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The amazing adventures of a Wonder Woman

Flourish 02 Nov 2017

A can-do attitude and a clever new wheelchair allowed Stacey Christie to experience the holiday of her dreams.

Stacey in front of the ColoseumOn her first visit to Europe, Stacey Christie indulged in all the quintessential elements of a European trip – lingering on the bridges of Venice, exploring romantic Parisian streets and soaking up the history of Buckingham Palace in London.

Stacey’s dream holiday, earlier this year, was largely made possible by a customised electric wheelchair that she received as part of her National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) plan. The new wheelchair allowed her to cover longer distances and ensured she could independently take her luggage with her.

Stacey, 24, has been a participant in the NDIS since September 2016 and says the wheelchair was just one of the very real benefits she has experienced. Regular physiotherapy, apartment modifications and specialist home equipment have been others.

“The NDIS really came through and I got my wheelchair a week or two before I went to Europe. It can go 24 kilometres on a single charge and it’s a lot more comfortable,” Stacey says.

Stacey’s previous eight-year-old wheelchair only held enough charge for her to go to work and return home, limiting her ability to participate in social activities. The old wheelchair would have limited her travelling opportunities and made independence very difficult.

“Motion Wheelchairs, the company that built the wheelchair, was able to build a custom luggage holder on the back, which was how I could carry my luggage in Europe. That embodies what the NDIS is about – working towards your goals and the things you like to do,” she says.

Family Ties
Stacey has plenty of goals and the energy and determination to make them happen.

She was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, with Bethlem myopathy, an inherited type of muscular dystrophy. She was diagnosed when she was four years old. Stacey’s mother also has muscular dystrophy, which means Stacey never saw her own disability as an issue.

“It never stopped us from doing anything,” she says. “My mum is quite involved with the Muscular Dystrophy Association [of New Zealand], so when I was growing up, I heard a lot about other people with muscular dystrophy. When I was 16, I was elected onto the national council of the Muscular Dystrophy Association as the youth representative.”

Stacey’s family had moved north to the warmer climes of Nelson, where they were based during school months. Each school holiday, they would explore New Zealand in their motorhome, nicknamed Moxie (a term meaning spirit and determination). This experience encouraged Stacey’s wanderlust and she applied to study design and journalism at Massey University in Wellington.

Following this, Stacey spent a year at California State University in Northridge in Los Angeles and relished being an all-American college student. “I lived in a traditional American dorm and met my best friend there, as she was my roommate.”

Making her next move
Stacey returned to New Zealand after graduating, ready for her next adventure.

“I’m an Australian citizen through my dad and I wanted to move to a bigger city,” she says. “Everyone kept saying how much I would like Melbourne, so I thought I’d give it a go.”

Two years later, Stacey works at Youth Disability Advocacy Service and lives in the inner Melbourne suburb of Northcote. She takes the train to work, but says there have been times when drivers have not let her on, as the train was too crowded. “That’s actually illegal, so I made a complaint. I’m the type of person to follow things up, and I’m now on the Metro Accessibility Reference Group,” she says.

This can-do attitude went a long way in making Stacey’s trip to Europe a reality.

Meticulous research
Stacey spent many evenings planning her adventure. She was concerned the historic buildings and streets in Europe could hinder accessibility, and she was determined to prevent as many problems as she could.

She investigated public transport logistics, accessible hotels and used Google Street View to discover tourist attractions with portable ramps. “I had to research accessibility everywhere – Google Translate became my most-used page,” she says.

“With the train, if you booked in advance they’d help you with boarding and you’d get discounted tickets and sit in first class.

I had free entry at most of the tourism attractions, such as the Colosseum and the Louvre, and I got priority access and didn’t have to wait in line.” Stacey included stops to Los Angeles and San Francisco on her trip, visiting friends she met while living in the United States.

Inspired by her positive travel experiences and equipped with her electric wheelchair, it is only a matter of time before Stacey is off on her next overseas adventure. And you can be sure she will share all the details in her new blog.

Arc de Triomphe

Stacey’s Travel Adventure
  • Flew to London
  • Took Eurostar to Amsterdam
  • Travelled by train to Belgium - Brussels and Bruges
  • Took the train to Paris and then onwards to Colmar in the Alsace region
  • Flew to Venice
  • Took train to Florence and Rome
  • Flew from Rome to Los Angeles and then onwards to San Francisco
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