Wheelchair Traveling: Paralyzed at 14 & Now Educating Others On Worldwide Accessibility with Ashley Lyn Olson

When it comes to positivity and perseverance, Ashley Lyn Olson is a clear example of finding the best in a difficult situation. At the age of 14, today’s Lift U Up: Inspiring Health Stories guest became paralyzed in a car wreck. The same wreck took her father’s life, disabled her mother, injured her younger sister, and changed Ashley’s life forever. Not letting her accident slow her down, Ashley found passion in empowering people with limited mobility. Through her writing, educational speaking, and website wheelchairtraveling.com – she’s spreading the message that no one should miss out on adventure, travel, and leisure. 

The Life-Changing Moment 

Ashley Lyn Olson could have never imagined that at age 14, one drive to a family reunion could have such a tremendous impact on her life. When a storm hit mid-drive, they crashed and the teenager was thrown from the car and was left paralyzed.  With a basketball scholarship in her future and a love for movement, this accident forced Ashley to have to re-learn how to live her life from a wheelchair. 

With so many emotions (from losing her dad and her mobility), Ashley focused on what she could do at the time, to keep her moving forward. Relearning daily tasks, experiencing “normal” teenage high school things, and challenging herself to stay positive. 

Adventure Abroad

When reflecting on her life post-accident, Ashley shares that one of the life-changing moments in her life was her first trip abroad to Greece as a post-high school trip. She noticed the extreme lack of accessible roads, buildings, and transportation throughout the country. Ashley remained positive and used this opportunity to learn more about herself and her ability to adapt.  

A few years later, Ashley experienced another trip abroad to Germany and was pleasantly surprised at the difference in that experience. While never perfect, she found she had a lot more access in this country. This made Ashley think – why shouldn’t she document these findings to help others with limited mobility experience travel too?

Empowering Around the World

In 2006, Ashley launched WheelchairTraveling.com – a space that serves as a travel guide that features travel basics and attraction recommendations for those traveling in a wheelchair, or their loved ones. With over 35,000 visitors a month, Ashley is giving people the chance for adventure and independence. 

All countries, including the US, have a long way to go to be accessible to disabled people – but resources like WheelchairTraveling.com make finding opportunities for independence much easier for anyone who needs it. 

What else can you expect in this episode?

  • The story of Ashley’s time in Greece and how she and her friends had to adapt.
  • The conversation she had with a Chinese resident, and how they adapted their mobility aid to help in a country that was not made accessible. 
  • Ashley’s response to the most, and least, accessible countries she has visited. 
  •  What others can do to help those who need increased accessibility, and the importance of person-first language. 
  • Listen to the end of the episode for an excerpt from one of Ashley’s poems!

Where to find WheelchairTraveling.com: