“I am doing well in my life–not in spite of my disability–but, because of it.”- me ¬†ūüôā

Ten years ago, I was at a cross-roads in my life, bankrupt, doomed to start an office manager job at half the salary I was making before I sold my business and filed for bankruptcy. I was to start the job on the Tuesday following labor day weekend. However on Friday night, I went to bed with a black widow spider. It bit me twice, and I ended up in the hospital for four days, sicker than I’d ever been before in my life–or so it seemed. The following Saturday on Yom Kippur and Brazilian Independence Day–9/7/02–I had a stroke, which has left me mostly immobile with left-side paralysis. Thankfully, I can think and move about independently enough to live on my own, attend graduate school and volunteer in the local community. My M.A. is almost complete. My thesis is “Students with Disabilities and Study Abroad.” Talk about turning lemons into lemon merengue pie, I had always wanted to study abroad in Brazil, and finally got to do so this past June through August, see my story here:

It has been a long journey. As I have reminisced on memories from my younger years these last few days, I really didn’t have a clue as to my reason for being here on this planet until that spider bite woke me up ten years a pre-stroke–I was very fortunate in many ways–but, I really didn’t apply all that previous experience in useful, MINDFUL ways until post-stroke. I feel I am more aware and appreciative of the simple yet important things in life than before. And that’s my story…for now…more to come, I hope…



‘Disabled people aren’t “supposed” to do things like this. Which is precisely why I did.’¬†

РJody McIntyre 

(PwD Jody McIntyre is a journalist and political activist. He has written for the¬†the New Internationalist,¬†The Independent,¬†The Guardian, The Observer, the New Statesman, Electronic Intifada and Disability Now. He was Guest Editor for the October 2012 issue of the New Internationalist. ¬†See Jody’s latest article on his travels to South America at: ¬†

Guida on Rio de Janeiro Public Phone, “Oi!” (Hi!)

And I did do it!  As a graduate student with a disability (SwD), I traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and I spent six weeks studying Portuguese, learning about Brazilian culture, and observing/experiencing accessibility challenges in a foreign country.  I have had more than a month to reflect on my journey, and now sum up my thoughts.

Overall, my experience was very good!  The fact that I did this trip and successfully completed it on an academic, as well as travel-abroad level, was a huge accomplishment for me!  The challenges were many but not that bad nor impossible to overcome.  When I read about other PwDs who have traveled abroad to other less accessible places in the world, I feel humbled.  My challenges were practically non-existent  compared to some.

Like Ming, a U.S. university SwD who visited Zhouzhuang, an ancient water town¬†in China. ¬†As a wheelchair user in a city with no accessibility, Ming literally crawled up ancient steps to see the sites: “My friend had to lift my wheelchair over tons of steps and bridges, while I crawled up and over them; my back actually kind of hurts now from all that climbing. But, if I was given the chance to decide again, I would still go to Zhouzhuang. It was an amazingly charming place with its ancient architecture that took you back in time” (Read the rest of Ming’s story at her blog:¬†

Based on my own research and personal experience, the most important aspects of traveling abroad for a PwD to keep in mind include:  Pre-planning, Flexibility, Open Communication, and Funding.   In this blog, I have described in detail what is needed in terms of pre-planning, flexibility and funding challenges.  However, I did not describe the problems that arose with program organizers due to lack of communication.

From the start of my trip pre-planning back in March, program coordinators both inside and outside the USA were not as open with me about their concerns, hesitations, and assumptions regarding my disability. This was unfortunate. ¬†Once before my departure and once after my return, I received emails not meant for me that expressed impatience with my accommodation needs/and a ‘record of grades’ request (seemingly perceived as ¬†‘demands’ and ‘a complaint’).

Because these emails seemed to come to me accidentally, I ultimately did not say anything to the organizers. ¬†I did discuss with my own university’s Accessibility Office Director as to how I should deal with these emails, and we decided I should leave things alone. ¬†However, these ‘accidental’ emails did make me realize that all was not what it seemed on the surface with these people. ¬†I wonder now, if given the opportunity again, how I would deal with this communication problem differently next time.

