What It's Like To Travel As A Disabled Person

International travel is a whole different ballgame for me; for most of my life the rest of world has seemed closed.

Last month I found out that I’d been nominated for One Young World’s inaugural Politician of the Year award.

Why? For crowdsourcing my first speech to the Australian Senate and for the active approach I’ve taken to including people in our parliamentary process, especially those who are so often shut out by the major parties, such as young people and disabled people.

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To me this is a natural approach to politics and the nomination a testament to the belief that politics should be about building a future for all of us, not corporations and self-interested politicians.

Attending the conference is the first time I’ve travelled to Europe since my family left the United Kingdom just after I was born.

For me, travelling -- the idea of travelling -- is something that has always come with logistical challenges. When I found out I was being catapulted into the Australian Senate, my first thought was ‘Can I even get into parliament house?’ It turned out I could, but only just, and it’s taken the best part of 12 months for the process of travelling from Perth to Canberra to start to feel a bit more like a routine than a challenge.

Like many physically disabled people, I’m used to navigating access issues in Australia and I’ve learnt how to get around them or avoid them entirely, although there is still an incredible amount of work to do to get rid of discrimination against disabled people in Australia.

International travel is a whole different ballgame for me; for most of my life the rest of world has seemed closed and I’ve missed out on things my peers took for granted, like having a gap year backpacking. The idea of going to The Hague – a place of intrigue for a political nerd like me – was surreal.

A year ago I’d been sitting at home, writing university assignments, begging for extensions and cramming in disability and youth advocacy wherever I could. Now, I’m flying to the other side of the world to take part in a global youth forum!

It’s a huge responsibility taking your generation’s experiences, hopes and concerns for the future to a global stage, sharing ideas and working towards solving some of the biggest problems of our time. I felt sure the Netherlands, in my mind a progressive utopia filled with bikes and wind farms, would have disability access and inclusion down pat. I felt blessed that I might have the opportunity to see firsthand what it would be like to live in a country that had moved towards properly integrating the social model of disability into society…

When it comes to renewable energy and accessibility, turns out the Netherlands isn't the progressive utopia I'd imagined. (Image: Getty)

Turns out the land of windmills only has about six percent of its energy from renewable sources and I spoke to someone who pays €1500 ($2,450 AUD) per month per child on child care. They may have way more public transport options than Perth, and it seems almost everyone gets around on a bike, but wheelchair access is largely forgotten in urban design as well as on trams and buses. I think if I lived here, or I was trying to travel around on a budget, I would run into constant problems.

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It was frustrating to have my hopes that attitudes might be different here dashed almost immediately. Even more disappointing was that the Dutch Parliament was only accessible via a flight of stairs! I’m lucky that I am here only for a short time with a support person, and can afford to use taxi services to get around. I’m now more determined than ever to continue my advocacy for the social model of disability, and I’ll be looking for opportunities to bring it up over the coming days at the conference.

That aside, I’m so excited to be surrounded by big ideas here and taking part in this global discussion. Over the last year I’ve had conversations with young people from Albany, out to Kalgoorlie, up to Broome and around the country. I know that many of us are struggling to make ends meet, to balance getting an education with casual work, we are frustrated by the lack of access to mental health services and we’re sick of politicians not listening to us.

Receiving recognition for the simple act of involving people -- especially young people -- in our democracy, shows just how broken our political system has become.

The major parties have allowed big money and corporate interest to have so much influence over our political system, and we’re not taking real action on the issues that matter to our future.

This conference is a real opportunity to take those concerns to the global stage, and hopefully bringing back some great ideas to Australia.