Curb Free With Cory Lee: How One Blogger Is Making a Difference in Accessible Travel

UPDATED: May 31, 2024
PUBLISHED: June 2, 2024
Cory Lee poses in front of the pyramids in Egypt

My son has multiple disabilities and uses a wheelchair to get around. Despite his physical needs, I do everything I can to get him, and the rest of my family of five, out in the world. It’s not easy. From making sure transportation is accessible to booking an open hotel room to finding excursions we can all enjoy, planning an inclusive trip takes work.

I’ve been following travel blogger Cory Lee for several years and was excited to meet him and his mother, Sandy Gilbreath, who is one of his caregivers, at an Abilities Expo last year. Lee has been blogging and sharing his travels for the past decade, and he’s creating waves that benefit the disability community.

When Lee was just starting out, he had no idea he would be so successful. It all began as a hobby in response to some disappointing rejection

Accessible travel: Frustration turns into a hobby

Lee was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at the age of 2, and Gilbreath did everything she could to make sure Lee always had the resources he needed.

In 2014, Lee graduated with a degree in marketing, so when he applied for jobs and finally received an invitation to interview, he had high hopes. Unfortunately, the interview didn’t go as planned. 

“As soon as I went into the hiring manager’s office, he looked me up and down and immediately said, ‘Well, this job involves travel, so you’re definitely not the best fit.’ He shut me down before he even gave me the interview,” Lee recalls.

Around the same time, Lee and Gilbreath were trying to plan a trip to Australia, and they struggled to find the right resources. Lee was depressed from his experiences, and blogging had just become popular. The interview rejection and lack of information for his Australia trip inspired Lee to start his blog, Curb Free With Cory Lee. He wanted to get the little bit of information he had already accumulated about traveling successfully with a disability out into the world, creating a resource for other wheelchair users.  

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A career is born for Cory Lee

In the beginning, Lee wrote about his previous global trips, trying to publish as much information as he could while growing his social media channels. Early on, he had a small audience and not a lot of engagement. But then, it started picking up. And as he received more website traffic, he was offered speaking engagements.

Lee spoke at an Abilities Expo in 2015 and a writer from the LA Times interviewed him. After that article came out, the trip offers started rolling in. Lee’s mother and another caregiver usually accompany Lee on his trips so he has a couple people who can advocate for his needs. 

Early on, Gilbreath asked for time off here and there from her job to travel. But in 2023, Lee was extremely busy and he needed help managing his business, from correspondence to social media to planning. So Gilbreath quit her job to travel with Lee full time.

To date, they have traveled to all seven continents and 46 countries. Lee’s favorite trip so far has been to India, where he spent 10 days in Agra and Delhi and saw the Taj Mahal. “It was better than anything I ever expected,” says Cory Lee. He even went paragliding in Switzerland over the Swiss Alps last summer, which was an adaptive experience—one that was terrifying but thrilling for both him and his mother. 

“The paragliding seat they had him in had wheels on it, and another paraglider went with him,” Gilbreath says. “So I just stood there and watched him go rolling off the side of the mountain with this person I had met 20 minutes earlier.” 

Traveling with disabilities: What still needs to get done  

While Cory Lee has found ways to get out in the world, there is still a long road ahead for people with disabilities who want to travel, a sentiment I relate to when I try to plan a trip with my son. For starters, we discussed our experiences with amusement parks and how many of them don’t allow people with more severe physical disabilities to go on the rides. There are a handful of rides where the participant can stay in their own wheelchair, but definitely not enough.

Air travel is also a big concern for disabled travelers. Recently, Lee met with the Department of Transportation to discuss the need for wheelchair users to stay in their chairs during flights. 

“When I’m talking to an audience, the No. 1 question is about air travel,” Lee says. “It holds people with disabilities back. They worry if they need the restroom or if they are going to be dropped. This is the number one thing I want to see changed in my lifetime. I think it will come in the next five to 10 years—big changes that will get more people with disabilities in the air.”

Hotels also need to be more transparent. Lee explained that there are no standards, even among hotel chains. For example, two hotels from the same chain that are across the street from one another may have different definitions of what accessibility means. Issues like different bed heights or a 1- or 2-inch lip in the shower versus smooth entry. Lee puts in a lot of hours when he books a hotel room. He calls and requests photos and videos to understand what the room is going to be like so he has what he needs to survive. But he shouldn’t have to put in so much effort.

No holding back

Still, none of these challenges hold Lee back. When we spoke, he and his mom had just returned from a trip to Disney World, followed by a cruise to Cozumel, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas. They were home for two days and then headed off to Chicago. And later this year, they will be in Tokyo for the first time. His dream is to visit more South Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and China. 

“I am nervous about accessibility within Southeast Asia in particular. There aren’t a lot of accessible vehicles and transportation from the research I’ve done,” Lee notes. “I would love to finally just do it and figure it out.”

During our conversation, I couldn’t help but ask for advice for my own family. We are not nearly as travel-savvy as Lee and his mom, but I’m excited to take our first cruise to Bermuda later this year. Lee gave me resources that can help my son have accessible adventures on our trip—information that feels like gold for families like mine. But it shouldn’t.

“If more people would speak up about inaccessibility, we would see changes,” Lee says. I couldn’t agree more.

Photo courtesy of Cory Lee