Communications between me and coordinators were only by email, since they were in Florida and Brazil, and I was in New Mexico.  I initiated phone calls a few times, but emailing dominated.  In hindsight, this was a big mistake. The coordinators had no idea with whom they were dealing.  It was apparent when I got to RJ that the staff and faculty had discussed what I could and could not do, but they had failed to include me in the conversation.

The day before the final excursion during the last week, I asked where I should meet the group. ¬†I was told there were no accommodations for me this trip, and didn’t anyone speak to me about this? ¬†No, no one had. ¬†I was then told a faculty member “forgot” to inform me when I first arrived in Brazil that this particular field trip did not have accessibility. ¬† I was disappointed, but I did not push it since the trip was nearly finished, and I was exhausted.

It turns out–as the other students told me later–the place WAS accessible–much more so than the first field trip we went on that basically had 19th century accessibility (meaning NONE). ¬†And, on that first trip, students and Brazilian workers all made sure I was able to get up and down steep stairs to see everything.

The knowledge I gained from this incident serves as a learning lesson for PwDs and Program Coordinators in future travel abroad programs that include PwDs.  So what was the lesson?  I encourage students with disabilities who plan to travel abroad to establish open lines of communication with planners early on.

Try to meet with these people in person, if you can. ¬†Talk by telephone or Skype as much as possible, since emails can be easily misinterpreted. Be sure to find out what sort of field trips/excursions are planned, so they can be aware of your needs, and you can be aware whether you can take part–or not–in planned trips.

Let them get to know you BEFORE you get to your program destination, so that everyone knows what to expect on all sides. Also, the coordinators might be encouraged to plan more inclusive field trips.

It is difficult to deal with cross-cultural perceptions, especially when they are underneath the surface (passive-aggressive). This is an area I want to further explore in my future studies.

For my part, I would say that I did not visit enough sites, did not participate in enough activities, nor did I take the opportunity to go on more outings.¬† Part of this had to do with my stamina and age.¬† A younger PwD should be encouraged to speak up when program coordinators make assumptions about the student’s abilities to participate or not participate in various activities. ¬†Confront assumptions head-on! ¬†Again, it is important to establish open communication lines and a good rapport with program coordinators at the beginning of your planning.

However, on a positive note, overall, people were respectful toward my disability, and extremely helpful when needed.  I had a wonderful and versatile Personal Care Assistant, Cristiane, who accompanied me on excursions and cooked delicious meals for me, including the best plate of black beans and rice I ever tasted!  The IBEU program coordinators made sure all my accessible needs were met before I arrived.  They checked to be sure my apartment was accessible, made sure I had a working motorized wheelchair, that the sidewalks could accommodate my wheelchair, and much more during my six-week stay.

FUNDS:  One more very important factor to keep in mind is your budget.  In spite of my having received a fellowship that covered my travel and program expenses, plus home stay costs and an added stipend for miscellaneous costs, I still came up short due to additional expenses to  cover my accessible tool needs, such as renting a motorized wheelchair for six weeks, renting portable equipment I needed in my apartment, etc.

Fortunately, I received a scholarship from my university’s Accessible Resource Center. ¬†The extra funds helped to cover the additional cost of renting an accessible studio apartment. ¬†I also had to dip into my financial aid funds to help me make it through the program.

Travel for PwDs is more expensive. ¬†I was not as prepared for this surprise, but it all worked out in the end. ¬†It was scary at times in Brazil, as money was not always readily available when I needed it. ¬†Be sure and check with your airline about free shipping for medical equipment. ¬†Most airlines will do this for free–thank God! ¬†My carrier was American Airlines. ¬†I am very happy with AA’s accessibility and pre-planning assistance for my accommodations.

In conclusion,¬†my study of accessibility in Rio for the 2014 and 2016 events and beyond continues, especially after this six-week program. ¬†At summer’s end, I have only scratched the surface in my work. ¬†Although I observed a lot of positive developments around accessibility in Rio de Janeiro, there is much more I need to explore.

The city needs to not only prepare for the two big events in the next four years (infrastructure), but also should plan beyond 2016, by continuing to make all of its beaches, restaurants, public buildings/museums/rest rooms generally accessible for all. ¬†Much can be learned from input by national and international disability groups, as well as from previous Olympics-Paralympics¬†events in other world cities–i.e., South Africa and China (Rolling Rains Report, July 2012).

