Passion for independence

Maureen Corrigan
Travelling is a passion of mine. It is like a book whose pages open into another world. Mobility problems make it trickier to travel independently but I believe almost anything can be organised. I'll try almost any path with my scooter to arrive at amazing places. On my travels I have heard inspiring stories. One was from Miwa in Japan. With a group of friends she started a campaign to fight for elevators to be built at railway stations. The group wanted elevators at stations so people who use wheelchairs would be able catch trains independently. Elevators were built after so much passion for independence was shown. It was a fight for a right from which many benefit.
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Maureen Corrigan on 07/01/2016
A fast moving train leaving a station.
Japan bullet train

Independently going somewhere.

Travelling is a passion of mine, an addiction that has to be fed regularly, similar to reading a good book – a book whose pages open into another world. A world that is full of new and different experiences, ideas and surprises. Once starting it’s hard to stop. I love travelling.

Travel with a scooter

Being independent is also very important to me, including whenever I travel. I want to take myself somewhere and I don’t want to be taken. The way I have to travel now with my mobility problems is tricky. I need more gear because of my MS. I have to be organised and organise my travelling differently to many.

At the moment I use a small, collapsible electric mobility scooter, called a Luggie. I’ve used my scooter to get to some amazing places and admit to abusing it. I'll give almost any path a go. I am determined to always find a way of getting somewhere. I’ve been on thick gravel rocky paths to glacier edges, and used every kind of transport imaginable including a horse cart.

So many funny things have happened to me on my scooter when I've been travelling. It has been broken and fixed so many times, ending up with more fun and adventure than when I didn’t have any mobility aids. I’ve been to workshops in odd underground places, been stuck in bars for hours and met some very interesting people.

Recently my adventures took me to Japan where I gave a talk on my scooter travels. The talk was meant to ‘give people a dream’; to show that it is possible to travel with a disability. I included a lot of photos and stories but at the end of the day, I was the one who was inspired. I met Miwa and learned of her passion for independence.

Miwa for independence

Miwa is 62years old and has used a wheelchair for the last 30 years, after she contracted polio. In 1987, Miwa learned about a plan to build a new railway station in Fukuoka, Japan.

At the time Miwa explains, ‘we had to beg for help to be brought up and down stairs’ as railway stations did not have elevators. Whenever it was suggested that elevators be installed, it was argued they were not needed as railway staff were there to help people using wheelchairs by carrying them up and down the stairs.

When the station at Fukuoka was being built Miwa and her friends saw an opportunity. 

‘We go by trains’ campaign

The campaigners organised large numbers of people in wheelchairs to go to city railway stations on specific days at the same time across Japan. While railway staff tried moving people up and down stairs, they quickly became overwhelmed by the large numbers. The campaign called ‘We go by trains’ became a nationwide movement and importantly, demonstrated that people with a disability want to live independently. 

Because of this work, many railway stations in Japan now do include elevators.

Passion for independence

Miwa and I both share passions for independence. Mine is for travel and doing it independently but is also for getting about every day independently. Miwa’s passion for equal accessibility on public transport is a fight for a human right from which I, and many others, will benefit.   



Readers comments (1)

A Japanese friend read the story and reminded me of the different current attitude in Japan where Japanese people put more importance on helping others than allowing people to do things themselves. Helping is more important than independence. So what Miwa's group achieved was a very difficult thing to do in that culture.

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