John Morris has been a frequent traveler throughout his life. In 2012, he was involved in a horrific car accident. Driving across the country from St. Louis, Missouri to Gainesville, Florida – he crashed in the Atlanta, Georgia area. He spent nearly a year in the hospital, was in a coma for about a month, was treated in a burn unit, and eventually made a decision to amputate his legs, becoming a triple amputee – as one of his hands was amputated as well. It was miraculous that he even survived the accident to begin with, but after he did, he was told he would never be able to travel again.
However, John did not allow a disability to hinder his passion – to travel. “I just felt as if I should be able to travel again,” he said.
It was about a year and a half after his accident – and just six weeks after he had his legs amputated – that he took his first trip with his wheelchair. He flew to Los Angeles and made his way to Pasadena to attend the College Football National Championship Game in January 2014 to see his alma mater, the Florida State University Seminoles, win the national title. (Now that’s a true college football fan!)
He then went to Washington DC for the March for Life with his friends from the FSU Catholic Student Union. A few months later, in April, he went to Beijing, China and took his wheelchair to the Great Wall of China. “That was a moment I will never forget because I felt that I had conquered something that just a few months before seemed unconquerable.”
He was only in China for three days because he wasn’t certain about the accessibility for someone in a wheelchair. But what made the Great Wall of China accessible for him was the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. China had stepped up its accessibility for visitors coming in from around the world, including the Paralympians traveling there.
“One of the ways in creating a free society and a free market is connecting your populace to the world and giving them an opportunity to see the great things that are happening all around the world… China had to open itself to some degree to those values.”
To date, John has traveled to at least 36 countries in his life – and has been to 30 of those countries since he started traveling in a wheelchair in 2014.
“I was just inspired by the power of travel and what it means to people all around the world,” said Morris. “Travel creates so many opportunities and connections and that’s something that I’ve always been passionate about.”
Since 2014, John has taken many more trips to Asia – including to Seoul and Hong Kong. It was then that he started writing about accessibility issues because “there was virtually no information about access in these cities,” he said.
John is the founder and owner of wheelchairtravel.org, a website he created “to share some of the knowledge that I was gaining from these trips to Asia and empowering people with disabilities all around the world to visit these cities that for a long time they had felt were inaccessible and off limits,” said Morris. “And I’m so proud to say that so many of my readers have been able to visit these far corners of the world and traveling these 12 time zones to visit places they never thought they would see in their entire lives primarily because they have wheelchairs or other mobility disabilities.”
“Transportation is one of the most disabling things in America,” said Morris. For those with disabilities, they have to search out answers to questions about how they get from the airport to the hotel, from the hotel to an attraction – and not just what route to take but how they will be transported there. When they are at home, they might have to search for answers on how to get to get to a doctor, for example.
“There’s just not enough attention paid to ADA compliance or the needs of the disability marketplace,” said Morris.
Results from the 2010 Census reported that nearly 20% of Americans have a disability of some kind – these include mobility impairments, intellectual disabilities or emotional challenges.
“There is a growing opportunity now for businesses to respond to that opportunity to gain customers who have individual challenges,” said Morris. “Baby boomers are retiring every single day now and their disabilities are mounting and there’s such an opportunity to take advantage of that market – and I love seeing when businesses actually outreach to those customers.”
John hopes everyone – with or without disabilities – has the opportunity to travel.
“Travel is marvelous and opens new opportunities and perspectives. If you’re one those people who hasn’t left the U.S., I encourage you to get your passport and see the world,” said Morris. “And if you are one of those people who travels abroad frequently, I encourage you to get to know your own country better because America is vast – we are bigger than the vast majority of other countries in the world – and there is so much to see and do here and people to meet.”
His advice to us: “Keep traveling.” It seems nothing will stop John Morris from doing just that. And he’s now in the business of helping others have that same opportunity – and take advantage of all the travel possibilities available to us.
To listen to the full interview with John Morris, tune in to Episode 40 of the Agents of Innovation podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or Soundcloud. You can also follow the podcast on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.