I imagine I will need to return to Brazil many more times! ¬†I hope to continue my work around disability issues and international exchange between the USA and Brazil, as well as to explore more deeply the upcoming 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics/Paralympics and accessibility issues. ¬†Hopefully I will find some kind of job/career working in some capacity with students with disabilities and other under-represented groups between the USA and South America…and the world!

Or maybe I will continue on to a Ph.D program in International Communications.  Who knows?  DAR UM JEITO!


This article by Shannon Murray, sums up beautifully what a PwD faces when planning a trip and traveling on vacation.

Disabled Access: We‚Äôre all going on a summer holiday (well, most of us)…

Shannon Murray

94503770 300x199 Disabled Access: Were all going on a summer holiday (well, most of us)Ah, Summer, the time our thoughts turn to holidays and a cheap getaway to remember what the heat of the sun feels like.

For most people the process of choosing and booking a holiday is fairly straightforward; location, sightseeing, sunbathing and whatever other pursuits you fancy, but throw a disability into the mix there are a number of other considerations and costs.

If you’re able bodied it is so much easier to hop on a plane and stay with friends and family, though I have friends and family all over the world, I can’t accept offers to stay with them as most of their homes aren’t accessible and it costs a fortune to stay in hotels. It’s nearly impossible to find a reasonably priced accessible hotel; the large chain hotels are pretty good at providing accessible rooms but their rates are usually too high, especially for a solo traveller. I’ve even been told that I would have to book the executive king suite in a hotel as that was the only room they had converted with an accessible roll in shower. I’ve nothing against staying in a suite but the price they wanted me to pay was stratospheric and I felt I was being financially penalised because of my disability and access requirements.

Accessible means different things to different people; my needs are not going to be the same as a guest with a visual impairment or a guest of small stature, so before booking it’s important to clarify your needs with the hotel’s concept of accessible. My personal requirements aren’t excessive, simply enough space to get around the room, I won’t need the small sofa, two armchairs and the desk chair so it’s ok to move them out of the room to increase the floorspace.

While on the subject of the floor…deep pile carpets…the bane of a wheelchair user’s arms. I know they feel soft and luxurious underfoot but they are annoying and exhausting underwheel. Last year I did revolutions of glee when I discovered a gorgeous boutique hotel in Paris that had black wooden floorboards throughout the room; such simple details can bring immense joy!

The biggest problem I encounter tends to be accessible bathrooms. The width of the door frame used to be the most obstructive issue; I can’t count the number of hotels I’ve arrived at only to find I cannot fit my wheelchair in the bathroom. This has led to some fairly stressful yet comic moments, including a feeble attempt to grip the bathroom walls, only to slide to the floor in a heap of giggles; evidently I’m not Spiderman. You’ll find most physically disabled people tend to be extremely resourceful; we have to find creative ways to overcome impossible physical logistics.

Thankfully most door frames are now wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, but not enough hotels include roll in showers, transferring in and out of a bath is incredibly awkward and roll in showers are so much easier to use. Though often shower heads are set at the highest level, making it impossible for me to reach, usually the kind of thing I only notice when I’m undressed and in a rush in the morning. Generally resulting in a hurried rush for a towel and a panicked phonecall to reception to send someone up to drag the shower head back down to within my reach.

Until I arrive at my destination and get inside the room there is always a worry that the room won’t be as described, there is no one stop shop travel resource, the main travel websites aren’t reliable, so it requires a lot of online research before calling the hotel and speaking with someone in reservations who you hope understands the meaning of wheelchair accessible and roll in shower.

One aspect that can cause anxiety when travelling is transport assistance, very often wheelchair users rely upon transport authorities to provide some form of special assistance, the standard of which can vary greatly between providers; no matter how many times I request and confirm my specific assistance needs the majority of the time something goes awry and the assistance isn’t provided. Most disabled people who travel frequently will agree it can be the most stressful and humiliating element of a trip whether it’s by train, plane or bus.

For those who enjoy outdoor activities and high octane sports there are many organisations geared up with accessible facilities, personally they’re not for me, I prefer to explore a new city independently, to go beyond the sightseeing and absorb a new culture or alternatively lie in the sun with a good book and an accessible pool. I’m ridiculously squeamish so camping is unlikely (though I would consider glamping), I’m more inclined to stay at sexy little boutique hotels or an indulgent spa!

