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Jessica Jordan Ping’s luxury vacations make her feel included

A woman in a bright red jumpsuit is lying on her side on a blue bridge railing with the Tower Bridge in the background. She is smiling with her head propped up by her hand, and one leg playfully kicked up in the air. Her joyful expression and the iconic London landmark suggest a carefree, tourist moment captured on camera.
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Social media influencer Jessica Jordan Ping was born and raised in Central Illinois, U.S. She entered this world with a rare disease called CHILD syndrome, which affects only about 60 people worldwide. For her, it manifested as a shortened left arm and shortened left leg. Her leg had to be further amputated after birth. To get around, she sometimes uses a wheelchair, prosthetic leg or a walking stick. Vivacious and confident, Jessica effectively uses her social media platforms as an advocacy tool, showing the world that her disability is just one part of who she is.

What is your definition of a luxury vacation? 

A luxury vacation has to make me feel included. It should be an all-inclusive vacation and this concept means something different to me. This is a vacation where I can participate in every activity and never feel excluded. Where I am constantly being catered to in the same way that a non-disabled person is being catered to. This is what luxury feels like—not having to worry about whether or not I’m going to be included in the supposed inclusive activities.

A luxury vacation includes ease of thinking. I don’t want to have to overthink or stress because in my day-to-day life I’m constantly stressed—is this accessible? Do I really have to call again? Do I have to scope out a location before I go on the next weekend getaway with my friends to make sure that I can actually enter it without having to be a bother to anybody? 

What inspired you to become a social media influencer?

I grew up in the age of YouTube and influencers. I’ve always been fascinated by this and I also loved performing. I was a big theatre kid, performing in community theater shows that my small town would put on. I loved the Disney Channel and had this delusional dream of being on it one day. But growing up, I didn’t see anybody who looked like me in media, so I had no inspiration, no hope that anybody like me could actually go out and do these things—no one like me could be an actor, comedian, performer or influencer. I said to myself, I won’t be able to do it. I’ll just go to college and stay on the academic side of things. So, I studied English Literature in college and wanted to be a writer. I thought this was a way for me to flex my creative muscle without needing to be in the spotlight. Then my mentor advised that if I wanted to be a storyteller, I needed a blog and should set myself apart. I then got a website and started writing one blog post a month—nothing too intense or overwhelming, then COVID hit. I had time on my hands and TikTok was taking off. I told myself I’d make a video to see how it went, then everything fell into place from there. I developed a following and got better at making videos while having a lot of fun with it all. This has now taken over my life, in the best way possible. 

How has social media impacted your life and what effect do you have on your followers? 

It has helped improve my confidence astronomically over the last several years and shown that my disability is not the only thing that matters about me. It has given me a new perspective on disability—it being just an identifier rather than a definition of who you are, and all of this is being done in the healthiest way possible. Based on the messages I receive from followers, I believe that I’m helping other disabled people see their value and worth. That’s what I struggled with growing up and why I didn’t want to pursue the social media route. I didn’t think I had as much worth or value as a non-disabled person did, but that’s not so. If I can help at least one disabled person to say, “I am important. I matter. I have inherent value,” then I’ve done my job for today.

Any memorable interactions with followers?

I’ve had several, and I’ve met a few of them in person which is always a joy. When people approach you and say, “I like your videos, they make me feel better about x, y, z or have helped inspire me to love myself more,” this is great! That’s always the top tier level of joy for me. Of course, anytime a post goes viral you’re bringing in people who are not a part of your community and you’ll get some hate comments or negativity, but overall, I receive mainly kindness and love. I adore the fact that I have support online for the work that I do. The people who follow me are there for a reason and they look forward to seeing my stuff every day. I look forward to interacting with them every day. Every interaction is a joy that is based in kindness and positivity.

Name a favourite destination

I really, really, really love Paris. I’m obsessed with Paris. I’ve visited three times and every time I go, I love it more. It’s one of the worst cities for accessibility that I ever visited but it’s just so beautiful there!  It is quintessentially European with so much history. I love the Louvre Museum. It transports me to another world in the best way and is architecturally intriguing. I’ve visited twice but it is always a little battle trying to find my way out. They need more elevators. The building is accessible in that you can get around and they do have accessible toilets but just the bare minimum is being met for accessibility. It’s not like museums I’ve been to in the U.S. where there are many different routes to move around and many elevators.

Bucket list destinations?

I’m excited to see the Northern Lights someday. I think Norway in particular is stunning. To stay in a glamourous glass igloo at the Lyngen North where I can fall asleep staring at the stars through the glass roof will be an amazing experience. 

