Breaking Ground 107 - Rosie Roaming: Have Wheels, Will Travel

by Rosie Dunn

Rosie Dunn is a Nashville native, full-time manual wheelchair user, and a paraplegic due to a spinal cord injury. She is currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. In the future, she hopes to become a Physician Assistant and continue growing her blog to connect with others with disabilities.

As a wheelchair user, growing up I never saw myself represented in the media. It wasn’t really something that concerned me or something that I thought about often, until I joined social media and finally found the representation I had been lacking.

Through Instagram, I have been able to meet others like me, and truly connect with other wheelchair users – mostly women – on a level I have rarely been able to before. Through seeing them travel the world, go to school, work, get married, have children, and live with confidence and style, it has inspired me to do the same – both in my daily and life and online.

In 2019, I started my blog and Instagram page, “Rosie Roaming.” Travel is one of my favorite things to do, even though it can be challenging or look different as a wheelchair user. So far, I have been to 36 states and 7 countries, with my goal being to visit all 50 states and as many countries as I can! I started Rosie Roaming to share my experiences traveling as a wheelchair user, to connect with other wheelchair users, and to show how it can be done in a chair.

logo in pink letters "rosie roaming"
a photo of a young white woman with a physical disability on a sunny beach that goes with the feature story whose title is also on the cover, “Rosie Roaming: Have Wheels, Will Travel”. She has long brown hair, a white tank top, blue flowered shorts, white sneakers and sunglasses. She is tilting back doing a wheelie in her wheelchair and smiling a big smile. She is on a wooden boardwalk on a beach with sand and beach grass behind her. It is a beautiful sunny day with blue skies.
Rosie enjoys the boardwalk at Oval Beach in Saugatuck, Michigan.

One great travel experience I had recently was a day trip I took to Saugatuck, Michigan with some friends. The reason the trip was so great for me (aside from the amazing company of my friends) was because of one simple thing: a boardwalk. The beach is a place that has traditionally been full of logistical nightmares for me. If you have any experience with sand and wheelchairs, you know that they do not mix. When a wheelchair is the way you move about the world, that makes navigating a place that is so alluring and relaxing for most into a frustrating and calculated experience. At most beaches, my options are to be carried across the beach or to use a beach wheelchair - both of which rely on several specific factors in order for the option to be on the table at all.

Until this beach trip, I had not been on a beach with a boardwalk, which allowed me to go onto the beach in my chair independently. This boardwalk at Oval Beach in Saugatuck extended onto the actual beach, and allowed me to go about halfway down the beach, then park my chair next to the boardwalk and lay on the sand. During the second half of the day, I actually stayed in my chair on the boardwalk, on the side so I’d be out of the way of the people heading back to their car, while sitting next to my friends who were on the sand beside me. This boardwalk is such a simple thing, yet it made all the difference for me.

beach boardwalk that goes directly to the ocean
Rosie and her mom, Carol, pose in front of Kylemore Abbey on the west coast of Ireland. Rosie’s mom is crouching down to pose next to her daughter. There is a majestic building, the abbey, behind them surrounded by trees. Both of them are wearing blue rain jackets and smiling.
Rosie and her mom, Carol, pose in front of Kylemore Abbey on the west coast of Ireland.

Although I love to travel, it isn’t something I do in my everyday life, especially in the age of the pandemic and being a full-time college student. However, I still want to share my experiences, so I have started sharing more of my daily life, too. I think this will be helpful to keep the page going as I continue throughout my life, wherever I may go.

My favorite part of this journey is finding a vibrant, passionate community. Life with a disability can be really hard, and it has been life-changing to find others who can relate to my struggles, because they have experienced them, too. When one of us is discouraged or facing a challenge, the others are always here to lift us back up. On the other hand, when one of us celebrates something joyous, the community is there to cheer right alongside. Disabled joy is something that is hardly represented in the media, yet it is thankfully a reality for me and many of us in the disability community. This community has helped me find my voice and helped spark a new passion for disability inclusion and advocacy.

Rosie on a visit to Chicago, Illinois. She is smiling really big and tilting back in her wheelchair a bit. There are big buildings behind her. She is in a bright blue patterned tank top and shorts.
Rosie on a visit to Chicago, Illinois.

One area of injustice that my community has been facing lately has been the treatment of wheelchairs by airlines. In the past three months, I personally know at least 12 people who have had their wheelchairs lost, damaged, or destroyed while traveling on an airplane. This experience is often really traumatizing and puts a halt on their life. A broken wheelchair can take months to fix or replace, with the bill often being thousands of dollars. Even if this bill is paid for by airline companies, wheelchair users are still stranded until their chair is fixed or a replacement is provided to them.

Wheelchair users like myself rely on our wheelchairs to connect us to the world. Without mine, I would be stuck in bed. My wheelchair is absolutely essential to my independence, health, and livelihood. It is customized to fit my specific needs and is not easily replaceable. Although I personally have not experienced a damaged wheelchair as a result of airplane travel, it is becoming an increasing concern of mine as I see it happening repeatedly to my community. Reports from the U.S. Air Travel Consumer Report show that in 2019, an average of 29 wheelchairs were lost, damaged, or destroyed every single day. Airlines need to start treating disabled passengers and our wheelchairs, which are extensions of our bodies, with the respect and dignity we deserve.

I hope to carry my advocacy work and internet presence into the healthcare field as a Physician Assistant. I plan on attending Physician Assistant school in a couple of years, after finishing classes and obtaining the patient care experience needed to apply. Physically disabled people are extremely underrepresented in healthcare. I hope representation will increase in the future as part of important diversity movements. I believe people with disabilities are capable of providing excellent care to patients, and provide unique perspectives, often having had many experiences as patients themselves.

Representation, I’ve learned, is essential for envisioning a future where you belong. I hope by sharing my experiences on my Instagram and blog, I can help contribute to the representation of disabled joy and belonging for others.

If you’re interested in following me, my Instagram is @rosieroaming, and my blog can be found at

Rosie took a sailing excursion in Seattle, Washington. She is shown sitting on the bench of a boat, smiling with the ocean behind her. She is in a navy sweatshirt, has her hair pulled back into a ponytail, is wearing sunglasses on the top of her head, and shorts with white sneakers.
Rosie took a sailing excursion in Seattle, Washington.