No matter what the access hurdle I‚Äôm not deterred from travelling, I‚Äôm not allowing the built environment to curb my wanderlust, irrespective of any physical obstacles I face, the warm and welcoming attitude I receive in most countries more than compensates. There has been improvement, hotels are increasing their access and there are more online reviews to enable disabled travellers to make an informed choice ‚Äď but progress is slow. I‚Äôm not sure if hoteliers and tour operators realise how much money there is to be made if they improved their access and listened to their disabled guests. As Teddy Roosevelt said, ‚ÄúIf you build it, they will come‚ÄĚ.

Source: The Independent


August 4, 2012

Accessibility Key (rating accessibility/accommodations in and around Rio de Janeiro, June-August 2012):

>:P phbbbbt = mau (bad)

:| straight face = mais ou menos (so-so, ok)

:) happy = bom, ta legal (good, great)

 **(Highlighted writings below refer specifically to accessibility issues)

Gorgeous Views of Various Parts of Rio from P√£o de A√ß√ļcar

On my last day in Rio de Janeiro, My Rio Personal Care Assistant (PCA), Cristiane, and I took a passeio–field trip–to P√£o de A√ß√Ļcar (Sugarloaf Mountain). ¬†When I visited Rio in 2001, I did not get to this site, so I was very glad to make it in 2012–just in the nick of time before I headed back to New Mexico the next day!

Amazing View of Rio from P√£o de A√ß√Ļcar

So, what’s Sugarloaf Mountain? ¬†It’s definitely THE best place to see this beautiful city–even more incredible views than from Corcovado, in my humble opinion. ¬†And Corcovado is gorgeous. ¬†I plan to write an article highlighting both these sites’ accessibility, as well as their awesome vistas. ¬†Both places are must-sees for anyone visiting this most beautiful city in the world! ¬† “The name “Sugar Loaf” was coined in the 16th century by the Portuguese during the heyday of sugar cane trade in Brazil. According to historian Vieira Fazenda, blocks of sugar were placed in conical molds made of clay to be transported on ships. The shape given by these molds was similar to the peak, hence the name. ¬†…To reach the summit, passengers take two cable cars. The first ascends to the shorter Morro da Urca, 220 meters high. The second car ascends to P√£o de A√ß√ļcar.¬†¬†The Italian-made bubble-shaped cars offer passengers 360-degree views of the surrounding city. The climb takes three minutes from start to finish.”[Wikipedia]

:) happyThe accessibility at P√£o de A√ß√Ļcar was very good–far better than Corcovado. ¬†Although I appreciate the innovation to make Corcovado accessible for wheelchair users, P√£o de A√ß√Ļcar seems more up to standard and much better prepared for PwD (people with disabilities) tourists and participants that will visit during the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics/Paralympics. ¬†:) happyThe photos below show accessible elevators and ramps, allowing the PwD tourist to see and enjoy P√£o de A√ß√Ļcar’s beauty of the jungle, museum, and views from the bottom, all the way to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. ¬†This tourist site is an excellent model for the rest of Cidade Maravilhosa in preparing accessibility for the upcoming big events of 2014 and 2016.

On My Way to the Top of the Mountain via Accessibility Alley

Going Up?

Safe Arrival to Tram

Onto the Tram

Accessible Jungle–Nice Ramp!!

Accessible Jungle II

First Stop on the Way to the Top of P√£o de A√ß√Ļcar

Guaranà to Keep Us Cool as We Head up to the Very Top of the Mountain via Accessible Elevator

At the Top at Last! Stunning View of Copacabana Beach from P√£o de A√ß√Ļcar (Photos just don’t do the Vista Justice)

Hanging Out with The Guy that Built the Tram

Hanging Out with The Other Guy that Built the Tram

While at the top of this beautiful morro (hill), Cristiane and I not only took in the incredible views, we also observed rock climbers scaling the steep sides of Sugarloaf.  Impressive but not for me before or after my CVA.  There are plenty of PwDs into adventure sports, but I am definitely not one of them!

Cristiane had a wonderful friend, a taxi driver, who drove us to and from Pão for free!  Obrigado, Senhor!!  When Cristiane and I got back to my apartment, we had lunch and a caipirinha to celebrate a wonderful last day together, at the corner bar.