I would actually love to go all over the world—hit all the continents. I’ve really been interested in Australia and New Zealand lately. Thailand, Indonesia, India would be really cool and Brazil, where I have a lot of followers. I’ve always been obsessed with rain forests and I think that would be a cool thing to witness.  I’m really close to visiting all 50 U.S. states so that too is on my bucket list to complete. 

What mobility aid do you use most often during travel?

Historically, a manual wheelchair because in the past, I’ve travelled either with my family, friends or a significant other as I need someone to push my wheelchair. However, in the last year and a half, I’ve grown more comfortable wearing my prosthetic leg again so it will play a much bigger role and I will rely a lot less on having other people wheeling me around. As someone with only one hand in a manual wheelchair, I’m not really independent so I’m looking forward to becoming even more comfortable wearing my prosthetic so I can do more independent travel.

Lessons you’ve learned as a person travelling with a disability

Flexibility is important. Unfortunately, there are many times I’ve been disappointed on trips by things not being as accessible as I expected. This has taught me to roll with the punches and make the most out of it as best I can. I’ve learned to over prepare for every type of travel. Whether it’s for a stay-cation or going across the world, be overly prepared and have a backup plan. 

Know the essentials of how you’re getting around. Trains, taxis? And make sure you’re safe. You might be disappointed if activities or events are not accessible. That’s unfortunate, disheartening and can take a toll on your mental health but that is something you can get over. For me, safety is the most important thing. I don’t want to be stranded somewhere.

I try to go on at least two trips a year and I will spend more money on a nicer hotel in a nice neighbourhood because I think I’ll be well taken care of and feel safe. Typically, if I’m going to a city, I’m probably going to pay a bit more and stay downtown which will be closer to activities, it’s more convenient and I don’t have to worry about transportation. 

Must-have travel items

My mobility aids are a given. If I don’t have those, I’m not getting very far. I always bring extra lotion, particularly for my skin condition and especially if I’m travelling in the winter. I’ll always have extra medication. I like dressing up when I’m traveling, so I always have an extra pair of shoes or an extra dress for the random, fun spontaneous night out. I always, always, bring several shades of lipstick. I love wearing lipstick, that’s one way that I really express myself so I always bring five or six shades anywhere I go. My favourite brand is Maybelline. I swear by their shades. They’re the longest wearing lipstick I’ve ever had, especially the darker shades. I love to read and I always have entertainment locked and loaded for an airplane, train or car ride—a book, podcast, audio book or something.

Good to know tidbit

A lot of venues do not know what constitutes an accessible space and as a result they don’t know how to advertise that on their websites. Many hotels have nothing about accessibility on their websites, which is shocking. But on travel websites that list hotels, some will indicate if a resort has elevators or not. I’ve found if elevators are listed, accessibility is usually okay, but not necessarily great. If you have the means, call in advance. Chain hotels tend to be accessible. That’s my go to—I will stay in a Holiday Inn or Comfort Inn 95% of the time. The price is better, but on top of that, you’re more likely to get an accessible room.

How do you deal with curious people who stare or ask direct questions? 

With kids I don’t mind if they ask questions and I’ll answer because in my eyes, that’s how we’ll change perspectives on disability in the future. I will answer their questions casually and say, “I was born like this, isn’t it cool? It’s so different.” I get frustrated, however, when parents interject their own assumptions and stereotypes of disabled people into the mix. Or worse, when a kid asks me something, stares or points and the parent says, “No, we don’t do that” and pulls their kid away, embarrassed.  To me, the kid is just curious and wants to learn and that’s fine. The adult in that situation should not try to deplete the curiosity and more than that, make it seem like the disability is something to be ashamed of. 

What’s your advice to people with disabilities who are struggling to find confidence?

Understand that you are the expert on you. Your story is unique, your experience is unique, your perspective, vision, life, dreams and goals. No one else will have the same life as you. And you matter as a person. Understanding that to your core is something that doesn’t come easily and it’s not there all the time, it ebbs and it flows. But getting comfortable with yourself, really falling in love with yourself is going to be the best thing you can ever do for you. It will boost your confidence, mental health, career and relationships, whether familial, romantic or friendly. Get to know yourself. Give yourself the space and the grace to look at who you are and what you want. Don’t judge it. Take the inner critic out, step back and just be like, yeah, this is me. And regardless of what that looks like and how that fits into society and all of the rules that we create as a collective, own it and feel confident. Know that you are unique and that is your superpower. Your superpower is not how well you can fit in. It is how well you can stand out. That is your superpower!

You can find Jessica @therollingexplorer: Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and her blog, therollingexplorer.com

 
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