A pair of intrepid and web-savvy adventurers, one of which is a Stratford local, are looking to tackle the issues faced by travellers with disabilities on a global scale.
Tyler Fitzpatrick first met Dan Barra-Berger while backpacking through France. After travelling together, the two young Canadians, Fitzpatrick from BC and Barra-Berger from Nobleton, Ontario, later found themselves back in North America living relatively close together. Fitzpatrick was in Stratford, plying his trade in the local music scene, while Barra-Berger was in Guelph.
Barra-Berger is legally blind. He suffered damage to his retinas in a playground accident when he was young, losing sight in his left eye but remaining fully sighted in his right. For a period following the accident, he enjoyed years of travelling.
However, he later began losing his remaining sight, eventually ending up totally blind. Though some surgeries have helped him to regain partial vision in his right eye, it’s nowhere what it used to be, and Barra-Berger now walks with a white cane.
After some self-pity, he heeded the advice of an Australian friend who suggested he “eat a bag of cement and harden up.” Following what he calls an epiphany moment, he found his old backpack and set off for Europe, where he met Fitzpatrick.
Barra-Berger has maintained a blog with semi-regularity since 2003. He started Three Points of Contact, a website that profiles his experiences with vision loss, in 2012.
Now, he and Fitzpatrick, who is an able-bodied person, are planning to film a travel series that deals with the experiences of a person with disabilities while travelling abroad. Entitled “Travelling Blind,” the web series will follow the pair overseas as they document accessibility issues and speak with locals about the advances their hometowns have either made or failed to make.
“Budget travel should be something open to everyone,” says Barra-Berger.
He adds that he thinks we’re lucky in Ontario, where we have the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which aims to improve the accessibility standards of all public buildings by 2025.
“In other places, they might not be so forward thinking,” he says. “I’m interested in seeing how they get along.”
Barra-Berger says the duo plans to not only document their observations, but to seek out people with disabilities along the way to find out how they manage. The result will likely be eye-opening, not only in seeing how behind Ontario some places are, but in seeing how far ahead others might be.
As an example, Barra-Berger says he had an easier time navigating western Europe- in places like Germany or Ireland- than he does back home.
“I can’t get to the town that I’m from using public transit. I need a ride from someone,” he notes, as compared to Europe’s extensive network of buses and trains.
However, Barra-Berger’s travels through the south of France taught him that not all regions are alike.
“In the south of France, the infrastructure isn’t there. There are cities that are 2,000 - 3,000 years old. Cities like Marseilles, or Barcelona in Spain, are not exactly accessible… There’s no crosswalks; no audio signals telling you when it’s safe to cross.”
It’s these types of observations the two hope to document, showcasing issues facing not only those with visual impairments, but other disabilities as well, such as individuals in wheelchairs or other mobility issues.
Fitzpatrick even expects his food sensitivity- caused by colitis- to play into an episode or two.
“When you go to a restaurant, the menus are in a different language… Maybe you’re eating a local dish and you don’t know what’s in it, and you don’t have the words to describe your food intolerances,” he says. “It will be interesting, but it’s not going to stop me from going at all.”
“A lot of people out there have food insensitivities or allergies. A lot of people have fewer sensitivities than Tyler, and they’re terrified of travelling,” adds Barra-Berger. “But if we can do it, so can you.”
And that, he says, will be a key aspect of the series: to not only draw attention to issues facing travellers with disabilities, but also show that it can be done, regardless of the limitations you may face.
Barra-Berger will host the series, while Fitzpatrick will do most of the filming, as well as co-host. Fitzpatrick will also be providing original music for the episodes.
They leave for Portugal on March 2. Where they go from there will largely depend on where the wind blows.
“Our plan is to have no plan,” says Barra-Berger; the lack of which will add a second meaning to the title Travelling Blind. He says that they hope to hit Spain and possibly travel into northern Africa to see locales like Morocco and Tunisia. If need be, they’ll turn the series into a seasonal arc, returning home and then trekking out to a different part of the globe every year.
The two are no strangers to the nature of backpacking, which often has you flying by the seat of your pants. They met five-months deep into a trip that lasted seven months for Barra-Berger, and a full year for Fitzpatrick. They’ve sold sandwiches and tended bar in the past to help facilitate further travel, and this time they hope to garner some revenue from their YouTube series.
“As long as YouTube supports us and people want to keep watching us, we’ll keep going,” says Barra-Berger.
In addition, the two are setting up an Indiegogo account in case anyone wishes to financially support their initiative. However, they add that the initial trip will be paid for out of their own personal savings, and any revenue garnered from such a fund would go towards things like extra insurance coverage and incidentals.
“We’re going whether or not the campaign is successful,” says Barra-Berger.
Travelling Blind will appear on the Three Points of Contact YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/user/threepointsofcontact.)
The Three Points of Contact webpage, with all pertinent links, can be found at www.threepointsofcontact.ca.