A LaFayette resident and travel blogger announces the publication of his first children’s book and hopes to inspire more people with mobility issues to travel.
“Let’s Explore with Cor Cor” is about a young boy in a wheelchair who travels the world to visit exciting destinations, including Australia, Iceland and Florida. Author Cory Lee, who uses a wheelchair and was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at age 2, said readers will learn about places around the world, but he also hopes they learn that “anything truly is possible, no matter what someone’s abilities are.”
“Growing up, I never saw a book character that used a wheelchair like I did, so my mom, Sandy Gilbreath, and I wrote this book because we want today’s kids with disabilities to feel represented with the character of Cor Cor,” Lee said. “Visibility and representation of diverse characters is incredibly important.”
Lee’s journey as a travel writer began as a child when he and his mother, who worked in a school, traveled around the southeastern United States during the summer. When he was about 15, they visited the Bahamas, where he was consumed by the culture and beauty.
“I thought ‘If the Bahamas can be this different and amazing, what could India, South Africa, Australia or other faraway countries be like?’ The travel bug within me was awoken, and I needed to see the world for myself,” he said.
Lee graduated from LaFayette High School in 2008 and from the University of West Georgia in 2014 with a B.B.A. in marketing. In college he also studied journalism.
He is now a full-time travel blogger and social media influencer. His blog has earned him a Webby Award and two Lowell Thomas Awards. He has also written articles for “National Geographic” and “Lonely Planet,” been featured in “Forbes” and was chosen as the 2018 Person of the Year by “New Mobility Magazine,” he said.
“My friends say I eat, sleep, and drink travel and writing about travel,” he said, adding that he has visited 37 countries and all seven continents.
“As a wheelchair user, I have faced many challenges. When I was in school, some of the challenges I faced were fighting for my rights to remain in mainstreamed classes and even being able to go on field trips as the accessible bus with a lift was funded for only the students that were labeled as ‘special education’ students,” he explained.
“I had to be my own advocate, but was fortunate to have my mom there to fight with me for equality,” he said. “After high school, I then needed a care attendant at college and still do to assist me with activities of daily living. Funding for daily care is an issue at times, even though Georgia does have some programs in place.”
When traveling he has been challenged by the stress of the airlines breaking his wheelchair during flight because it stays in the luggage department during flight, he said. He must also find accessible lodging, and transportation on trips that can accommodate a wheelchair is not always readily available.
“I started my blog, Curb Free with Cory Lee, in 2013 because I was researching accessibility in Australia for an upcoming trip and noticed that there wasn’t a lot of accessible travel information online,” he said. “I wanted to create a website where I could share what I’ve learned about various destinations with fellow wheelchair users. My goal is to inspire them to break out of their comfort zones and see all of the beauty our world has to offer.”
He has written the book “Air Travel for Wheelchair Users.”
Lee believes the future looks brighter for those with mobility issues as accommodations are made to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“It also seems that people are finally realizing that the disabled community is a large population and we want to be able to enjoy destinations and trips just as anyone else,” he said. “People with disabilities spend over $17 billion per year just on travel, and part of my mission is to make people realize that.
“We are traveling and living incredible lives with disabilities, and we have the money to spend,” he explained. By making your destination or attraction accessible, you can get some of that money.”
Recently tour companies have begun launching wheelchair-friendly tours, he noted. Five years ago he would not have been able to visit India or Costa Rica, but the increase in accessible transportation in those places has made it possible, he said.
“It’s not always easy to travel as a wheelchair user, but it is always worth it,” he said. “People are genuinely kind and there are always people willing to help if needed. I’ve found that in every country that I’ve visited (37 so far). And always remember, a positive, cheerful attitude goes a long way.”
Lee credits two people as keys to his success, his mother and Judy Heumann.
“Judy fought to get the Americans with Disabilities Act passed. Her story is remarkable, as is her strength, and Crip Camp on Netflix does a great job of showing her journey,” he explained. “And my mom has fought for my rights my entire life, making sure things run as smoothly as possible. Without her support, none of this (the book or my blog) would be possible.”
His most memorable travel experience was in February, right before the pandemic started.
“I visited Antarctica, my seventh continent, and that was a huge goal for me to complete before turning 30 years old,” he said. “Seeing Antarctica for the first time was absolutely amazing. Seeing icebergs, dozens of whales and hundreds of penguins every day was more beautiful than I ever dreamed it would be. It was an emotional experience, and I’m so thankful that I was able to visit.”
A close runner-up was when he rode a camel in the Sahara Desert of Morocco, he said, adding he will never forget the experience of going over sand dunes on the back of a camel.
“A quote that I was raised on is, ‘If you can’t stand up, stand out,’” he said. “That’s a quote that I still live by today, and whether you can stand up or not, everyone can certainly stand out in their own way.”
Lee hopes his new book and his other writings will inspire others to pursue their dreams and to live more fulfilled lives.
“We are only here for a short time, so live life to the fullest,” he said.