As a person who is blind I had some fantastic travel experiences in the US. I explored many different places, from California and Hawaii to Boston and Philadelphia. I got to use some interesting resources including Braille menus in restaurants to the Dial-a-Ride bus service for people with a disability. Best of all I met my life partner in California. And I was embraced by a whole loving new family.
Southern California is a wonderfully exotic place and I stayed for a while. I loved swimming in the beautiful beaches and hiking along desert tracks.
Meeting my life partner
Rob and I met in California. My first date with him was at a restaurant called Cocoa's, which has the most delicious burgers and plenty of hot chips.
We set off in Rob's truck, metal music blaring and hair flying in the wind. When we arrived at the restaurant Rob suggested I ask for a Braille menu. I told him that Braille menus didn't exist in Australia. He kept telling me to ask the waiter.
Excuse me, I said to the young waiter who approached our table.
Do you have Braille menus? Although I'm not holding my breath. I admit I was a little sarcastic.
A Braille menu was brought to our table. I was pleasantly shocked. It was so fantastic to read about all about the different dishes that were available. Rob said the waiters were excited along with me as I read through the Braille document. It felt so empowering to order my own meal.
Olive Garden and Claim Jumper were just a couple of the other restaurants we dined at that had Braille menus. I particularly loved Olive Garden. The Italian food and wine was very special. I never tired of reading through the Braille menus.
Getting around California
It is important that people with a disability enjoy the same travel experiences and options just like the rest of the community.
Unlike Australia, there are no concession half-price taxi fares in California. Instead I used Dial-A-Ride. This is a bus service provided by the state. I had to show proof of disability to use the service. However, the state went to great lengths to prove that I was not blind including being forced to walk in a straight line with my cane in an unfamiliar place. This is despite the doctor's certification that I am blind. It was an interesting experience. My vision loss is total and in the end I did obtain my Dial-A-Ride status.
The Dial-A-Ride was fun but there were limitations. I disliked the long wait for pickup but met many interesting people. All the people with a disability were crammed into the one bus to be dropped off like institutional packages.
I used public transport a lot, which was not free like it can be in Australia. The buses and trains in California have audio announcements indicating the stops coming up. At one time I travelled from a semi-rural desert community to Los Angeles on the train.
Networks and supports
I made many friends in the US. Girls' nights out were frequent. Our favourite seafood restaurant was Market Broiler. The Mexican margeritas were just sensational.
In California the lifestyle can be challenging and harsh. My partner and I had to pay for medical care like everybody else. Money was scarce. But although it was financially hard, I enjoyed my partner's family. His mother, aunties and especially his grandmother were wonderful supports. Thanksgiving was a very special time. The Mexican women in Rob's family taught me how to make great Mexican dishes.
My partner is very generous and insisted on driving me to places when he could. Rob and I went for long walks in the hills with my pet dog. I took her to the US with me.
On our second-year anniversary Rob and I went to Hawaii. We flew in to a little island called Kauai. We hiked in the rainforest everyday. We also went kayaking to a beautiful waterfall. It was wonderful to swim in the cold water. It was winter so tourists were few.
No place like home
Rob and I currently live in Victoria. There's no place like home. But I miss the beautiful California weather. I miss our favourite beach in Laguna. And I miss Rob's amazing family.