Sunday, February 27, 2011

Best Country for Autistic People?

I got curious tonight, and I googled "Best Country for Disabled People". I didn't get any real statistics or data on what the best country would be for a disabled person to live in. Primarily, I got travel tips and forum posts on the topic. Sometimes this included the most wheelchair-friendly tourist destinations, or places where you could, if you were not visibly blind (Mock me if you must for that wording) take a service dog without scrutiny. The closest I got to my desired result was a forum thread on the topic of the best countries for disabled people to reside in, with common choices being the UK, New Zealand, and Scandinavia.
Funny, I've always wanted to live in the latter two, particularly Norway or Sweden, and often dreamed of a home in New Zealand. But that's for reasons not related to my disability... Or is it?
Being a disability-friendly country goes beyond having essential legal rights enshrined in the law, accessible schools, public places, businesses and walkways, a high employment rate for the disabled, and high quality healthcare. Some things are beyond the power of politicians, and are related to the nature of the disability itself, varying. In this post, I'm going to talk about my own disabilities and how the ideal country for me stacks up because of it, but I'm eager for my readers on the spectrum and who are disabled in general to share their vision of an ideal nation or their dream destination. :)
With Autism, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, of course I want strong protections for the disabled written into the laws of the land. But politicians can't enforce certain things which make my disabilities run haywire. They can't cull their population just because I find crowds anxiety-inducing. And even though some countries, such as Japan, have been delightful and noble in their attempts to clean up their air pollution and reduce smog, you can't immediately clean up all that filth, though they should at least try. Plus, some areas (Missoula, Montana *cough cough wheeze*) are natural collectors of air pollution based on weather, climate, and geographical conditions. And it's going to be an uphill battle to get people to stop driving awfully loud motorcycles with no mufflers or souping up their crappy cars to make them sound faster because I find the noise unbearable. And they certainly can't demand that the winter season move along faster just because my extremities are more sensitive to icy temperatures and I get stiff and ill during the dry cold.
You get the idea. Based on my particular disabilities, the ideal country would have a mild climate with an ocean breeze (To wash away unpleasant smells) many quiet towns where I can pass the time without urban noise irritating me, minimal air pollution, and friendly people with a developed sense of personal space who wouldn't insist on invading or accidentally break through my bubble of privacy. It would also help if said place had beautiful architecture, lovely sunsets, and plenty of green spaces. So, LonelyPlanet posters, you are right, the winner of that particular contest can be none other than: Norway:

Since I was little, it was a dream of mine to move to Norway. The two "dream towns" I had in mind were Ålesund:

And Tromsø as well:
Port de Tromsø
Tragically, it will be a long time before I am able to make the great move to Norway. In the meantime, I've decided to get away from the grotty trapped air and dry mountain climate of Missoula, and make an odyssey to the closest thing I'll find to Norway in North America:

Victoria, BC.
This one has the added benefit of having a university, and a wee bit of family history to it. My father got to Maui, where I grew up, by participating in the Victoria to Maui Sailboat race, about 40 years ago. How's that for a special connection?
The only downside to Victoria is that English is, to my sensitive ears, not nearly as melodic a language as Norwegian, and as a tourist town, Victoria tends to have more crowds than Ålesund would during the summer. But it also is, in many ways, this autistic girl's dream town. There's a multitude of botanical gardens, and a bug museum, a butterfly house, a large beautiful museum, and many restaurants, including an Indian one (Which seems to be Missoula's biggest flaw according to tourists, the lack of an Indian restaurant) which may not seem like autism-centric things, but they help more than people realize. Quiet, peaceful spaces like gardens make it easier for me to clear my head, and there's a certain sensory pleasure to being surrounded by insects, particularly dragonflies, praying mantises, and butterflies, my three favourites. They also work well as places to take autistic children as a special reward once in a while.
So, readers, whether you are autistic or have another disability, what is your idea of a dream country? Any of them come close to being the one you want to pack up and move to, and why?

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