Touching Down in Taiwan

Temple and gardens
A business traveler stands her ground to build networks in the face of language, culture, and access barriers.

When Molly Rogers was a professor at the University of Oregon, she visited the island of Penghu, Taiwan, to present a paper on Kansei Engineering and Emotion Research, it was the first time she’d traveled solo since becoming a wheelchair user. Molly, who is a member of Mobility International USA’s board of directors, was excited to visit a new place, but also admitted to being a little nervous.

“Taiwan is a very long way from home, and I don’t read or speak the language,” she says. “I knew I would have to rely entirely on myself to solve problems or get to places I wanted to go.”

Once she arrived, though, the nervousness disappeared. “It’s a powerful experience to fully rely on yourself,” she says. She found that overall accessibility was good in Taipei, though not perfect. The metro rail system was wheelchair accessible, as were streets and sidewalks, though both were often crowded with motorbikes.

“Because of my respect for their culture and my assertion of independence I think we each learned a lot.”

Her hotel room, on the other hand, was not accessible. “In Taipei, my hotel room was up one step to get in and there was another step to get to the bathroom. The hotel helped by upgrading me to a room that only had the step to get in and agreed to help me in and out at my request. It was an imperfect situation but one we both agreed and compromised on.”

She also came up with her own creative ways of asking for assistance. “Knowing there would be a language barrier, I created a pictorial guide of how to assist me. So when I wanted to go up or down a few steps, I’d ‘ask’ by showing where I wanted to go and showing the pictures of how to help get me up or down the steps. There were a lot of charades and pictures drawn, too.”

Just as Molly found creative ways of addressing physical barriers, she also found ways to challenge attitudinal barriers as well. “In general, the common view was that I always needed help because of my disability. That was tough when I was at the conference. I’d approach a group of people to introduce myself, and they would immediately look at me and ask, ‘Do you need help?’ as if that were the reason I approached them. That seemed to be the first thing on their minds."

"[The Taiwanese people] are truly generous, kind and humble,” she says. “Because of my respect for their culture and my assertion of independence I think we each learned a lot.”

Ultimately, Molly has these suggestions for others with disabilities: “Travel with an open mind, willingness to communicate and willingness to compromise but also stand firm to your wants and needs.”

Molly Rogers is now owner of Lola’s Fruit Shrubs which makes shrubs (juices or drinking vinegars) in Eugene, Oregon.