Last Day–The Final Celebration–Guida and Cristiane Enjoying a Caipirinha Together

After our meal, I went home and watched Orfeu Negro–Black Orpheus–on the internet,¬†the 1959 Film that first inspired me to want to visit Rio de Janeiro twenty-five years ago.

Scene from Orfeu Negro 1959

Scene from Orfeu Negro 1959–Note the Background–Cidade Maravilhosa RJ

Yes, I did shed a few tears, sad to leave this wonderful place. ¬†But, admittedly, I felt ready to get home to my two ‘kids,’ Moxie and Muffin.

Moxie and Guida Dreaming of Rio

Muffin, The Cat In Spite of Herself–Also Dreaming of Rio



July 20, 2012

Accessibility Key (rating accessibility/accommodations in and around Rio de Janeiro, June-August 2012):

>:P phbbbbt = mau (bad)

:| straight face = mais ou menos (so-so, ok)

:) happy = bom, ta legal (good, great)

   **(Highlighted writings below refer specifically to accessibility issues)

Breathtaking View of Rio from Niteroí State Park

Every week on a Thursday or Friday, the IBEU Portuguese Classes would take a Passeio–field trip–to somewhere inside or outside the city of Rio de Janeiro. ¬†At the start of the Program, Coordinators suggested that I stay and do catch up work on class field trip days (hmph!), since the program did not cover the cost of providing me transportation. ¬†I looked into the cost of accessible taxis, but it was very expensive. ¬†In hindsight, I wish I had investigated further, such as using public transportation (the bus system) since Rio de Janeiro does have accessible buses. ¬†It would have been good for me to at least try out this form of transportation, as part of my exploration of accessibility in Rio de Janeiro.

Rio de Janeiro RJ Accessible City Bus

But I was quite overwhelmed by culture shock, the long school hours, as well as exhausted from all the pre-planning and travel that preceded my arrival in Brazil. ¬†My stamina is not what it used to be at the age of 25. ¬†Frankly, at the ripe (not so) old age of 55, I welcomed an extra day of rest. ¬†As a result, I missed out on several interesting outings. ¬†But, one week my Portuguese teacher, Gilberto Zweili, arranged a van to take our class–including me–to Nitero√≠–a state municipality across the bay, about nine miles south, outside the city of RJ.

Nitero√≠ State Park–Professor Gilberto and Guida

The Rio-Niteroi Bridge reminds me a lot of the Dumbarton and San Mateo Bridges that cross the San Francisco Bay in California where I grew up.

View of Rio-Niteroi Bridge from Niteroí State Park

We started out around 9:30 am, >:P phbbbbttaking a not-so-accessible van to Niteroí, about a 40 minute ride.

Our Not-so-Accessible Van to Niteroí

So, once again, people-power kicked in to assist where standard accessibility tools were not available.  :) happyPeople are wonderful.  They always chip in to help me on and off vans and buses that have no lifts.  I was quite used to, and welcomed, this help from folks.  I often wondered, at times like this, what happens when traveling PwDs who have no mobility, need to be moved when there are no lifts.  I once read an article that showed a picture of the sloppy transfer of a Brazilian quadriplegic PwD from his chair to the inside of an inaccessible van.  

Last year, when I traveled to an Inclusive Tourism conference in Socorro, Brazil, the woman I stayed with, who has worked for many years with PwDs, said that although Brazilians willingly help out as needed, they are not trained in the correct way to transfer PwDs.  :| straight faceThis includes van/bus drivers and other professionals who work in transportation.  I think every country, across the world, needs to have basic training for all professionals working for the tourism trade, in how to assist PwDs in getting around, as more people with disabilities are traveling internationally these days.

But, I digress.  The trip to Niteroí was very beautiful and worthwhile in terms of my accessibility observations.  I was most impressed with the accessibility in Niteroí.  :) happy The beaches were very accessible, as well as gorgeous.

Nitero√≠ Beach–Beautiful and Accessible

 :) happyThe sidewalks were well-paved with handicap-marked cut curbs everywhere.  I also saw a lot of wheelchair users on the sidewalks in many parts of the city and along the beaches.   :) happyThe biggest surprise was seeing, for the first time since my arrival in Rio, actual handicap parking spots!  Perhaps, Copacabana and Ipanema have handicap parking, but I never saw any until I got to Niteroí.

