Cooper, age 14, sits in his wheelchair alongside his two siblings waiting to board a plane. The three of them are excited to be exploring. It’s where they thrive. People smile and ask him if it’s his first time on a plane. All three kids giggle as they are seasoned, intrepid travelers — which is not what most people expect when they see Cooper’s wheelchair. When they look beyond the chair, they see a teen who with his family has grown and embraced diversity though exploring new places.
When Cooper was first born, we never imagined being able to travel outside of Australia. He had sustained a brain injury at birth and would have a lifelong disability, cerebral palsy. This meant all the messages from the brain to his muscles were all mixed up, so he would have to learn how to move in his own way.
Early on, Cooper showed a great love of connection. He loved being around people, listening and engaging with his eyes more than his words. His words came later in his own way too. We knew we had to get him out to see the world, and rather than just do it in small ways, we decided to do it in a big way. When Cooper was 2-and-a-half years old we booked a flight to Singapore and Indonesia and have never looked back. We have explored 32 countries together with the highlights being Mongolia, Japan and Lapland, Finland.
Travel is a challenge. It makes the five of us step and wheel outside our comfort zone. It makes us work as a team and pushes us all to be better people.
We have made connections all around the world because we travel with kids. People are curious when you have kids; they act as ice breakers with locals and it allows you to form meaningful connections when you travel. I have had interactions with families across Asia who thank us for bringing Cooper to their country. They thank me for treating him like my other neurotypical kids and giving him all the same opportunities. They thank me for embracing difference and in some small way showing that disability is not something to be hidden away.
My kids see there are different people in the world when they travel. They learn about new food and language and religion. They learn we are not all the same — we have different things to contribute to the world.
Right now we are planning a trip at Easter time to visit Spain, Portugal and Morocco. We are all excited for the challenge, to extend ourselves, to push ourselves and to come out on the other side with some amazing memories and stories.