A thread posted in Reddit’s Am I The A***** (AITA) subforum in September appeared in my Google Alerts after a woman said she no longer wanted to vacation with her disabled friend. In the post, reproduced below, she asked for the community’s take on her decision.

I (F30's) have a friend "Ashley" (F30's). Ashley and I have been friends since we were 13. We drifted apart after high school but stayed in touch.

Ashley is disabled. She has fibromyalgia.

We planned to go on a short vacation together to the city which was Ashley's idea, we planned this over a year in advance to stay for 3 nights.

The actual vacation was okay but I found being around Ashley stressful. She extremely overpacked (she brought 7 outfits, different types of hair dryers, and a bunch of other stuff that just wasn't needed) and was always complaining about how heavy her bags are. She insisted on going for long walks through the city but then would get tired and say we need to get a taxi home as she can't walk back.

The last straw for me was that Ashley had a full-on meltdown at the station. I walked her to the station (I wasn't getting the train back, we live in completely different areas).

We got to the desk and she asked the staff if there was a wheelchair available she could use as she was struggling to walk any further to get to her platform. They said they were all being used and asked if she booked assistance and she hadn't, and they told her a chair should be available in around an hour. Ashley lost her cool and yelled at them and said that she's going to miss her train, and she sat on the floor. I tried to calm her down but there was just no use. She was very insulting and called them names, it was so embarrassing.

I stayed with Ashley and eventually the manager arrived with the chair. He helped Ashley and she went home.

2 days after we got home, Ashley asked me if I'd be down for a similar vacation next year. I told her no thanks. I tried to explain to her that I think after our experience it's better if we don't vacation together. Ashley is now angry with me and said I'm being ableist but I struggle to put up with how disorganised she is in regards to her own needs.

Redditors largely agreed that the original poster (OP) was not at fault, and that vacations shouldn’t be stress-inducing.

User TheVoiceofReason_ish wrote, “I have MS. I know I can only walk so much each day, so I plan my life around what I can do. When I overdo it, it’s my fault. I don’t abuse others because I didn’t budget my limitations properly.”

User hyperbemily agreed, writing, “Yep! I rolled my eyes when I started reading this because I also have fibromyalgia…Your friend’s fibro doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that your friend is budgeting her energy inappropriately, and then proceeding to take it out on others…she’s blaming her illness…”

Support for the OP was not unanimous, however, as user BriarKnave, who identified as having a disability, stated that “Traveling while disabled is a lot more work and I don’t blame people for getting frustrated, especially when they’re in pain…It sucks that cities aren’t built with disabled people in mind, but that means we have to be prepared and know our limits.” The user continued, if “Ashley” isn’t willing to do the extra travel planning required, “traveling with her won’t be that much fun, and I don’t blame someone for not wanting to spend the money on it.”

John with a group of friends in Seattle.
John with a group of friends in Seattle, Washington.

I had not initially intended to write about this Reddit thread, but I received an email this week from a Wheelchair Travel reader that reminded me of it. Asking for advice about the best destinations to visit as a first-time disabled traveler, the reader expressed worry that “if it’s too difficult to travel that my friends won’t want to go with me.”

This reader’s comment and the Reddit post seem to reveal two sides of a coin — the disabled traveler’s experience and that of her nondisabled traveling companions. The words shared from both perspectives, though unrelated, reveal just how much anxiety and distress is caused by inaccessibility for everyone who is impacted by it.

I occasionally travel with friends and, although I do my best to prepare for accessibility barriers, I have encountered plenty of challenging situations.

Once, on a trip to Hong Kong with a friend, my power wheelchair charger exploded (I plugged it into the wrong outlet by mistake), and my wheelchair’s batteries were all but dead. We spent almost an entire day of our short trip working out a solution (we removed the batteries and took them to a car repair shop for charging).

John and Friend at Red Square in Moscow, Russia
John with his friend inside Red Square, the Kremlin, Moscow, Russia.

In Nashville, Tennessee, another friend was eager to visit the Jack Daniels’ distillery, but none of the group tours from Nashville had accessible vehicles. That was a major disappointment.

I am fortunate to have friends that stick by me, even when they are negatively impacted by inaccessibility — but I do wonder, are there times when I am left out because of it? I suppose that I am, some of the time — I don’t expect my friends to boycott the restaurants, bars and attractions that are inaccessible to me and, when they do patronize those establishments, naturally I cannot join in on the fun.

Perhaps the lesson found in the Reddit post is that we, as disabled travelers, should be responsible in planning for our own needs. While our friends should always give us the benefit of the doubt when challenging situations present, we must do the work to plan for those that are foreseeable. As the saying goes, “when you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

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