How a Disabled Man Travelled the World Carried By His Friends: We Carry Kevan Interview

Travel is for everyone

Written by: Dave Owen

Travel is for everyone. It’s something the industry frequently espouses but often fails to deliver, particularly when it comes to accessibility for disabled travellers.

In 2015, a group of friends from the USA began to plan a dream trip to Europe. One member of that group was Kevan Chandler, who was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, which means his mobility is limited by reliance on a wheelchair. Knowing that some of the specific places they wanted to visit were not wheelchair accessible, the group set about finding a solution. They designed a custom backpack that allowed them to carry Kevan on their backs wherever they went, ran a successful fundraiser, and in June 2016 set off for three unforgettable weeks in Europe.

The project became known as We Carry Kevan. We reported their story back in 2016, and now we’ve caught up with Kevan himself to find out more about his inspiring adventure, what the group is planning next, and how accessibility can be improved across the travel industry.

We Carry Kevan crew


How did all of you meet and how long have you been friends?

I met most of the guys through the music scene in North Carolina. We played in different bands and just got to know one another over the years. I’d say anywhere from 4 to 10 years.

Can you tell us a little about what inspired this trip?

The guys and I love to travel together, road trips and adventures around the States. And I’d always wanted to visit Europe. My family came from England just two generations ago, and most of my influences (creative, spiritual, etc.) come from Europe, so there’s quite a draw for me. But a lot of what I wanted to see and be part of wasn’t wheelchair friendly, so that had been a deterrent. One day, though, it all just kind of clicked for us – what if we go together?

What were your main practical concerns while planning, researching, and funding the backpack and the trip itself?

Not safety! Haha, no. Our main concerns were to be fully present in our journey. So, getting logistics down as best we could beforehand, to have less to worry about in the moments. There was also a lot of work to be done on the backpack, trial and error kind of stuff. And then raising the funds was a big part too. We needed money to make this happen, but we were careful to make it an invitation versus an ask, fostering the right kind of experience for everyone involved, not just us going.

TVFH – Trailer from c a n o p y on Vimeo.

Did the backpack give you all complete access to everything you wanted to see in the destinations you visited?

Yes! The backpack was a great tool for this. Plus the innovation and willpower and teamwork of our little gang.

What were some of your favourite moments of the trip?

For all the high-flying, train-chasing, crowd-dancing, mountain-climbing adventures we had, I think my favourite moments were those quiet times at the end of the day with the guys. Watching the sunset in a park in Paris, falling asleep on the couch after a busy day in England, counting boats on a Welsh dock in the middle of the night. There’s nothing in the world quite like quality time with dear friends.

What did the successful trip mean to you (Kevan) personally?

Going into the trip, I had a misconception that “ success” would be marked by showing the world we could have this adventure with no injury or incident. But I was corrected about half way through the trip that “success” would be marked by simply doing. I was thrilled by the financial and social success of the trip, but ultimately just loved spending the time with my friends and being an inspiration for others.

Practically speaking, were there any difficulties in carrying the backpack, anything you might improve on for future adventures?

As we went along, we improved and made notes of things to tweak. Each carrier was limited to 45 minutes before switching out, which allowed them to rest and be ready for helping later. Since returning home, we’ve been working with Deuter [a German bag manufacturer] to develop a whole new pack. It will have all the features we did but improved to be adjustable for more needs, and the official weight capacity will be almost doubled.

We Carry Kevan

What should popular tourist destinations around the world be doing to improve accessibility?

Have open minds to be creative in the moment. No one wants an elevator in the middle of a 1,600 year old castle, that’d ruin the aesthetic, but there are ways around the need. Carry a person, let their friends carry them, for example. Have a ramp tucked away just in case. Just keep an open mind and open hand to special circumstances.

The backpack is one solution to greatly improve accessibility, but presumably wouldn’t be suitable for everybody. In what areas do you think similar innovation needs to take place?

Exactly! That worked for us, for me, and it’ll be great for some people, but not everyone. It’s just a tool to manifest the deeper solution. True accessibility comes from people helping people, getting selfless and creative, and the sky’s the limit when that’s the case. Whether it’s a mobile disability, visual impairment, developmental disability, etc etc, when people get involved and start working together (on both ends), the results are beyond my imagination and gets me really excited!

What has the wider response been to your successful trip?