Niteroí Accessible Parking for PwDs

Our Portuguese class first stopped for a coffee break (prices are much cheaper in Niteroí than Rio, by the way!) in town before we headed up a very steep, windy road through a thick forest to the Niteroí State Park.  :) happyThe park was very accessible with excellent ramps, and the view was amazing!

Niteroí State Park Ramp Accessibility

View of Niteroí City and Beach from Niteroí State Park

View of Rio de Janeiro from Niteroí State Park

:) happyAfterwards, the group headed to the Niteroí Museum of Contemporary Art, designed by the famous Brazilian modernist architect, Oscar Niemeyer.  Accessibility:  A+!!  There was a long, well-graded ramp leading up into the Museum, that looked like a flying saucer, and an elevator inside for access to the second floor of the building.

Guida at the Nitero√≠ Museum of Contemporary Art–Excellent Accessibility Inside and Out

Nitero√≠ Museum of Contemporary Art Ramp–Very Accessible!

Another View of the Nitero√≠ Museum of Contemporary Art Ramp–Very Accessible!*

Nitero√≠ is a place I would consider living if ever I decided to move permanently to Brazil. ¬†“The quality of life of the city municipality of Niteroi is considered one of the best (3rd place) among 5,600 other Brazilian municipalities, according to UN¬†indexes”[2000 est.–Wikipedia].¬†The accessibility is impressive. ¬†I would want to further explore the affordability of this city for someone like me, but first impressions of the accessibility, at least, were excellent!



July 15, 2012

Accessibility Key (rating accessibility/accommodations in and around Rio de Janeiro, June-August 2012):

>:P phbbbbt = mau (bad)

:| straight face = mais ou menos (so-so, ok)

:) happy = bom, ta legal (good, great)

**(Highlighted writings below refer specifically to accessibility issues)

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon halfway through the program, Matthew and Will, two guys that really became excellent traveling companions and good friends of mine during our six-week stay in Rio, and I walked/rode to Ipanema for an accessibility tour of the neighborhood.

In 2001, I had spent three weeks in Rio de Janeiro, living in Ipanema several weeks before Carnaval. ¬†At that time, I also studied Portuguese at IBEU. ¬†I was eager to re-visit my old neighborhood and the feira hippie (hippie fair–a weekly flea market that is “…Brazil’s best-known arts and crafts fair…started in 1968 by a group of hippies (that) has run every Sunday without fail ever since.”). ¬†One can buy quality artwork, clothes, musical instruments and other souvenirs for very cheap at this weekly feira.

Feira Hippie de Ipanema–Hippie Fair Flea Market in Ipanema

Art Work at Hippie Fair in Ipanema

Matthew, Will, and I headed down along Copacabana Beach, passing families, couples and individuals walking together or riding in carts, on bicycles, skateboards, roller skates, with runners and walkers on our trek to Ipanema (about a 30-45 minute journey).  As mentioned in a previous post,:) happyon Sundays, the city shuts down the road to cars along the beachfronts of Leme, Copacabana, Ipanema and the other Rio beaches, so that Carioca families can trek alongside the sandy beaches and the impractical, bumpy, cracked, but beautiful mosaic sidewalk that stretches from Leme to Copacabana to Ipanema and beyond.  

On our Way to Ipanema. Excellent Accessibility!

Will and Guida in Ipanema

Accessibility in Ipanema

There are excellent cafes, bakeries, restaurants and beautiful parks throughout Ipanema.  Accessibility is mostly good, too.                   >:P phbbbbtHowever, one bathroom I visited in a restaurant across the street from Feira Hippie was small and closet-like with a toilet that seemed only raised one foot off the ground. 

:) happy¬†The¬†Garota de Ipanema¬†Bar/Restaurant had a very accessible bathroom, :| straight facealthough the restaurant itself is not accessible and has very narrow aisles. ¬†I relied on Matthew, Will, and the Restaurant Management to get me and my wheelchair situated inside for a feij√£o and arroz lunch (black beans and rice) and caipirinhas (a delicious cacha√ßa–sugar cane whiskeyand crushed lime with sugar and ice drink specialty).

