Disability accessible travel technology provides independence and confidence

(December 2015)

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Laila Grillo climbs Switzerland’s Mt. Altmann, in her homeland. /// photo courtesy of Laila Grillo

She can climb mountains, ski and speak four languages; but Laila Grillo could not attend language school in Ireland, because “they didn’t want a blind student.”

Others told her it was impossible to pursue a farm internship once she expressed her interest to study international agriculture, yet since then, Grillo completed two internships and is currently enrolled in her fifth semester at the Bern University of Applied Science, in Switzerland.


The 24-year-old doesn’t let people tell her what she can or cannot do, but seeks ways to work around any circumstance, instead.

“I never had a school saying we don’t accept blind students,” Grillo said. “I was sad, because I couldn’t go with my class, but at the same time I was also lucky to come to Canada.”

Grillo is fond of travel and passionate about both mountain, as well as rock climbing. She also visited Italy, France, England, Wales, Liechtenstein, Spain and eventually Ireland, scaling nine mountains and various indoor climbing walls, including those in her Swiss homeland.

At that time, she studied economics and languages to become a business employee. Currently, Grillo speaks Italian, German, French and English. During her mandatory studies in an English speaking country, she lived in Toronto with her friend, Sheila Ford.

According to Ford, all that could stand in the way of success for Grillo and others with disabilities are people, not a disability itself.

“I know this from personal experience, because of being deaf myself, there’s a huge price you pay for it,” she said. “The stress of trying to become a part of the world that you would usually be excluded from.”

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Voluntourism: good, bad and ugly

(November 2015)

Hoi Yee Ding /// photo courtesy of Ms. Ding

A former lifeguard, weighed down by 30-50 lb. equipment, struggled while learning how to swim all over again along the Honduras Barrier Reef, scuba diving and collecting data for Reef Conservation International.


Hoi Yee Ding’s childhood dream lay under the sea, but the 30-year-old Toronto clerical worker left behind her passion, marine biology, back in university.

In 2014, years later, swimming around vivid parrot fish, queen conchs, dangerous sharks and invasive lionfish, rekindled what Disney’s The Little Mermaid first inspired in her life.

“You sometimes move away from passion and rediscover it when you have a chance,” Ding says. “That’s why I wanted to look for volunteer experience in marine life. The first few days (diving) is a little bit scary, it’s literally learning how to swim all over again.”

Changing her regular vacationer routine after travelling across North America, Europe and Asia, she searched for possibilities to give back to the world and planet Earth.

A research report by travel analyst Henry Harteveld, shows Ding is one of over 3.5 million people embarking on international volunteer trips each year. The multi-billion dollar volunteer tourism industry – also known as voluntourism – is the fastest growing sector in the travel space, according to CBC documentary Volunteers Unleashed.

It is also the most controversial, following instances where voluntourists take jobs beyond their training or ability while rushing to provide international aid.

“Medical students operating on people… the dangers of that,” says Jacob Taddy, founder and director of Onwards Inc. “Or I think teachers is the one that really hit home with me, we wouldn’t allow a random high schooler to walk into our elementary school and teach our kids, but it’s totally fine over there (in developing countries.)”

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Parkour women are on the rise

(October 2015)

Each day is a journey for Brandee Laird.┬áLiving in motion, the 28-year-old pulls herself over walls and balances on rails. Running both indoors and outdoors, the head coach of Seattle’s Parkour Visions Gym vaults over fences, flips off bars and rolls across various types of terrain.

She hosted the fifth annual North American Women’s Parkour Jam for the first time in July 2015, welcoming 75 women travelling from across the United States and Canada for a two-day weekend event in Seattle, Washington.

“It was surreal to host the event,” Laird said. “It was also powerful and touching to visually see the impact of my leadership, as if they were all trying to prove to me – and some do, verbally – that I am a valued part of our community and an inspiration to many.”

But this self-described warrior-poet is not alone; along with other Parkour leaders, they coach women and men alike in a discipline originating from France in the ’90s.

Dan Iaboni is the head coach at Toronto’s Monkey Vault Movement Training Centre – the world’s first Parkour Gym opened in 2008 – he sees an increasing popularity among women in what used to be a male-dominated discipline. He trains classes that started having an equal participation rate among both men and women.

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