The challenges of travel for the disabled

I'm on my way to a weekend ECKANKAR conference in Minneapolis, MN, and once again had the "growth opportunity" of dealing with air travel. Although flying from place to place was once a pleasurable adventure, it is now typically a long, tiring, dreadful experience.

I'm on my way to a weekend ECKANKAR conference in Minneapolis, MN, and once again had the "growth opportunity" of dealing with air travel. Although flying from place to place was once a pleasurable adventure, it is now typically a long, tiring, dreadful experience. If it is problematic for an able-bodied person, imagine trying to deal with today's issues if a cane, crutches, a walker or even a wheelchair are necessary travel accessories.

Airlines, in the attempt to squeeze more revenue out of each and every flight are packing more people into the seats. This makes it very difficult for a slow moving, disabled individual to get on and off the plane. The airlines are also doing their best to crowd the flights closer and closer together. This makes it difficult for disabled individuals to get from one flight to a connecting flight before they close the door of the aircraft and tell stragglers to wait for the next flight.

On a recent trip through the Newark interplanetary airport, our flight arrived a few minutes late. Nothing unusual there for Newark. Unfortunately, our connecting flight had been moved from a nearby gate to a gate all the way across the terminal. You should have seen it,  I was running across the airport,  dragging a carry-on bag behind me, pushing my wife's wheelchair with the other hand, my briefcase strapped to my back, and my wife's purse hanging from the handles of the wheelchair.

People are simply unaware of wheelchairs. They don't see them. Even though we were doing our best to move safely through the crowded terminal quickly, people would dart out and stop in front of us to talk. They'd cut across our path and almost end up in Elizabeth's lap. I was sure we would make it to our gate if only people would show some courtesy.

Then it happened! Elizabeth needed to visit the restroom. I had to cut across streams of traffic, lock the wheelchair wheels and help her get out of the chair. She was able to walk s l o w l y into the restroom. By the time she was able to get back into the chair and we could get moving once again, we were ten minutes late for the next flight.

Although rare, we experienced kindness from the gate agent. The computer record showed that Elizabeth was in a wheelchair so, they waited a few extra moments before closing the cabin door. We were able to get on the flight. We've not been so fortunate on other occasions. Believe it or not, we even found space for our bag in the overhead compartment. The travel gods were smiling on us that time.

I've also experienced people shoving and pushing us so they could get off of a flight even though they could see that my wife was having trouble walking or standing. It was clear that these folks feel that they are so important that others should get out of their way and allow them to pass. In one case, I had to get a bit gruff with a fellow passenger who didn't want to allow Elizabeth to get up and out of her seat. He was all over us trying to get by.

I turned to him and growled "back off can't you see she's doing the best she can? Have some courtesy." He wouldn't back off and kept trying to block our access ot the asile.  Since I was at least six inches taller than he was and did my best to look like his next wrong move was going to be a painful experience for him, I was finally able to help her to her feet. I guess I looked like an easier victim while sitting.

Please, if you see someone doing their best to get to their gate or to their seat in spite of using a cane, crutches or being in a wheelchair, be kind enough to step aside for a moment and allow them to pass. At the very least, it would be good if you'd be aware that the physical challenges they face mean that they can't move quickly, dodge your swerving wheelie bag or get out of YOUR way on your mad dash to your gate.

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