This bar is where Brazilian musician, Tom Jobim, and Brazilian poet, Vinicius de Moraes, wrote the song, The Girl from Ipanema.  Really, my love for Rio de Janeiro began with listening back in the 1980s, to the music and words of these two composers.  It only seemed appropriate that we should visit this bar/restaurant where Tom and Vinicius ate, drank, and wrote their compositions. We ordered our food and caipirinhas and drank a toast in homage to Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes!

Afterwards, we wandered around the streets and through some beautiful parks of this bairro.  >:P phbbbbtOne skateboard park we checked out had extremely steep ramps that I had no desire to test with my wheelchair.  

Example of Rio Ramp Grade Levels–SCARY for a Wheelchair User! ¬†(Thanks to Rolling Rains Report [] Editor, Scott Rains, Shirley Barber, and Jason DaSilva for this photo)

>:P phbbbbtThere are plenty of ramps throughout Rio–leading up beside stairways to apartment buildings, but there seems to be a lack of awareness around what the grade should be for wheelchair/walker/cane use. ¬†

Example of Badly Graded Ramps Entering Rio Apt. Building–too steep.

:) happy  :| straight faceThe Ipanema sidewalks in most areas were smoother, with cut curbs in better condition than Copacabana sidewalks, and they were much easier to navigate with my motorized wheelchair.

We visited my old neighborhood where I lived for three weeks in December 2001.  :) happyThe apartment building I stayed at was located next to the Favela, Cantagalo, which has an elevator that goes up to the favela community.

Cantagalo Favela Elevator above Ipanema

It was a visit down memory lane. ¬†I love Ipanema and wish I could’ve returned several more times before I ended my stay. ¬†We only returned once during our six-week program, but I bought enough souvenirs for all of my Albuquerque, NM, neighborhood!

NEXT:   :) happyNiteroí and Excellent Accessibility!


July 7, 2012 Accessibility Key (rating accessibility/accommodations in and around Rio de Janeiro, June-August 2012): >:P phbbbbt¬†= mau (bad) :| straight face¬†= mais ou menos (so-so, ok) :) happy¬†= bom, ta legal (good, great) ¬†¬†**(Highlighted writings below¬†refer specifically to¬†accessibility issues) The Rio Group’s second field trip took us outside Rio de Janeiro for the day. ¬†We traveled to the Pousada Fazenda (Coffee Plantation) Ponte Alta in the mountains of Barra do Pirai. The day was beautiful. We enjoyed both a delicious breakfast and lunch on the farm and drank lots and lots of coffee! The land, surrounded by lush, green hills, palm trees and lakes,¬†was very beautiful, peaceful, quiet and calm. After a most interesting tour of the fazenda factory, slave quarters, and mansion, I rested in my wheelchair.

Matthew and Guida at Pousada Fazenda Ponte Ata, RJ 2012

The other students walked around the plantation for an “ecology walk.”.

Rio Group takes Ecology Walk.

Ecology Walk Beauty

Sunset at the Ponte Alta Coffee Plantation

This farm is a ‘living museum.’ This means that visitors learn about the history of the farm, watching the guides as players demonstrate the history of the place. The staff dress in costumes of the nineteenth century. They tell stories about the colonial past and how the farm was operated by slaves.

Fazenda 19th Century Family Living

There is a slave¬†museum, that shows the torture instruments used on run away slaves, and other things such as cooking utensils. ¬†Also, the guides show the colonial life of farmers. Everything is not what it seems. The colonial life seemed too formal and boring. I imagine if I had lived back then, I would not have liked this style of life! Farmers tortured slaves. Also, they probably beat their wives and their children, and raped the women slaves. ¬†Things are never as idyllic as they seem…

My Rio Program ‘Family’ at Fazenda Ponte Alta 2012. These Young Ones Really Inspire Me and Give Me Hope for this Planet’s Future. Wonderful People!!

Guida with ‘son’ Drew and ‘daughter’ Yuri

Guida with ‘Sons’ Matthew and Drew

Accessibility Nineteenth Century Style Pousada Fazenda Ponte Alta proved to be the most challenging field trip for me during my time in Brazil.  It was an adventure, to say the least! Fortunately, the young men and women in the Rio Program were real troopers.  I really got to know my peers during this day-long field trip, and I feel I forged some lasting relationships during our 12 hours at the coffee plantation.             >:P phbbbbtThere was absolutely NO accessible tools of any kind at the Fazenda.  :) happyBut the staff seemed well-prepared and experienced in dealing with wheelchair users.  The kids learned quickly and took over in transporting me up and down steep stairwells and into buildings with no ramps or elevators.