Accessibility is being redefined! People are inspired to work together and think outside the box to care for one another. A lot of families who already do this to whatever extent are challenged, refreshed, and encouraged. We’re shaking things up and having a blast with it!

You’ve now established a nonprofit – We Carry Kevan – dedicated to reimagining accessibility. Can you tell us a little more about your goals there?

As we share our story, and continue to live it out, the nonprofit is there to give a practical application to the inspiration. We are developing the backpack, for starters, and we are connecting people internationally to work together to enjoy unique accessible experiences.

Your next trip is even more ambitious – China! What are you most looking forward to seeing and doing there?

China is going to be incredible! I can’t wait! We are spending a lot of our time with a chain of care centres, set up by Show Hope. They provide special care to orphans with disabilities, so we’re excited to hang out with the kids and doctors there. Of course, while we’re there, we’ll be doing some exploring and adventuring.


We Carry Kevan is now fundraising for their trip to China! You can read more about it and donate on their GoFundMe page.

Check out these top travel experiences

Search

Inca Trail Trek

from £580.00

4 days

Embark on a unique trek to discover for yourself the amazing Machu Picchu ruins of the Inca empire, a mystical...

Teach English in Madrid, Spain

from £1,050.00

240 - 270 days

Apply for our inspiring and rewarding opportunities to teach English in Spain. Get paid, teach, and live in Madrid (Spain)....

International Engineering Internship In Thailand

from £1,030.00

60 - 180 days

Thailand is one of the up and coming engineering hubs of not only the Southeast Asia region but the entire...

Waterfront Jobs at Summer Camp

from £649.00

63 days

Work on the waterfront at one of over 500 summer camps in America with children of all ages. Gain over...

Finance Internships in Shanghai

from £3,100.00

28 - 180 days

Get ahead in the competitive world of finance by pursuing a leading internship in Shanghai.

Beach Conservation Belize

from £695.00

7 - 140 days

Mayan ruins? Check! Pristine beaches? Check! Exotic animals? Check! Warm Caribbean waters? Check! Belize has everything you could ever want!

The Ultimate Quest- South America

from £5,500.00

95 days

Our ultimate three month adventure. Join our team for three weeks intensive Spanish training in Sucre, Bolivia, before going to...

Conservation Work in Australia

from £950.00

7 - 84 days

Contribute to valuable conservation initiatives by taking part in a project with a purpose. Help protect some of Australia's most...

Ultimate Explorer – Total New Zealand

from £2,300.00

27 - 28 days

Quite possibly the best way you can see the real NZ and top rated by National Geographic. This trip combines...

Archery Jobs at Camp in America

from £649.00

63 days

Become an Archery Instructor in the USA at one of over 500 summer camps with children of all ages. Gain...

Check out these top travel tours

Search

Coast to Vegas

from £1,129.00

Roll with the sunglasses squad in LA, stay classy in San Diego, get your breath taken away at the Grand...

Best of the USA Tour–New York to New York

from £3,359.20

United States

From hip hop to country fiddles, Yankee accents to a western drawl, businessmen in power suits and ranchers in cowboy...

Classic Thailand

from £1,349.00

We’re all about the classics. Classic food, classic cities, classic adventures and all things that make Thailand amazing. Experience this...

Festive Escape

from £1,289.00

Relish a festive escape this Christmas with a brilliant getaway in Europe. Starting and ending in London, this trip makes...

The Best of Costa Rica Independent Adventure

from £779.00

Costa Rica

Can't decide between the jungle, volcanoes or the beach? Do all three on this ten-day independent journey that proves why...

Pure Galapagos (Daphne)

from £1,934.00

Ecuador

Few destinations rival the Galapagos for up-close encounters with wildlife, and this adventure focuses on the stars of the show....

Zanzibar, Victoria Falls & Kruger

from £80.00

Don your pith helmet and khakis, explorers – it’s adventure time. This once-in-a-lifetime safari from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania...

Cycle Bali

from £820.00

Indonesia

It’s all about two wheels in Bali, and this action-packed cycling trip takes in some of the island’s best spots...

Svalbard Express

Norway

When the Arctic calls, you simply have to go. Designed for the adventurous explorer whose long on ambition but short...

Burgundy River Cruise Adventure – Northbound

from £1,413.30

France

Blessed with some of the most gorgeous countryside in Europe if not the world (not to mention perhaps the best...

Find more articles about inspiring travellers

Search
[contact-form-7 id="4" title="Contact form 1"]