I reapproach the situation calmly and gently lay out for the staff member who I am and what my needs are. I ask the staff member, “How can we work together? What can I do as a consumer to help you help me?” My final approach is to look the individual right in the eyes and ask, “Can I count on you to help me?”

There is a part inside of each and every one of us that is willing to go the extra mile to ensure that someone else is satisfied not only as a consumer but as a human being. We need to take responsibility for our lives and not just ask hoteliers and restauranteurs to take the next step. It’s not all about what the world can do for us. I’m an individual in a chair, but I don’t approach the world saying, you owe me this. The world owes us nothing, but it will give us everything if we take responsibility for our actions and put ourselves in position to be successful.

Where do you see brettapproved going within the next decade?

A prudent saying comes to mind: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans!” Everything I do and have done in my life I have done with a singular focus on growth and success. Within the next decade, we should have millions of brettapproved users who rely on our platform to connect with family and friends, plan business trips and experience the rich life they deserve. We are also envisioning a boutique hotel chain that would be 100% wheelchair accessible – wouldn’t that be something? Instead of planning to stay in one of three or four accessible rooms in a particular hotel, you could have your pick of the entire building.

Word-of-mouth awareness and digital outreach is a major part of our short-term development strategy. I think major hotel chains need to know who we are and what we do. It serves our company no purpose to slam anybody and it’s counterproductive. I want every restauranteur and hotelier to be an ally and to view brettapproved as a resource. I also want anyone with a physical disability or mobility challenge to use the site. After all, the platform is for all of us! So please sign up for an account today.

brettapproved disability review Brett Heising wheelchair

Learn more about brettapproved online and on Facebook. Thanks for your insights, Brett!

What Can Spinal Cord Injury Therapy Do For Me?

As Mobility Awareness Month continues, we look at how physical therapy can help to boost your body and mind following a spinal cord injury.

Robert Mudge became a C5/C6 quadriplegic after an accident in 2001. Physical therapy and adaptive athletics have helped Robert to maintain a positive mindset and keep his body strong.

Robert Mudge quadriplegic rugby adaptive athletics

Robert, did your injury influence your interests and hobbies?

Growing up, I tried any sport or activity that grabbed my interest thanks to my supportive parents, including baseball, football, working out, bowling, BMX racing, surfing and fishing.

After my injury, I thought all of these hobbies and others were lost to me. However, over the years I’ve learned that I can still take part in similar sports and activities, just in a different manner. It wasn’t until 2007 that I discovered I could play a team sport again: quad rugby, with the Brooks Bandits in Jacksonville, Florida. In order to surf, instead of standing on the board I can lie on my stomach on the board, propped up on my elbows.

There are countless sports that can be played with a little adaptation: playing pool, swimming, table tennis, tennis, fishing, cycling, bowling, basketball, hockey…the list goes on.

Robert Mudge surf quadriplegic wheelchair surfing

Were you hesitant to get involved in adaptive athletics?

I was a little apprehensive at first when I gave these new activities a try, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to engage at the same caliber I was used to. I tried not to let that fear limit me or prevent the growth that I could experience by participating.

What helps you maintain your peace-of-mind?

Hope and faith both help me keep my sanity: hope that I can get better, and faith that I will. There are no guarantees that either will happen, but I believe both of those forces are very powerful. Combining those elements with relentless effort, goals, support from family and friends and a determination never to give up helped me get to where I am today.

How do you cope with injury anniversaries?

When I am faced with injury anniversaries or times when I feel like my progress is stagnant, I reflect back on how far I’ve come and celebrate the things I CAN do rather than harping on the things I still can’t do.

Robert Mudge walk stand quadriplegic

What did physical therapy do for you?

Thanks to a HelpHOPELive fundraiser, I was able to afford my first trip to Project Walk in Carlsbad, California. I realized I had found what I was looking for. It was so refreshing to be treated as a ‘normal’ person and to be moved and rehabilitated outside of my wheelchair.

[Project Walk] had me doing things I knew I couldn’t do, and that approach was frustrating at first. The staff recognized that one day, with repetitive training, I could get there. That’s exactly what happened over the years. I’ve continued working on rehabilitation in my home gym and at Project Walk Orlando year-round.

Do you find your hobbies therapeutic?

I think moving in general is therapeutic. Whether you’re engaging your mind or your body, staying active and in motion is a great thing. Just like they say, things in motion stay in motion.

Brian Keeter was left paralyzed from the waist down after a near-fatal car accident. Brian works out and advocates for spinal cord injury research to stay perpetually engaged in recovery.

Brian Keeter advocacy spinal cord injury SCI

Brian, did your injury change your participation in sports?

I played sports my entire life, and even played basketball in college. Leading up the accident, I had been playing in recreational league game with my friends and I played basketball several times every week, including Saturday mornings at 7 am. I have spent a lot of time working with exercise specialists to get stronger, stay fit and maximize my physical functioning. I’ve stayed on top of the research being done to find cures or improve rehabilitative therapies. I started my own foundation to identify and support spinal cord injury research.

Walk On Foundation spinal cord injury research tech rehab physical therapy

What do you like about working out?

I try to do all I can do to maximize what I have and prepare my body for the treatments and therapies that will be available in the future. Working out is therapeutic: you get to see that there are others dealing with the same or similar circumstances and, in some cases, worse circumstances. When I work out, I feel like I am physically working to do something about my physical limitations.

I have gotten stronger, particularly in my upper body and core, and I have gained movement in my hip flexors and gluts. My body feels better after working out because the exercises loosen me up and let me stretch out. When I have been traveling or have otherwise been unable to work out for a few days, I experience more pain, most likely because of increased tightness in my body.

Celebrate Mobility Awareness Month with us! Share your story on Facebook or on Twitter.

Pursuing Your Passions After A Spinal Cord Injury

In honor of Mobility Awareness Month, we are exploring how a spinal cord injury can impact your passions and your perspective on life.

Kirk Williams is an avid explorer who sustained a C5 spinal cord injury in a mountain biking accident in 2009. Kirk continues to seek out new experiences and stretch his limits every day.

spinal cord injury Kirk Williams travel photography barn adventure

Kirk, how did your injury influence your thirst for adventure?

My injury did influence my hobbies post-accident but I haven’t stopped doing what I love. I still do photography, camp, mountain bike and various other things. I’ve also learned how to do new hobbies like wheelchair rugby, scuba diving and hand cycling. I love travel, and I was not reluctant at all to travel after my injury. I got back into my adventure lifestyle.

Kirk Williams spinal cord injury HelpHOPELive service dog mountains river adventure

Are there any hobbies that help you to stay positive?

Writing on my blog was beneficial, especially being able to look back and see the things that used to trouble me that I have since overcome. I usually use every anniversary as a day to look back and see just how far I’ve progressed, and I remind myself that anything is possible.

Kirk Williams travel mountain snow view wheelchair

What do you like about travel?

What I love most about travel is getting out of my comfort zone and experiencing new things. I’ve always loved to check out new spots. Now, being a quadriplegic just adds a little more preparation into making it possible. Life is short, so why not try to experience it to the fullest!?

Rachael Short is a photographer who became a quadriplegic after a spinal cord injury in 2010. Rachael hasn’t let her injury slow down her passionate pursuit of the perfect shot.

Rachael Short photography HelpHOPELive rose black and white

Rachel, did your passion for photography change after your injury?

I always knew that I would continue photography in one way or another. I didn’t take a single photograph for a year after my accident: I didn’t even have enough strength in my arms to hold a camera. I started using an iPhone to take photos, making digital negatives from the images and platinum printing in the darkroom with help from a good friend.

The iPhone has aided in my healing process by allowing me to continue taking photos. The challenge has been making the device work for me in a way that other ‘professional’ cameras did before my accident.

Rachael Short photograph black and white silhouette

What keeps you positive as you recover?

Every year, I get stronger and life gets a little easier. I have always been a hard worker and I maintain that attitude within my daily rehabilitation. In my greenhouse-turned-gym at home, I put up a quote from Confucius: ‘It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop.’

Rachael Short photography lake black and white

What is your favorite thing about photography?

What I like most about photography is being able to share my vision of the world, with the world. Art is very therapeutic. Taking photos slows me down and makes me really appreciate the beauty around me, like the sun through the trees or clouds in the sky.

Celebrate Mobility Awareness Month with us! Share your story on Facebook or on Twitter.