DiscoverEU: How Javier, an 18-year old with disabilities, travelled across Europe

23 November 2018

The DiscoverEU program opens is second round of applications today. The initiative aims to provide free “Interrail” passes to 18 years old persons that are EU citizens. These passes will allow 18 years-old to travel across Europe for free for a certain period of time.

 

After a first round that only saw little more than 40 persons with disabilities getting a pass (out of 15 000), the program is eager to have more applicants with disabilities this year.
One of these 40 persons was Javier. Javier, a young man with complex support needs, travelled with 3 personal assistants from Spain to Netherlands. The administrative part of the initiative (mainly contacting with the DiscoverEU services) was handled by his father Fernando García Monzón.

We interviewed both to have an idea of the opportunities, and challenges of DiscoverEU for travelers with disabilities:

Javier with two personal assistants in front of a building in Amsterdam

Credits: Instagram Javier.garo

Question: Where did you go? What were your favourite cities?

Javier: My choice was a seven-day trip to The Netherlands, from Sunday 16 September to  Sunday 23 September.  I settled down in Amsterdam and “commuted” to different places every day. I went with my three assistants to visit Amsterdam (on Monday), Giethorn and Zwolle (on Tuesday), Utrecht and Gouda (on Wednesday), Volendam and Marken (on Thrusday), Alkmaar and Zaanse Schans (on Friday) and on Saturday we visited Amsterdam again.

I don´t have a favourite city. From my point of view, all the cities were awesome and they were quite different one from another. This is the reason why I cannot pick a favourite one.

Question: Could you describe a good experience you had on this trip?

Javier: It is quite hard to choose just one good experience, since the whole trip was full of good experiences. But if I was forced to do so, I would say meeting my assistant Ramon. He was a volunteer I hadn’t met him before, and thanks to this trip we are friends now.

Javier and his 2 assistants sitting in front of wooden house and putting his feet in decorative oversized sandals

Credits: Instagram Javier.garo

Question: What challenges did you face in this trip (both in general and related to disability)

Javier: As any person who travels abroad, we had to make an effort with the language, even though my assistants were fluent in English, it wasn’t their mother tongue and it wasn´t as easy as visiting a Spanish-speaking country. Secondly, it was my first time in the country so before arriving to The Netherlands my assistants planned the trip well in advance, which is quite useful in my circumstances.

Regarding accessibility, getting into trains meant managing some steps, quite often. So my assistants had little time to pull me up into the carriage. You could ask for aid to get into the train, but you had to book it at least 3 hours in advance.

Since we didn't know when we were going to take the train exactly, my assistants decided not to count on that aid and do that job by themselves, which gave us much more freedom to move around. Apart from that, I had to face the accessibility of restaurants, for instance. This meant that before having lunch my assistants used to investigate all the restaurants around to chose the one with better accessibility to the bathroom, the entrance and its manoeuvre inside.

Question: After this trip, do you feel you want to discover more of Europe?

Javier: Yes! I really would like it. I love traveling and I enjoy a lot discovering new places. Before my InterRail Pass to The Netherlands, I had visited (with my family) France, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Ireland and Switzerland and had travelled by plane, train, ship, coach and car.
If Society wants… I can! The European Commission proved it!

Javier riding in adapted bike with one of his assistants in Amsterdam

In the second part of the interview, Javier’s father, Fernando speaks about the pre-travel process:  

Question: How did you discover the DiscoverEU Programme?
Fernando: By a friend’s word-of-mouth.

Question: How was the preparation for the trip? 

Fernando: My task was to teach the Commission about Javier’s personal conditions, his limits and his needs, mainly. It was a long-long-process that stretched throughout 8 weeks. At the end of it, Javier was allowed to travel assisted by three persons who were familiar with his conditions, so that he could feel confident and therefore make the most of his InterRail Pass.

Question: How was the contact with the services of the Commission?

Fernando: Even though it was long process, it was very fluid and open. The Commission adopted a most surprising trouble-solving attitude. Also, it was instrumental to talk via a person fluent in Spanish (for Javier’s) and French (for the Commission).

Question: Did you receive special support (eg money) or travel with companions?

Fernando: Yes! He was allowed to travel assisted by three persons, with suitable accommodation and the trip from Spain to the Netherlands was made by plane which proved to be the most convenient way, in the end.

 

You can read more about Javier's experience here

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