The word ‘inspirational’ gets thrown around a lot in the disability space, but I have to say that freelance writer, blogger, editor and disability activist Julie Jones absolutely inspires me. I first met Julie on a famil in Thailand last year as part of the Australian Society of Travel Writers’ conference. We spent lots of time talking about the number of people who want to travel but can’t because of a multitude of barriers – societal, not their own. It’s not easy advocating for accessible travel in a space where travel writing is often portrayed as white sand, glimmering water and ten course degustations. But Julie’s blog and now, her new magazine, are breaking down some of those barriers.
Disability travel activist, editor and freelance writer – meet Julie Jones
I’m so thrilled that Julie agreed to be interviewed for this post.
She is generous, kind, funny and so determined. As you’ll read, Julie has been one of the strongest voices advocating for people with disability and their right to travel. As executive editor of a new, disability-specific travel magazine, Julie has created a resource that she wished she had all those years ago when her son was born.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, your career and what prompted you to become a blogger and freelance writer?
I’m the proud Mum of two, Braeden, 23, who lives with cerebral palsy and Amelia who is 16 years old.
My career blogging and freelance writing is a complete surprise to me.
It was never part of the plan, but I guess everything I had thought I would do in life changed when Braeden was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
I was working as a travel consultant at the time and reduced my hours to one day a week so I could put all my efforts into early intervention with my him.
I was a woman possessed and it wasn’t sustainable for the family. We started to find holidays and day trips were a wonderful distraction from doctor’s appointments and therapy.
Fast forward to 2011 when we won a trip to Disneyland. It was a dream come true and I researched every possible detail. Partly due to nerves about travelling with a wheelchair and partly because it was natural for me as a travel consultant to do so.
The trip was a resounding success and while I enjoyed telling family and friends about how to have a good trip with a wheelchair, the reach was limited, and it seemed a waste not to help the wider disability community. Have Wheelchair Will Travel was my answer.
Can you tell me about your passion for accessible travel and what led you to start your blog, Have Wheelchair Will Travel?
As a couple, my husband and I always imagined we’d travel the world with our children.
When a wheelchair and my son’s high support needs became part of our reality, we found the thought of travelling overwhelming. Feeling I couldn’t do something affected my positivity. Being a naturally positive person, I found that difficult.
We also realised we needed something to look forward to in amongst the appointments and therapy. Travel provided a reprieve and bonded us as a family, but it wasn’t always easy to find good detailed information about access.
Our passion for travel has driven us to find good accessible experiences for our family holidays and we wanted to share our discoveries with others.
Why is accessible travel so important?
1 in 5 Australians (1 in 4 Americans) live with a disability so it’s important we cater to these people both in the media and in the tourism industry.
When Braeden was little, I used to pick up magazines and I didn’t find any stories which I could relate to.
It was isolating and made me feel afraid my son wouldn’t feel a part of society. Everyone should have the ability to participate in all facets of life.
What is Travel Without Limits and what led you to set up a disability specific magazine?
Travel Without Limits is Australia’s first disability specific magazine.
After striving to have accessible tourism included in mainstream media, I realised there are limitations in the medium. While I still feel strongly there needs to be inclusion, I also realise a custom magazine allows us to explore a greater range of topics in each issue.
I’m interested to hear about the practicalities of starting a publication – how did you set it up?
With an established readership on Have Wheelchair Will Travel I knew there was a demand for the information, but a magazine was a big step.
My co-founder Janeece Keller publishes Family Travel magazine which I write for regularly.
Working together we both brought a skill set to the project. Janeece understands what’s needed to pull together a magazine and was a master at planning and design. I have contacts within the disability community and connections to businesses which provided the key to getting content and funding the advertorials.
We were determined to use real people with disabilities in the images instead of shutter stock images.
This was challenging as many people were willing to provide images, but many were not the high resolution needed for print.
We also wanted the magazine to have longevity by making it a resource people would keep referring to in the future. For that, the ads needed to be informative and provide information beyond the product being advertised. As an example, an advertorial about a beach wheelchair contains information about the product but also where people can borrow the beach wheelchairs for free.
What were the challenges of establishing the publication?
Being the first of its kind, we had nothing to show potential advertisers. They were advertising without any guarantee of reach or without seeing a physical example of the publication.
I know it’s early days, but what has the response been like so far?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve received many messages from people within the disability community telling us how much it means to them to have this publication available.
What kind of stories are you looking to feature in Travel Without Limits?
We are keen to show positive can-do travel stories. We want to inform, inspire and share stories from people with lived experience travelling despite their challenges. The first issue has a range of how-to guides which we designed to be an ongoing resource for travellers.
Are you looking for specific kinds of freelance writers to contribute to Travel Without Limits?
We are particularly keen to have contributors with lived experience.
Writers who can write with authority on travelling with a range of conditions or abilities. It may be someone living with the condition/disability or someone who has travelled with a friend, loved one or as a support.
As we now start planning the second issue of Travel Without Limits, we are looking at putting together contributor guidelines and pay rates.
In the meantime, if someone has a good idea, I’d love to hear it.
If writers don’t have much (or any) experience – are you still open to them writing for you?
Yes, I’m passionate about supporting others.
I was lucky enough to have someone give me an opportunity when I was an unpublished writer and I believe in paying it forward.
It was extremely difficult for me to get that first break. Nobody was interested in publishing a story on accessible tourism, but persistence paid off and from that first story I became a regular writer for the publication.
Do you have a favourite story in Travel Without Limits so far?
My favourite story is by Tegan, a lady with a significant disability but an equally significant desire to travel. Tegan needs 24/7 assistance and travels with up to four people. Her story shows a determination, resilience and can-do attitude which is what Travel Without Limits is all about.
The magazine can be seen here on pages 34-7.
What are your hopes for Travel Without Limits?
I have more ideas than I have time to put into place at the moment. In time I hope to double the size of the publication and see it reach those that will benefit from the information.
Most of all, I’d like the magazine to help people feel less isolated, especially those who are new to disability. I would like them to realise there are still plenty of opportunities to travel and live a full life.
Thank you so much Julie, how can people get in touch with you?
People are welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I am so full of admiration for Julie and her drive to create resources that help even out the travelling field. Has disability touched your life as a freelance writer?
This is a wonderful piece that celebrates an inspiring woman while bringing attention to an issue that many don’t even realize exists. I have several dream travel plans, and it got me thinking about the difficulty involved in those dream trips were I to have a disability. Thank you Lindy and Julie for bringing my attention to this issue.
Thanks so much for your comment Tracey. Yes, I must admit after I met Julie I was looking at things like footpaths (and how wide and flat they are), doorway widths etc in a totally different light.