Accessibility and Self-Advocacy While Traveling as a Deaf Person
How an EF employee takes on the world while living with a disability.
By Bobby Moakley
Customer Loyalty and Engagement Specialist
EF Go Ahead Tours
Oh hey, let’s start with an easy one—can you introduce yourself and tell us about your role at EF?
My name is Bobby Moakley and I am a Customer Loyalty & Engagement Specialist for EF Go Ahead Tours. I’m also the founder and Co-Captain of Accessibility @EF, a group representing people living with disabilities. I was born profoundly deaf, and I use a cochlear implant. A lot of small considerations go into daily preparation and routines—especially during work and travel. Through this affinity group, I hope to create more opportunities for our employees and travelers!
On to travel: What questions do you ask to figure out if a destination is right for you?
I am very much a nature and adventure-oriented traveler. I love going to destinations that have plenty of hiking trails, natural scenery, and a variety of activities. I would not say that my deafness has ever influenced my choice of travel destination. While I’ve faced some challenges during travel, I’ve never been in an impossible situation.
When you think about the entire spectrum of disabilities, there are going to be more factors that influence travel choices. A significant amount of restrictions will come from the lack of basic accessibility worldwide. In the United States, we have the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA prohibits any discrimination against persons with disabilities in public spaces. Whether it be a park, museum, or sidewalk, it must meet accessibility standards. This cannot be said for the rest of the world. Certain disabilities may make it much more challenging for individuals to navigate and get by in some countries.
What unique things do you have to think about when you’re preparing for a trip?
There are a lot of things that I need to consider for my packing list. The most important thing is ensuring I have all my implant equipment packed and protected before departure. I always pack the following:
- Sound processor
- 2 rechargeable batteries
- Implant charger
- Portable battery
- Water-and-shock-proof case
- Bandana (I’ll explain that one soon)
I also try to plan ahead of time if I am doing anything that puts my implant at risk. That way, I know what protective gear to bring with me for the day. If I feel spontaneous, and don’t have that gear, I do my best and put it somewhere out of harms way.
How do you self-advocate when you’re in a country that doesn’t speak English?
I think it’s important to take a moment and break this question into two parts: recognizing the communication barrier when it comes to using a different language and when it comes to living in a hearing-centric world. Even in my daily life, there are so many instances where I cannot understand what is going on. Think noisy restaurants, movie theatres without captioning, people that speak quietly, large group conversations. That all adds up, so I need to be sure I’m standing up for myself when needed. I love a good concert and party, but I would much rather hang out in a small group setting where I can hear what’s going on. I have also gotten very used to asking people to repeat themselves or asking people to text/write things out. When it comes to being in another country that doesn’t speak English, I mostly rely on my cell phone. We love Google Maps, Translate, and all that good stuff. I’ve made some wonderful friends abroad where we communicated using Google translate!
What’s the one item you just have to pack when traveling?
An absolute must for me is a headband or bandana! Even when I’m not traveling, I’m almost always wearing one. Not only do I love it as a cute accessory, but it’s also very practical. I love running and climbing around, and that almost always guarantees my implant will fall off. Wearing a bandana keeps it secure and in place so I don’t need to worry about it.
What are some environmental challenges you have to overcome on the road?
There are quite a few, but water is the first one that comes to mind. I can’t even count how many times I’ve gotten water damage to my implant. Whenever it rains or I am doing any kind of activity that involves water, I have to be conscious of not getting it wet. There have been a few instances where I went several days without my implant due to water damage. The most notable being on a rafting trip in the Grand Canyon. Luckily, one of the guides was able to get it fixed up for me!
What’s the coolest travel experience you’ve had?
The coolest travel experience I have ever had was right here in the U.S.! I had the opportunity to go to the Grand Canyon with 19 other Deaf and Hard of Hearing people. We spent two weeks rafting the Colorado River and being beach bums along the river. There was lots of swimming, waterfalls, climbing, and just being goofy. It was my first real camping and backcountry experienced that gave me an appreciation for nature and a good adrenaline rush. Being with other people around my age that could understand what it’s like to live with deafness or hearing loss also meant a great deal, and had a big part in shaping my identity.
Got any advice for the people on self-advocacy?
Self-advocacy is super important for everyone to practice, whether or not you are living with a disability. It’s always important to be aware of what challenges you may face, and to prepare for it ahead of time. Your best advocate will always be yourself. You know what your needs are, and what the best solution may be. That being said, you should never be afraid to ask for help. We all need help at some point, and we should always be willing to help others when we have the capacity to. Stand up for yourself, but know that you are not alone.
Do you think your experiences in self-advocacy could work for someone with a different disability?
I do think that everyone with a disability could learn from others’ lived experiences, including mine. However, every disability is very different—so advocacy will look different. While I have to worry about communication barriers, others may have to worry about paved sidewalks, ramps, triggering environments, accessible transportation, and much more. We can all resonate in needing to stand up for ourselves, but that packing list and situational awareness is going to look very different for everyone.
I also want to shine light on the diversity within the Deaf community. I have always used my cochlear implant, and my primary mode of communication is spoken language. I also use Sign Language, and love using it to communicate when I can! Many Deaf people do not use cochlear implants and use only ASL. Self-advocacy is going to look very different for someone that only uses ASL. A lot of my preparation that goes into protecting and charging my implant is so that I can hear. That is not because I have to hear, but because it is more convenient for me to do that. I could very easily go about my day without my cochlear implant and be self-reliant. However, the communication barrier and hearing-centric world can become exhausting. Things could be much easier for me and the entire Deaf community if changes were made to our surroundings, and people were able to communicate using sign language. The reality is that change is not going to happen overnight, so I choose to rely on my implant which is the most convenient choice for me. All that being said, there are days where I choose to live in silence and tune out the world’s noise—and it’s beautiful.
Last one, where’s the best place you’ve ever been?
My favorite destination has been Tel Aviv! The food, people, culture, and sights were one of a kind. It was the easiest place for me to make friends, and really experience the life the city offered. There are so many things to do, from exploring art galleries to biking along the beach. I am also queer and vegan, so to have a super gay city with a bunch of falafel? Sign me up.
Travel with EF Ultimate Break