The Young Ones Preparing to Haul Me up a Stairway at Fazenda Ponte Alta

Here We Go!! WHEEEE!

OK, Just Sit Back, Close My Eyes…and RELAX! Let the Boys do the Hard Part…

¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Some of the Accessibility Transportation was more more challenging than others…

This Stairway was Long and VERY Steep…I Closed my Eyes on this Trek…and Prayed Hard all the Way Up

¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Some was actually quite easy…

Drew and Matthew Transporting Guida Down only Two Stairs…EASY compared to 13 Stairs!

¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† The secret? ¬†FLEXIBILITY and a grand sense of humor! ¬†Having a sense of adventure helps, too. ¬†When traveling abroad, always be ready to be very flexible. ¬†Accept people’s help, as there will be many times a person with a disability will not have the luxury of having a ramp or elevator close by. ¬†For me, the most challenging part of this 19th century accessible adventure was dealing with the UNaccessible bathrooms, a whole chapter unto itself! Bathrooms, 19th Century Style ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†>:P phbbbbt¬†My worst nightmare became reality during this ‘passeio.’ Having fractured my right kneecap four months earlier, I dreaded the day in Brazil when I would find myself in the most awkward position of sitting on a toilet seat unable to stand up because of my painful bad knee. ¬†So here it was–moment of truth–me, in an 1840s-style bathroom at the coffee plantation, sitting on a toilet that seemed one foot off the ground, pants down, most ungracefully, around my legs and I’M STUCK. ¬†AAUUGGHH!! ¬†I can’t get up. ¬†There are no grab bars, not even a small table next to me, so I can push myself up, and the sink seems 10 feet away…what to do? ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†¬†:) happy As if someone was reading my screaming thoughts, a kind-looking woman opened the door a tiny bit and asked in Portuguese if I needed help. ¬†Whew! ¬†No embarrassment, just a huge sigh of relief. ¬†Flexibility sure came in handy in that moment. ¬†Throughout the day, that wonderful woman always magically appeared out of nowhere right when I needed her assistance out of one of those old bathrooms. ¬†By the end of the day, I was able to figure out a way to get off the toilet, by inching my hand backward and up the wall behind me–dar um jeito! ¬†This trick would save me in future compromising situations in bathrooms across the city of Rio de Janeiro during my six-week stay. ¬†But Gra√ßa Adeus–thank God–for that sweet woman at the Fazenda, July 7th, 2012. ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†:) happy That day was a milestone for me in overcoming obstacles I dreaded happening during this trip. ¬†I had read about the importance of being flexible and relying on people-power when traveling outside of the USA. ¬† But for me to experience, first-hand, how absolutely wonderful people can be, in time of need, was inspiring. ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† :| straight face¬†Later on toward the end of our program, I missed out on another field trip to some 18th century forts in Rio/Nitero√≠.

I–Nitero√≠ Fortaleza Field Trip that I Missed

II–Nitero√≠ Fortaleza Field Trip that I Missed

             Program coordinators thought it would be too challenging and inaccessible for my wheelchair.  I wish they had talked to me, and let me make that decision.  The other students told me afterwards that the inaccessible areas at the forts were much easier to maneuver than at the Fazenda (Many, many thanks to Matthew for taking these photos of the Fortaleza and its accessible ramps).

I–Nitero√≠ “Inaccessible” Field Trip–HAH!*

II–Nitero√≠ “Inaccessible” Field Trip–HAH!*

Fortaleza Accessible Pathway, Niteroí

**Therefore, I recommend to future students with disabilities who plan to travel abroad, be sure and find out what field trips are planned during your time in another country. ¬†Encourage–no, DEMAND–that program coordinators inside and outside the USA include you in the decision-making process of what you can or cannot handle, accessibility-wise. ¬† Open communication and inclusiveness are essential in the pre-planning stages of your travels, as well as during your stay abroad. NEXT: ¬†Ipanema and Accessibility Observations…