Episode 3: Ming M. Canaday

Ming M. Canaday is a world traveler, podcaster, life coach, and entrepreneur. In this interview, we asked Ming about how her experience of living with a disability has informed how she approaches all those activities, and how exactly, her new app aims to help people with disabilities have better access to gas stations the world over.

A full transcript of the episode appears below.

Audrey Homan: All right. Thank you very much for joining me this afternoon to talk about some of your amazing projects. Would you mind introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about who you are, where you’re from, and what your relationship with disability is like?

Ming M. Canaday: Yeah, of course. Like I said, thank you so much for having me on the podcast show Audrey. I am the founder of Traipsin’ Global on Wheels. We are a disability advocacy and tech company. So the overall mission, there’s three pillars, is general disability advocacy, adaptive fitness, and accessible travel, advocating for those things. So a little bit about me personally. I grew up in China up until age 11 and a half, and then I was adopted to the US around that time and I’ve been living here ever since in the US. I was in, at that time, a family in Oregon adopted me so I have been in Oregon for much of my life. In regards to my relationship with disability, I have polio and scoliosis and perhaps because of these disabilities, I was abandoned at a young age and lived in an orphanage for a lot of my life, about six or seven years prior to being adopted. And I will obviously never know the reasons, but I’m sure the disability has some sort of impact.

Audrey Homan: When I look at all of the projects that you have either under your belt or in progress or just planned, it is jaw-dropping. So let’s kind of go through a few of those. Traipsin’ Global On Wheels focuses primarily on global travel and disability advocacy. How have your experiences as a traveler impacted the direction of that project?

Ming M. Canaday: Yeah, great question. I think it’s definitely impacted the projects in major ways. I’ll go a little broad in general and feel free to follow up. So I think the projects are definitely much more global in terms of our outreach programs. I’ve done a number of collaborations with the US State Department in Malawi, a country in Africa, Singapore, in Southeast Asia, and China. And it’s also reflected on our podcast show where we have guests from all over the world, we have all six continents covered. You know, if Antarctica was populated, we would invite guests from there too. So also because of the extensive experience I’ve had with traveling, much of our resources, whether it be services or products, not so much products, but much of our services information are virtual online such as videos on our YouTube channel, podcast interviews, blog posts, and coaching programs, they’re all online.

So that means that it’s accessible by everybody regardless of where they are in the world. And I hope because of my extensive background with traveling, our projects are much more inclusive and welcoming of diverse groups. I’m sure you’ve noticed that a lot of diversity initiatives do not include people with disabilities. It’s not included. Even the coaching book that I got recently, people with disabilities are not really included in their definition of diversity. And so just being much more mindful of that and getting the message out there, pushing it out there, be like, “Hey, we are the 1 billion that should be included in those diversity initiatives.” I think those are the major broader impacts.

Audrey Homan: Your podcast has so many episodes already. Did it originally, did Traipsin’ Global On Wheels originally start out thinking that it would be a podcast? Or did it just kind of organically evolve and you found your way to podcasts?

Ming M. Canaday: It was pretty planned out in terms of the mission from the beginning. But the podcast was certainly the intention and one of the resources we planned to offer from the beginning. So that was very intentional because you know, me as a person with a mobility disability, I use a manual wheelchair to get around. And so, like many other people with disabilities, I don’t really see a lot of people with backgrounds that are similar to mine and I wanted to change that. Or little girls and boys and adults like myself who wanted to see people leading lives from our vantage point, whether it’s a mobility disability like me or some sort of auditory disability or any number of disabilities, our purposes for Traipsin’ Global On Wheels obviously the main focus is people with mobility disabilities, right? Because that’s what I have the most experience in, in terms of personal experience and professional experience. And so that’s the focus of this platform. And just overall, this podcast serves a number of purposes. It was certainly in the blueprint of Traipsin’ Global On Wheels to release a podcast show.

Audrey Homan: I’ve noticed that Traipsin’ Global On Wheels also encompasses fitness and health. How do you see the relationship between those and the accessibility of travel?

Ming M. Canaday: Yeah, I think there are definitely a lot of links there. So I’ll just cover a little bit from my narrow focus. So I think in order to travel extensively or even just a little bit you need to be relatively healthy and fit and feeling good and feeling active. And so that’s where fitness comes in. If you really wanna link the two of fitness and travel, I haven’t really quite thought of it that way, but I think in terms of the relationship between accessibility and global travel one thing about the mobility disability population at least, we leave relatively sedentary lifestyles and that has a lot of native ramifications on the health front. And so that’s where fitness is very important. Our organization is called Traipsin’ Global On Wheels, so for me, I’m always thinking about international travel.

