DENVER — Jocelyn Roy recently got her second tattoo, and it wasn’t in a traditional shop. Instead, she was in the middle ofForney Museum of Transportation, just feet from an antique train. Her boyfriend held her hand in support, while her best friend since kindergarten looked on with pride.
Surrounding them were even more friends — friends they’ve traveled the world with who were swing dancing, laughing and getting their hair done in their Rockabilly best.
Jocelyn Roy (right) supports her friend Brittany Murdock (middle) while Murdock gets a tattoo.
While this might sound like the scene from a classic movie, it is an annual occurrence for the Wayfaring Band, a Colorado-based organization centered around a “band” of travelers both with and without developmental and intellectual disabilities (I/DD).
Throughout the year, members of the band go on adventures around the world one could only dream of — road trips through the rugged mountains, cliff-jumping in the rainforest of Puerto Rico. The list goes on. According to interim executive director Kendall Hagar, “There is nowhere we won't go.”
Wayfaring Band continues their world tour
The Denver-based Wayfaring Band is on a world tour with disabled people.
Beyond planning elaborate group trips, the Wayfaring Band staff is kept busy year-round ensuring the organization continues to thrive. One of their biggest projects each year is the Rockabilly Roadhouse fundraiser, also dubbed “Rock-ability.”
Here, staff, band members, families and friends unite to celebrate the organization through dance, rockabilly makeovers, and tattoos.
“When you're really small, you kind of have to piecemeal things together and get creative and that's what we do,” shared Hagar.
This year, Hagar said, was one of the best yet. So far, they have raised around $26,000, which is $6,000 above their goal. Hagar explained that this money will go toward a travel scholarship program, paying staff members with disabilities, and overall operational costs.
Learning accessibility through shared experience
About 1 in 4 people in the U.S. have a disability — visible or otherwise.
Oftentimes when accessibility is discussed, the conversation focuses on wheelchair ramps or auditory pedestrian lights. And while these elements are important, other aspects of accessibility can be easily overlooked, such as access to opportunities, connection and revolutionary joy.
The Wayfaring Band trip manual puts it best: “We reject the assumption that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are limited in their capacity to enjoy the full human experience.” And what better way to enrich ones life than to travel?
Cultivating connection through new experiences
Days on the trip are packed with exploration and sometimes, adrenaline.
“We just go on crazy wild adventures,” shared Andrew Regan, a band member who, after years of traveling with the “band”, now works for the organization part time.
In order to create a culture of exploration, the Wayfaring Band recognizes the need for a foundation of trust. For many trips, this sense of understanding and reliability is established from the moment the band meets at the airport, where roadies and band members are paired up to take on the first mission — finding their way to the plane.
According to band and board member Jocelyn Roy, this is one of the more challenging parts of the trips. “It's a little bit hard, ‘cuz you have to go through security and all that stuff. And the TSA is not always so friendly,” Roy said.
But, Roy added, any stresses that come with the travels are balanced out by the relationships forged.
“You get to be yourself. And there's nobody that can tell you anything different. Just be who you are, enjoy meeting new people, and build lifetime friendships — or short time friendships! Friendships are the most important thing,” she said.
Once the seed of trust is planted, more connection is cultivated throughout the day by simply sharing space and offering each other support.
Faith Vidrine, band member and community engagement member, noted how these moments teach the essence of mutual aid.
“I learned a lot with the Wayfaring band,” she said. “I learned about mutual aid and how we practice that. I know everybody needs help and we can help each other. And that's what we need to do.”
According to Regan, the challenges that come with these adventures combined with the level of support he feels from his travel companions has not only helped garner a stronger sense of community, but it has also helped him reach new levels of independence.
“Being an advocate for myself, it's really an honor,” he smiled.
Band member Brittney Murdock shares this sentiment, and said she learns a lot about herself by pushing her limits. “I’m a risk taker,” she said, “I like taking risks and learning new things.”
When asked how she became so brave on the trips, she said “Not letting my disabilities stop me, and being comfortable with the roadies.”
Disability rights curriculum
The evenings are set aside to strengthen said bonds through group activities and an in-depth yet cohesive curriculum on accessibility.
“The curriculum is meant to inform people who are unknowing of disability, the history of disability, why we advocate for it, why there are still challenges and why we still need to fight for the rights of disabled people,” explained longtime roadie Shawndell Mosley. “It allows us to dive in deeper, to ask deeper questions and to promote and seek vulnerability from others.”
According to Hagar, the experiences from the trips typically add an element of real-time education to the curriculum.
“Any given day, anything could happen and we might run into someone who is not very accessible or someone who is rude, or a building that's not accessible, and we use those moments then to talk about what that means and what that feels like for our group,” Hagar said. “So all of our conversations are very authentic.”
Intersectionality at its core
The mission of the Wayfaring Band reaches far beyond the actual travels. The Band believes that in order to provide authentic value to the community, they need to start with themselves.
“Everyone involved in the Wayfaring Band is vastly different because all of us as humans are vastly different,” said Hagar. “And we as an organization want to honor everyone's gifts as they are."
Coworkers Regan, Hager and Roy in the Wayfaring Band office.
Band members Regan, Roy and Vidrine were all hired onto the staff. Regan is a part-time staffer and speaker, Roy is a member of the board of directors, and Vidrine works in community engagement.
“I always wanted to have this kind of career,” said Vidrine. “And I think it's important to me, and even our other friends."
The Wayfaring Band also recognizes authentic representation goes beyond ensuring those with disabilities are making organizational decisions. They also work to ensure intersectionality throughout their structure by hosting trips like the annualBIPOC retreat.
A bright future with big lessons
As for the future of the organization, Hagar hopes they continue to grow what has already proven to be successful.
“I see the future of the Wayfaring Band being bright and exciting and full of adventure. We are going to follow what our community desires,” she shared.
Hagar continued: “The Wayfaring Band started because an individual was saying that all she wanted to do was see the world. And so we started to do that. We'll continue to do that. We’ll listen to our travelers, and continue to educate folks on how to be better allies to the disabled community.”
In the meantime, members and staff of the Wayfaring Band live through the lessons they’ve learned on their memorable adventures.
“It has taught me that society as a whole is expansive, and that if I take the time, I can grow, and I can support in someone else in becoming a better 'them,'” Mosley reflected. “Ultimately, we can all be together and we can all share space.”
Roy carries with her the depths of connection she’s found through this sense of unity. “The band is just my second family,” she reflected. “And I will do anything for my family.”
Elle Naef is a digital media producer at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at email@example.com.
Zach Ben-Amots is an investigative multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.