Saturday, December 13, 2008



A word of power and a word of oppression.

Traditions are a big part of how we live our lives. Joe and I are no different, we build silly little traditions around silly little things. On our flight home from London we, annually, have our last breakfast at O'Neal's at Heathrow. They serve breakfast with veggie sausages, greasy eggs, crisp fried potatoes and toast. We like to sit 'outside' and watch passengers as they rush here and there talking on cell phones while managing children. Then as Joe finishes his tea, I wheel over to a store a couple doors down and pick up his favourite brand of shortbread. Every year he is surprised. Every year I am delighted.

We were picked up at the Air Canada counter, early as we always are, and we told the pusher about our annual tradition. He said, 'No', the first of many that day, he explained that he had to take us to the disabled waiting area. Once there we spoke to the woman managing the place and explained that we'd like to go for breakfast and could we be picked up there instead of here. She thought for a long time, I felt, suddenly like a 5 year old waiting while someone with artificial power determined the course of my life. Then she said, 'No, wait here.'

I stayed calm and asked her to reconsider but she had done all the thinking that she intended to do that day and said, 'No.' If we wanted to go we'd have to get there ourselves and be back in half an hour. But the flight doesn't leave for ... and that's where the discussion ended.

We sat in the ugliest room possible waiting to be taken to the gate.


At the door of the airplane, I explained to the head purser that my chair had been stolen from the gate, that I was the only one on the plane with a personal chair, could he keep an eye out for my chair when it came up and try to ensure it went only with me. "No," he said. He explained that it was tagged and that was enough of a guarentee. "But," I said and before I could continue he said, "if it goes missing the airport has chairs" ... Joe is furious behind me but whispers, "Just leave it." And I did.

I teach people with disabilities to say 'no', no to abuse, no to disrespect.

But these are a different kind of 'no'.

They are used to assert power, inappropriately. They are used to diminish. They are arbitrary and they have the capability of making the petty, tyrants.

My adulthood was taken away by a silly 'no'.

My right to a secure flight was taken away by a disrespectful 'no'.

By two people who have already forgotten the moment, already lost the rush of power that they had ... but I am sure they are both popping the vein and getting ready to feed their addiction to power ... I am totally sure.


Night Owl said...

I'm not going to say that I don't agree with you here. Disrespectful no's are wrong no matter what.
But my sister is completely addicted to power and she has every single person in our house under her complete control. And while I'd like to say this doesn't matter, we are all older than her. I'm not saying that the older you are, the more power you should get though. Just, if it was equal, it would be nice, you know?
If she says no, that's what goes. If she says yes, that's what goes. No one else has an opinion. No one else has any say.
Like, I was drawing the other day, and she saw me. But then she suddenly had this need to see all of the sketches in my drawing book, and some of them are very personal! Plus, I was busy drawing! So of course I tried saying "maybe later because I'm drawing now". But she just grabbed it and ripped some of the pages. It's like I didn't even have a choice, even though it was my sketchbook, and my sketches, not hers. :(
It just does not seem fair that she has all of this power. I feel like I can't even live. I can't do things I like because she might see me and for example, then I would have to go through the violation of her looking through my private stuff... I understand that she has a disability, and so we have to be nice to her. But still, I need some things to be my own and not hers. :(
I feel like a really bad sister for saying this and feeling this way. :(
So anyway I don't think this is really a disability vs. ability problem.
Besides, I get tons of no's in airports. That's what they do. Probably unless you are super rich or super famous you are dirt to them.

FridaWrites said...

Goodness, that's unfair. We don't have equal access until access is equal--and being denied "permission" for any reason isn't. I truly hope the chair was found!? I nearly hyperventilate thinking about my scooter and air travel.

CatBookMom said...

Here via Lene's blog and her reference to this post in her comment today.

Your experience reminds me vividly of the terrible 14-hour-elapsed trip I took some years ago to bring my mother from her home in central Minnesota to mine in LA. In January. She had just had a stroke, was terribly weak, and yet I had no alternative but to make that trip. There were so many things I, as a brand-new caregiver had to figure out - dealing with the extra luggage for 2, helping her with a walker on ice and snow, going through security with her, trips to the bathroom with 3 carry-on bags and her, and on and on. In *every single one* of the four airports we were in we experienced the same sort of careless and unsympathetic 'power-trip' treatment that you did.

We were hassled about dealing with Mom's walker on the plane; aside from one kind passenger who swapped seats so we could sit togeher, there were absolutely no offers of help; wheelchairs requested never showed up; the security checkers yelled at the delays needed for me to put together and take apart all the coats, shoes, etc. for the two of us. Finally we arrived at LAX and my DH could help. Halfway to the luggage claim area, with Mom in a wheelchair and DH managing the carry-ons, we were accosted by a bitchy airport worker who insisted she had to have the wheelchair for someone else. Apparently the fact that my mother was using it didn't matter. If I hadn't been exhausted I would have been screaming at her. She followed us, complaining about the 'delay', all the way to the luggage area and demanded that we turn the chair over to her right then. Fortunately there was a place for Mom to sit while we gathered our luggage.

I salute you for your blog and somehow feel I should apologize for the lousy people you have encountered.