But you can think on a smaller scale of traveling outside your house, driving to the grocery store, traveling to the next town over, you have to have the energy and have the fitness level. And to me, getting in a car is actually quite, it’s not a super easy process for a lot of walking ambulatory people. I have to get in the car and then load my wheelchair into the car and that process because I don’t have a ramp for my car, so I have to lift it up. Even with the lightest wheelchair I’ve had in recent years, it’s still quite heavy, it’s still 20 to 30 pounds.

And in order to lift that much you have to be at a certain fitness level. I think a lot of, perhaps veering a little off topic here, I think fitness for people with disabilities is even more important than for able-bodied people. And just talking from a mobility disability, remember that as you’re listening to me, my perspective is from someone who has a mobility disability. So especially for people with mobility disabilities, we need to use our arms to lift out, to carry a lot of different things. It has to make up for those, for wheelchair users anyways, I know that within mobility disabilities, there are different types of disabilities within that group as well.

So for wheelchair users, we have to basically do a lot of things that our legs are not able to do. And so that tells you how important fitness is. But just going on a couple tangents here. I think more gyms need to be accessible regardless if it’s people with mobility disabilities or some other type of disability, there are many different types out there. I have had friends, acquaintances, and even myself going to gyms and noticing how inaccessible it is. Mainstream gyms, I know during this whole COVID period over the last couple of years, online platforms and online fitness resources have become really popular like Peloton or some other company. They don’t really have fitness training programs accommodating people with disabilities. At least not from my standpoint as a person who is an active wheelchair user and active person who has a mobility disability there are not very many online fitness resources for us. And so I would encourage more accommodations and resources on that front. Anyways, that’s going on a bit of a tangent, so I’ll let you continue Audrey.

Audrey Homan: I think it’s a really timely tangent though because I’m aware that right now there is a fairly high-profile case that’s being talked about on Twitter where there’s a user with sight-related vision disabilities who tried to sign up for her local gym and requested specific accommodations for her service animal and the gym shut her down entirely. They just weren’t willing to have any type of conversation about that. And I think it’s really a timely topic to talk about how gyms are inaccessible sometimes along so many different axes.

Ming M. Canaday: Mm-hmm. <Affirmative>

Audrey Homan: Right? There’s so many different ways that they fail.

Ming M. Canaday: Mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. Yeah, exactly. It is definitely, more can be done. I’m not even quite sure if I know there, from my point of view anyways, very weak attempts made, but even those instances are few and far between.

Audrey Homan: And you talked a little bit about some of the programming packages that go along with things like Peloton and the prepackaged fitness apps. And I’m aware that Traipsin’ Global on Wheels is itself coming out with its own app, which I believe is called Fuel Access. Can you tell us a little bit about what that app will be like and what kind of services it will provide?

Ming M. Canaday: Yeah, I would love to. So it hasn’t come out yet, still in the development phase and taking a bit longer than we expected, but better to release something good quality and useful than rushing the timeline. So it’s a community-based review app that reviews gas stations specifically on their accessibility features for adaptive drivers. For drivers with disabilities regardless of what kind of disability you have. So the more people that use this app, the better once it’s released. Because it is a community-based review app where you drive to a gas station and then you look it up on our app and you rate it and give us a little bit of feedback on what you thought in terms of accessibility features, in terms of the kinds of customer service you were offered, in terms of just anything you would like to add that made your experience amazing or horrible or anything in between. So that when other people need to fill their car up with gas, they can be like, “Oh, you know, 30 people rated this gas station near my house and said it’s really accessible. I think I’m gonna go to this one compared to this other one that has no ratings at all or has really bad ratings.” So it’s very informative on that front. So it’s kind of like Yelp except for gas stations.

Audrey Homan: I think that’s such a smart idea for an app. There are so many different landscapes of accessibility around gas stations, it’s such a universal need right now. And this idea of crowdsourcing a layer of information to kind of lay across the landscape, I think could be such a powerful key to unlocking more experiences for people.

Ming M. Canaday: Mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. Yeah, it is. During COVID as we mentioned over the last couple years, where people are inside more and for those of us who drive, it would be extremely helpful to know accessible gas stations out there. And I think this kind of model could be followed in all sorts of ways, right? Not just concerning gas stations but I think this one is a good start though.

