When you think of the rich and famous, or indeed any role models as a kid, how many of them had a disability?
It’s likely the answer is none, with most of us growing up in a world that did not celebrate diversity and would rely on stereotypes instead.
But one woman is breaking the mould, to show that living in a non-abled body does not mean having to miss out on opportunity.
Meet Sylvia Longmire, an Air Force veteran turned internet superstar who is changing the narrative of wheelchair-users by documenting her life on wheels.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2005, Sylvia became a blogger with website Spin the Globe, though it was joining TikTok that really saw her star power boom.
MS is a condition that can affect the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of symptoms, including problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance.
Speaking about her new social media icon status, Sylvia said: “I just started making these little videos about how I live as a wheelchair user: how I drive my accessible van, how my house is set up, how I board a plane, how I go on a train, how I go on a cruise ship.”
It wasn’t long before the intimate snapshot of her life snowballed, with one of her first videos going viral as she continues to amass millions of views each time.
Chatting to Lonely Planet, Sylvia, 45, said: “The questions viewers ask are simple, basic questions. They’re not judgmental, and they don’t feel bad for me or anything.
“They’re just really, really curious because you don’t see wheelchair-users out and about as often as you should, based on how many of us there are. And there’s really no acceptable forum for somebody – a teenager – to go up to a wheelchair-user and say, like, ‘Dude, I’m really, really curious. How do you take a shower? What does your house look like, or how do you get in a car?’ So, the videos kind of fill this gap in knowledge.”
As well as adjusting to her diagnosis, Sylvia went through a divorce from her partner, though rather than letting these life obstacles hinder her growth she says they helped.
And it wasn’t long before she embarked on her first solo journey, from Orlando to Dubai.
Bitten by the travel bug, she continued exploring with a cruise to Alaska and later Iceland too. Before long, she had clocked up 49 countries as a wheelchair-user (57 in total).
On each adventure, Sylvia now assesses how disability-friendly the places that she stays are for fellow wheelchair-users, and then shares the information on her blog; from whether hotel rooms need a high or a low bed; whether the bathrooms have a tub or walk-in shower; if cruise ship staterooms have doorways wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair; if customers can reach drinks at the bar or at the restaurant.
Sylvia explained that while her mission is to educate and reduce stigma, she is aware that she can only offer guidance as every wheelchair-user will have different needs.
She concluded: “Every single wheelchair user or person with a mobility issue is like a fingerprint. Just because I have certain needs for accessibility, doesn’t mean that their needs are the same.
“I’ll be the first to tell you, I am scared out of my mind before every trip… I do it because I know that the reward is waiting for me at the other end.”
To check out Sylvia’s blog, click here: Spin the Globe.