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He was just a typical 18-year-old Chilean guy – studying, travelling, camping with family and friends, socializing – doing what teenagers usually do, when a car accident shifted his life’s trajectory.
“I broke my neck at level C5. It was a difficult situation to accommodate and accept. I started asking a lot of questions such as how would I be able to work, how would I even finish engineering school, have a social life, have relationships?” Alvaro Silberstein said.
Fortunately, he had the unwavering support of loved ones. And eventually, Alvaro realized that regardless of his disability, he can still enjoy life, participate in outdoor adventures, travel, socialize and do all the things he feared were no longer going to be possible. He accepted the undeniable fact that life can be fully enjoyed even after a disability; that your life as a person with a disability can be a beacon to others; that you can use your burning passion and drive to effect change in the world and to remove barriers. Alvaro accepts this and has now joined other disability advocates heralding the change that is steadily drifting across the world – the change that positively impacts the travel possibilities for people with disabilities. He is the co-founder of Wheel the World, after all, why not wheel around various cities of the world and create travel memories to last a lifetime?
How did this all happen? How did Alvaro start enjoying the outdoors again? He remembers fondly the part his friends played in all of this . . .
“Travel and exploring the outdoors has been very close to my heart since I was very young,” he said. He is the youngest of the four boys in the family and being outdoors, adventure, sports, hiking, were activities they all did together.”
He remembers, “it was summertime, and my friends came to my parent’s home where I also lived at that time. They told us that they were organizing a road trip from Chile to Argentina and I’ll be going with them. I remember saying, ‘Wait, you guys are not realizing how tough my situation is, my parents are freaking out – [they were very protective of me]’. It was just not possible.”
But the road trip happened. Alvaro went on that trip and during the journey, gained a better understanding of his body. He became aware of the needs of a person with disabiities during travel and was able to spot things that were amiss and think of solutions.
“I can do it’” he realized. “My disability is not an impediment to anything that I really want to pursue in life!”
Five years later, Alvaro went backpacking with his two friends to Australia for three months.
He realized that he could enjoy life if he exposes himself to new experiences, new people, new situations, and new places. Travel also enables disability awareness, Alvaro discovered. It removes the barriers that are in the minds of the able-bodied about what persons with disabilities can and cannot do. It also exposes oneself to new things that comes with powerful learning insights.
“If you sit at home, no one will see you doing anything. But when you mill around like everybody else, they would see that it is possible. When you travel, you learn something new about yourself.”
From this knowledge, Alvaro co-founded Wheel the World to cater to the needs of travellers with disabilities. On their platform, people can book travel confidently and find adaptive adventures all over the world. Alvaro and the Wheel the World team facilitates this.
“We are really passionate about accessibility. We are deep and thoughtful with it because one of our values is positive activism. We want to show what is possible rather than try to open doors by generating conflict.”
One of their customers whose husband has a physical disability wrote to them, sharing something beautiful. She booked a trip with Wheel the World and shared that for the first time they felt the environment they vacationed in was adapted for them. Because of Wheel the World’s careful selection, thorough research and precise booking information, she feels she and her husband can now continue traveling, because Wheel the World has made it possible.
Being able to enjoy the things you love is important to everyone, regardless of ability and Alvaro’s love for the outdoors is reflected in trips offered by Wheel the World. Some of the most enjoyable adaptive activities he participates in are hand cycling, hiking, kayaking, and scuba diving and these are all excursions that can be booked on their website. They are all about creating travel experiences that will create memories to last a lifetime, so whether it’s ziplining or any other fun activity, travel experts are on hand to help you plan that tailor-made trip.
Alvaro shared, “I am open to travelling to totally unfamiliar places now. I can understand if one has a lot of uncertainties about travelling but the experience is always worth it. Travel has changed my life for the better. It has allowed me to understand much more about my disability and what I’m capable of doing. Participating in at least one adapted activity could also change how you view your life.”
“I am always asked by other people with disabilities: if there’s a cure for my paralysis, would I take it? And I say, ‘of course, because that would make my life so much easier.’ But I would not erase anything that happened to me for the past 18 years. I have learned so much and have lived powerful experiences.”
I will not say that it is easy to have a disability or that my life is not challenged. But I love who I am, and I love all the opportunities that life has given me. So, I recommend that you travel, and I recommend it because it is possible, because it’s amazing, and will change your life.” Alvaro Silberstein