Audrey Homan: I will not be surprised at all if we check in with you next year and it turns out that Traipsin’ Global On Wheels has developed a second app that is the exact same crowdsourcing model, but rating gyms to it. Just kind of expand that idea. It’s just so clever.

Ming M. Canaday: That would be amazing; thank you, Audrey. I appreciate that vote of confidence.

Audrey Homan: And on top of all this, you are a published author. You have a children’s book called The Dreams of Little Miss Aeva. What is this book about and what is your vision with this book?

Ming M. Canaday: So, it’s basically helping people, helping small children get exposed to disabilities early on in life. But this book particularly addresses people with mobility disabilities, specifically children with mobility disabilities and their dreams and how just because they have a mobility disability and use a wheelchair, that does not in any way shape or form make them less than or unable to reach their dream. Whether it be their career dreams or any other types of dreams that they may have. And so it goes through all the different career paths things that they can do when they grow up from a little girl’s point of view, a little girl who uses a wheelchair. And so I’m sure many people with disabilities, especially those with mobility disabilities because it’s pretty obvious. You know, for me, I use a manual wheelchair, so when people first meet me, they’ll notice my disability right away. It’s quite obvious, as I said earlier.

So children particularly make all sorts of inappropriate comments. I’m sure a lot of you have heard “Mommy, what’s wrong with her?” “Daddy? Why is she in a wheelchair?” And you know, it affects some people more than others. I have some friends who it just doesn’t bother them at all and then others, you hear for the thousandth and one time, and it’s grating. And so minimizing that stigma and prejudice and having children be more aware; and not just children, right? Because if children are exposed and the adults explain the diversity, the full diversity that includes disability, then children will react in a more sensitive, compassionate, and kind way when they see someone that’s different than them. Whether that be someone in a wheelchair or using a crutch or hearing aids or whatnot.

 So it has multiple different functions but I would say some of them include showing that people with mobility disabilities can do anything in life. The second thing I would say is to decrease the inappropriate comments, particularly in this case, since it’s a children’s book, by children, by exposing them to disabilities at an early age. Overall to reduce stigma and prejudice, particularly from the point of view of early childhood development through the kind of resources and the literature they’re exposed to. And for those of us with disabilities, I know when I was a little girl, I would’ve loved to see a book like this portraying people with disabilities in these picture books, in these children’s books. That would’ve been such an empowering experience.

Audrey Homan: Little Miss Aeva from the very first page, she’s such an active protagonist, you know? She doesn’t wait for anyone to wheel her about, the first page is her wheeling herself off, away from her mom. Is she drawn from anyone in your life or did you just kind of sketch her out of thin air or whole cloth?

Ming M. Canaday: I don’t really want it to be based on any particular person, but I do have to say, a lot of it came from personal inspiration and my own background. The Dreams of Little Miss Aeva, the Illustrator is a really good friend of mine and so I didn’t intend for this but when she illustrated the book because she knew me so well and we grew up together, she drew it to look very much like me. And so that pink shirt that you see, it’s actually a shirt that I wore all the time when I was younger. But I don’t want it to be narrowly just about me. And so I hope that a lot of people who are wheelchair users, especially little girls, can see themselves in that character.

Audrey Homan: You are such a multifaceted entrepreneur and you have so many projects that you are juggling and pushing forward. What so far for you has been the most challenging aspect of all of these projects?

Ming M. Canaday: Well perhaps it’s unexpected, but I think for a lot of, for some multifaceted entrepreneurs, going in all of these different directions may be very exciting and stimulating. But what I’ve learned over time is that it’s important to find which single project you most passionate toward and tackle that one first. It doesn’t mean you can only tackle that one, but only giving priority to one or two projects at a time, and not all of them at the same time. Cause you can get burnt out easily and also you’ll lose direction. Of course, there are some positives in that. There’s always something to do. There’s never a moment where you’re just like, “Oh, what should I do?” You’re always busy. But I would recommend that for my personal experience anyways, narrowing down the focus really helps. And of course, for those of you who like to juggle a bajillion things at once and find that very thrilling, by all means. But I think in order to push a project far in a way that doesn’t sacrifice quality, it’s better to do one or two at a time.

Audrey Homan: Speaking of one or two at a time and focusing on one project, you have a brand new project coming out. You are about to launch a life coaching service where your main niche is people with mobility disabilities. Could you tell us a little bit about this service and what problems you’re trying to resolve with the service?

