Mona Minkara, standing outdoors, wears a black hijab and white button-down-shirt and smiles broadly for the camera.

I am a blind traveler and scientist and I am just trying to do my own thing.

I stand in a crowd, surrounded by the noise of luggage rolling past, different languages being spoken, and the feel of a slight breeze on my face as people pass me by. I have just landed in London and have chosen to decline the assistance that is offered to blind individuals, like myself, although I do not know the way.

I stop for a moment and focus on the sounds around me, identifying the movement of passengers from the gate behind me and I choose to follow the flow. As I walk, a kind woman asks if I need help, she’s happy to walk with me and show me the way. I am gracious for her offer—and honestly, I could probably use her help—but, I choose to politely decline, and just ask for directions. She obliges and moves on.

This is my journey. I want to, or rather, I have to prove to myself that I can do it on my own. There is nothing sweeter for me than the taste of freedom and independence. (Even if that means I get lost a few times along the way.)

Of course, I have doubts. I can hear the voice in the back of my mind…. Can I actually do this by myself? Is this really worth it? Maybe I should have accepted the help. And then I hear it, my mother’s voice, questioning me… Are you sure you want to try to do this on your own?

I choose to shrug these thoughts aside and push on, finding myself in a large space, the sounds of belts rotating suitcases around an endless track echoing around me. I’m faced with another challenge now: I don’t know where my luggage is.

A brief wave of anxiety washes over me as I recall being abandoned by the airport staff near the carousels in the past. I remind myself that I was able to find my bag by touching every bag that passed me, pick out my own bag just by feel alone, and exit the airport on my own then, and I am capable of doing the same thing now. There is always a solution. The doubt passes. I choose to push on.

You might wonder, why even bother? Why do I choose to make my path that much more difficult by not accepting help when its offered? Most of the time, I do accept the help, but I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. Most importantly, I wanted to know that I had the choice to try just like everyone else. This was my trip and I was choosing to explore on my own terms.

Others forget that we are just like them. After an extremely long flight, we also want to get out of the airport as soon as possible; we just want to carry on with our lives. Yet the systems in place to assist us are sometimes designed for the convenience of the providers, not those needing the assistance. And that’s why I wanted to try this on my own. I wanted to have my own adventure.

Follow me on my journey as I choose to navigate five major cities around the world—Johannesburg, London, Istanbul, Singapore, and Tokyo—on my own using only public transportation. My journey begins as I travel from Boston to Johannesburg. Come along for the ride!

Dr. Mona Minkara lost her vision at a young age. In spite of the doubts about her inability to accomplish her goals, Mona told herself that she could and would one day become a scientist. With the support of her parents and siblings, she started the journey by pursuing a degree in Chemistry at Wellesley College. It was there that Mona developed a passion for research and is now an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at Northeastern University.

In 2019, Mona was one of three winners of the Holman Prize, an award given to individuals who want to push limits and change perceptions about blindness around the world. The result of that award is Planes Trains and Canes, a mini-series that takes you on a journey around the globe and shows you what it’s like to travel as a blind person. Come along with Mona as she experiences five cities, faces challenges, overcomes obstacles, and sheds light on issues that blind and visually impaired individuals face day-to-day in a society that is designed to exclude them (a slow improvement on that one).

You can follow her worldwide travel adventures via her website, PlanesTrainsAndCanes.com, or on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. And to connect with her personally, visit MonaMinkara.com and follow her on Twitter (@mona_minkara).

 

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