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‘I was told that people “like me” would never achieve [this]’: Jae’lynn Chaney wants the world to accommodate plus-size travelers, not the other way around

In 2018, Jae’lynn Chaney was up to 25 hospital visits for a mystery illness that was consuming her life. She had just spent the previous few months celebrating her newly earned degree, her first corporate job and traveling with her fiancé before she was hit with the debilitating symptoms.

“I felt lost and unsure of what the future held,” Chaney told In The Know. “Growing up in extreme poverty and experiencing homelessness as a young child and teenager, I had always dreamed of traveling the world, but I was told that people ‘like me’ would never achieve that.”

Chaney was born to teenage parents and was in and out of homeless shelters while growing up. But she worked for her high school diploma, which she got at 17, and then enrolled at Washington State University Tri-Cities. It had taken a lot to reach this point and now she was being diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension.

Pulmonary hypertension is a lung disorder that can cause shortness of breath, dizziness and chest pressure. There is no cure.

During those 25 hospital visits, Chaney remembered doctors and health care professionals tried to dismiss the symptoms as just side effects of her weight. But after years of dealing with racism and size discrimination, she wasn’t about to allow medical discrimination to keep her bedridden.

“I refused to give up my passion for travel,” she said. “I researched how to travel safely and comfortably with my condition, and I reached out to plus-size travelers and chronic illness advocates for support.⁣”

Traveling is not accessible to everyone, especially those who are plus-size, have a chronic illness or have mobility issues. Airplane seat belts, for example, tend to range between 31 inches and 51 inches, which requires some travelers to have to ask for an extender. Within the past 15 years, airline seats have gotten smaller and legroom has shrunk too.

“For a person who already experiences discrimination and marginalization for their body size, not fitting into a seat belt can feel like confirmation that their body is somehow wrong, bad and unworthy and has no value,” Katie Piel, a therapist, told HuffPost. “It’s the plane’s job to fit you, not the other way around.”

In an attempt to keep the government out of regulating airline structures, an FAA study found that a 28-inch seat, which is one of the narrower options on airlines, is “safe for virtually all (99%) of the able-bodied population” but added that the study didn’t “consider passenger comfort (or the lack thereof).” The study findings themselves do not hide the FAA’s dismissal of disabilities and comfort.

“The number one thing that fat people fear when traveling is being made fun of,” Annette Richmond, the founder of Fat Girls Traveling, wrote in 2019. “Fat people also deserve to live life to the fullest, no matter how big they are. They do not deserve to be disrespected because they don’t fit societal norms.”

Chaney has dealt with this inaccessibility and disrespect head-on. In a series of TikToks, Chaney has filmed herself talking about booking two seats for certain airlines, how claustrophobic it feels to be in one of the tiny airline bathrooms and why bunk beds are the worst thing to see when she checks in to her room.

After years of traveling, she has learned to find her accommodations when it comes to her being plus-size and now a wheelchair user. Her fiancé, who also loves to travel with her, is also plus-size. The couple picks destinations that they know are accessible and inclusive and have been on some incredible trips together.

But, ultimately, the travel industry needs to change. Chaney and other disabled and plus-size passengers should not have to limit the spaces and destinations they get to experience because those places don’t accommodate them.

“To make travel truly accessible, attention is needed to improve accessibility in all areas, including transportation, accommodations and tourist attractions,” Chaney continued. “Travel companies should implement size-inclusive policies and training to promote inclusivity and diversity while raising awareness and advocacy for change in the travel industry.”

That’s what Chaney has been doing on her own time. Her company, Jae Bae Productions, advertises specialized travel packages that specifically cater to plus-size travelers and travelers with disabilities. After spending years facing the challenge of finding resources and accommodations that cater to her traveling needs, she’s happy to be able to start providing that for other people.

“It is my dream to create a full itinerary that is not only affordable and accessible but also specifically designed with the plus-size traveler in mind,” she said. “By providing more trips like this, the plus-size community can benefit immensely.”

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