Ming M. Canaday: Yeah, of course. I think a lot of people with mobility disabilities, which will be as in the nature of the question you just asked, the main niche. People with mobility disabilities who are relatively content with their life, but would like to move further and would like to be doing more in terms of maximizing their full human potential and serving as many people as they can. It’s for that group of people. And a lot of us active, ambitious individuals with mobility disabilities face a lot of things that are not talked about a lot, in the mainstream anyways. And depending on how big your circle is, and how many kinds of people with mobility disabilities, if you have a lot of friends who are wheelchair users, perhaps you’re more exposed.

But I know some of the big issues, well perhaps not big, big is not the right word, but common issues we face as a group is infrastructure inaccessibility. I know I encounter this all the time as well as other wheelchair users, users that I’m exposed to in my circle. That’s always a challenge regardless if you’re getting in a car or going into a restaurant or going to the store or the holidays are coming up and you’re traveling to family. And I know that this particular family member’s house I’m traveling to is not very accessible at all. And I have to drag my wheelchair up and down and these things are not uncommon, you know one of the options that was proposed to me was staying at a hotel but the thing is, the rest of your family is at this house.

And so with you being at a hotel by yourself, that’s not a great feeling either. And I know that people with mobility disabilities face a lot more serious consequences from these infrastructural issues than I am even explaining right now. So this coaching is for people who are encountering these types of issues, attitudinal challenges, you know when people first meet you, especially speaking personally from my point of view as a person who uses a manual wheelchair, people can tell right away so they see you with this certain light. Not everybody obviously, but a lot of people do. They see you with this like pity, random strangers. I know my friends have brought this up to me, people come up to you and say inappropriate things like “God has a plan for you,” et cetera, et cetera.

Things that are much more inappropriate than that even. People who are being patronizing or overly comfortable around you, even though you barely know them or don’t know them and like putting their arm or whatever on your wheelchair or other parts of your personal space that is not welcomed. And so this is the niche that I am trying to reach to help talk through these issues and talk and how to go about confronting them and moving forward to reach their full potential in serving as well as they can to their community, to this planet overall.

Audrey Homan: Attitudinal challenges is such a great way to kind of encapsulate all of those problems that folks with disabilities sometimes encounter just coming from other people. It’s such a huge and under-talked-about component of accessibility. One of the things that I’m wondering is can your coaching service help people without disabilities as well? Are they part of the equation that can be addressed here?

Ming M. Canaday: Yes, definitely. Especially allies of people with disabilities. This goes with coaching for people with mobility disabilities, the main niche as well. But you know, if after a consultation strategy call and we’ve talked through some of the problems that you’re looking to work through and it seems like a good fit and like I would be someone who is in a good position to partner with you on resolving these issues, then of course. And like I said, we’re just launching the program and so as any early projects businesses go, we do welcome…I’m trying to phrase this not in a way that seems like it’s open to everyone because it’s not. But definitely feel free to still apply and inquire and do a free consultation strategy call and see if that’s a good fit.

Audrey Homan: Okay. That sounds like really good advice for kind of finding a niche that works both for your coaching service and also for people who are looking for very specific support with improving access in various places in their life.

Ming M. Canaday: Mm-hmm. <Affirmative>

Audrey Homan: I don’t wanna keep you very much longer, but I have two more questions if that’s okay?

Ming M. Canaday: Yeah, of course.

Audrey Homan: So question number one is what so far has been the most satisfying aspect of all of these projects?

Ming M. Canaday: So I think the podcast interviews have definitely been very satisfying talking to people from all over the world from Australia to South America, to countries in Europe to amazing advocates here in the United States. And all these interviews are free online. And many of them are with people who have mobility disabilities and other types of disabilities. So if those of you who want to go and check it out they’re free on all the platforms, Spotify, Anchor SoundCloud. So I encourage you all to go check it out.

Audrey Homan: Outstanding. And we will put links to the podcast and to your YouTube channel and the Traipsin’ Global on Wheels homepage in the transcript for this podcast. Last question, is there any question I have not asked you that you wish I would ask you?

Ming M. Canaday: I think you’ve done a great job, Audrey. We’ve covered a number of different things, thank you so much.

Audrey Homan: Thank you for being so generous with your time. You are so busy and productive and I really appreciate the chance to sit and hear about your journey and about all of the different projects you have going on. And I wish you so much success with all of your new endeavors.

Ming M. Canaday: Thank you; thank you, Audrey.


Green Mountain Disability Stories is the monthly podcast of the UVM Center on Disability and Community Inclusion (CDCI). Each episode features a conversation on some aspect of disability, by and with people with disabilities and their families and advocates. The views of guests on the podcast do not necessarily reflect those of the CDCI.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *