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'Able to Travel' guide for paraplegics breaks down barriers to travel, adventure


On his first trip after an accident left him paraplegic, Lawrence Poole learned "how a sturdy pair of jeans would allow me to 'bum' up any number of stairs, dragging my chair behind me. Accessibility hasn't been an issue since.

"I also learned that wheelchairs and sandy beaches could be tricky, that salt water corrodes metal and that paraplegics don't automatically float.

"Most importantly, I learned that 'if there's a will there's a way,' " he writes in "Able to Travel," the newest in "The Real Guide" series published by Prentice Hall.

Mr. Poole's and the 114 other stories in the book are remarkable not only for their scope (they cover every continent except Antarctica, and every mode of travel from backpacking to motor touring to cruising), but for their tone: a calm matter-of-factness through which flow compelling undercurrents of courage, fortitude, determination, humor and excitement.

For people without disabilities, the narratives can reinforce an often-forgotten principle: all travel is -- or should be -- an adventure. It depends not so much on the destination as on the traveler.

For those with disabilities, the stories offer reassurance that adventure is in no way inaccessible.

Susan Sygall, co-founder and director of Mobility International USA -- a Eugene, Ore.-based clearing house of information and advice on travel with disabilities -- has been paraplegic since an accident at age 18.

The injury, however, didn't lessen her determination to travel "in the way I had dreamed I'd do it -- with a backpack, looking for adventure.

"My first trip was to Mexico for four weeks with a backpack on my wheelchair and with a fellow paraplegic who was also exploring this new mode of travel," she writes.

"I learned to jump curbs in my wheelchair and climb onto inaccessible buses on my butt. We traveled on local buses to Guatemala where our wheelchairs rode on top with live chickens and crates of bananas. . . .

"We learned not to believe the advice of others when in your heart you know what you are capable of."

The publication of "Able to Travel," complements the growing range of services and opportunities for people whose disabilities might once have trapped and isolated them from a world of experiences.

Here are two other resources:

* Wilderness Inquiry, a non-profit organization based in Minneapolis, organizes nature-oriented trips for groups that unite people of all ages, with and without disabilities. For information: Wilderness Inquiry, 1313 Fifth St. S.E., Box 84, Minneapolis, Minn. 55414-1546; (612) 379-3858.

* For sports-oriented and other active-travel experiences, contact National Handicapped Sports, 451 Hungerford Drive, Suite 100, Rockville 20850; (301) 217-0960.

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