After being diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at age 2, Cory Lee developed a thirst for adventure. He has traveled across all seven continents in his powered wheelchair while managing to run his travel blog CurbFreeWithCoryLee.com, where he shares his accessible — and sometimes not so accessible — travel adventures. His blog has received three Webby Awards for Best Personal Blog and two Lowell Thomas Awards for Best Travel Blog. In 2019, he was chosen as New Mobility magazine’s Person of the Year.
Back in 2013, with one semester left in college, Cory Lee started interviewing for marketing jobs to kickstart his career. “I flew to Pittsburgh for an interview,” he recalls, “and the hiring manager looked at me and only saw my wheelchair; he said I wouldn’t be a good fit for the role because it involved travel. I felt totally struck down. Around that same time I was planning a trip to Australia for my graduation and couldn’t find any information online about accessible travel.” Cory, who has used a powered wheelchair since he was four, decided to take action and launched his blog, Curb Free with Cory Lee. “It was a convergence of me trying to prove that hiring manager wrong,” he says, “but also wanting to create a travel resource for other people who use wheelchairs.” Cory started blogging about his travels and quickly gained a following. “At first it was just my friends and family reading, but one day I went on Google Analytics and saw that 80 people were reading one of my articles, and I thought, I’m viral!”
Eight years later, Cory has visited all seven continents, grown Curb Free into a community of more than 60,000 wheelchair users, and emerged as a leader in accessible travel. He keeps his audience engaged and growing by understanding what his readers are interested in. “I use Google Analytics to help me make content decisions,” he explains. “Through the Analytics data, I’ve seen that my traffic spikes when I publish articles about accessible beaches and national parks, which signals to me that people are interested and want more articles on those types of destinations.”
A business built on accessibility
While Cory has always approached his blog as a business venture, keeping his content free has been core to his mission of accessibility. “It’s important to keep my content free,” he says, “because it’s really critical information for people to see when they’re traveling. Plus, there are already so many barriers for people with disabilities, for me to add another by gating content with a paywall wouldn’t feel right. To keep the business growing though, I have multiple revenue streams. I work with (Google Certified Publishing Partner) Mediavine to earn money from ads and I do sponsored content, freelance writing, am a brand ambassador for several companies, and I launched my own accessible travel tour business, which has been incredibly rewarding.”
It’s important to keep my content free because it’s really critical information for people to see when they’re traveling .
, Founder, Curb Free with Cory Lee
Cory has taken his tours to Iceland, Morocco, and Costa Rica, and has his largest trip ever planned for 2022: visiting Patagonia in Chile. “It’s been awesome to travel with other wheelchair users and make memories together” By sharing his experiences and feedback with tourism boards, Cory has been able to make his mark in a number of destinations. “I’ve started to see more travel destinations embrace accessibility,” he explains. “In Gulf Shores, Alabama, there were no beach access mats when I first visited in 2015, and now they’ve actually made the change to implement them. I recently visited India as well, and that’s a destination that even five years ago would have been inaccessible to me. We’ve still got a long way to go in many places, but I’m excited to see how accessibility progresses around the world over the next ten years.”
Making a lasting impact through visibility and inclusion
With travel on hold during the pandemic, Cory dove into new opportunities. “I published a children’s book in July of 2020 called Let’s Explore with Cor Cor,” he relates. “I co-wrote it with my mom; it’s about a child who uses a wheelchair and travels the world - it actually features all places that I’ve been to. Growing up, there were hardly any books featuring wheelchair users, so I wanted to create a book that kids could identify with; it’s important for people with disabilities to know early on that the world is open to them.”
As the world begins to reopen and travel re-emerges, Cory is focused on increasing access to travel opportunities for people with disabilities. “I’m gearing up to launch a nonprofit organization called The Curb Free Foundation, which will provide travel opportunities for people with disabilities, he says “One of the biggest barriers to traveling is money, and I want to help eliminate that barrier and help people go on their dream trip. This is something I’ve wanted to do since I started eight years ago, and I’m thrilled we’re able to finally bring it to life.”