Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Welcome Home

Other than moving around in a wheelchair I am entirely and utterly normal. Why is that such a difficult concept for some in service to get? Occasionally when I have issues with my wheelchair, or health check up due my diabetes, I deal with people who seem incredibly frustrated that I have to check a calander to set appointments with them. Of course I have to check a calander I don't spend my life simply sitting around 'being' disabled or 'having' diabetes. I spend my life spending my life. I'm sorry if we have to spend five or six minutes jumping around from date to date to find somewhere where you are able to give me service and I am able to receive service. Sheesh.

Well, the expectation of 'less than normal' caused us a major problem yesterday. We had booked a Wheeltrans van to pick us up at the airport after being away for over a week. Now we'd booked for 2 people to be picked up at the airport. You'd figure, wouldn't you, if you were picking up two people at the airport that they might just have luggage, right? Well, the van pulled up, exactly on time, the driver got out and I rolled towards the van. Joe began moving the luggage over. The van driver asked if that was our luggage. I said, that it was. We had one largish piece each, two carryons and my wheelchair bag. That's 2 suitcases less than the airline allows us to travel with, by the way.

He said, 'I don't have room for luggage, I'm picking up 3 others.' I said, 'You expected to pick two people up at the airport with no luggage?' He told me that it was Wheeltrans policy that disabled people not have luggage (a fact that I'm going to be writing them about today). We ended up almost shouting at each other, he literally took his ride sheet and shoved it in my face asking about those other people. In that moment I didn't give a shit about those other people. I am disabled but I am normal, I have luggage, I don't carry clothing in my cheeks. He knows I'm angry and I'm afraid I look mighty when I'm angry.

After he makes a phone call, standing several feet away so I can't hear him bitching about me, he returns and says that he will take us directly home. I get in the van, he reaches to help me and I refuse, Joe helps me on and off. I don't want his help, if I had any option I would have rather refused the ride altogether. We all ride in uncomfortable and angry silence for the 45 mintues it takes to get home. When we get home I inform him that I'll be discussing this with Wheeltrans proper and he apologizes if I didn't understand. I told him that I understood just fine.

WTF. What a way to be welcomed home from a trip. Now there will be anxiety any time I use the service to go to the airport. Because I always travel with luggage, that's just wacky me - wanting to take clothing with me.

An announcement:

People with disabilities live normal lives.

People with disabilities have normal commitments.

People with disabilities shouldn't have to apologize to those who work with people with disabilities for HAVING FREAKING LUGGAGE.


Eileen said...

Really can't understand how you can be so inconsiderate, Dave..you disabled people just don't know when you're well off, do you? Want a ride AND luggage collection???...sheeesh!

Kristin said...

How clueless can the asshats at Wheeltrans be? That is just unbelievable.

Tamara said...

It's their policy that disabled people don't have luggage? Who comes up with stuff like that? It's like something written by some comedian. I seriously think you could turn some of your stories into a standup act (no pun intended, but had to leave it) and show what ridiculous things happen when you're in a wheelchair.

But - on the appointment time thing - I don't know if that has anything to do with disability. Those appointment-making people treat me the same way. They just think you should jump at whatever they have available ...

Virginia S. Wood, PsyD said...

I wear a leg brace. My favorite less-than-normal assumption is that I can somehow LEAVE it for a day or two at the shop. I understand that if it needs major work, I'll have to get along without it somehow, but when it's five minutes worth of work and the day or two is for sitting on a shelf in queue--well, that I just don't get.

A related assumption is that I can sit at the shop all day waiting on it, like I have nothing else to do.

Um, people, I have to get to work?

Oddly, no one else in my life (like my auto mechanic or my dentist) makes that sort of assumption even though my disability is as glaringly obvious to them as it is to those who deal directly with it.

Go figure.

jwg said...

So that explains why disabled people who travel smell bad. They have no clean clothes or toiletries....

Andrea S. said...

You go, Dave. I hope you'll let us know how Wheel Trans responds.

I can appreciate how it can be difficult to accommodate both a lot of people and also a lot of luggage. But surely there must be more reasonable ways of dealing with it other than "no luggage" policies. Trips to the airport aren't the only time a person might need to bring extra stuff with them. Perhaps someone needs for some reason to make an unusually large trip to the grocery or other store and needs to bring home their purchases.

A more reasonable compromise could be a policy requesting riders to notify them in advance of any significant luggage (not counting pocketbooks, fanny packs etc.) -- ie, not prohibiting the luggage (because that inherently creates a situation where people with disabilities end up with a lower level of transportation service than people without disabilities who have other ways to get themselves and luggage home) but at least ensuring the company knows of it so they can plan for it. For trips to and from the airport, they also could build in a "default assumption" that there is going to be a certain amount of luggage per person. There also could be an internal policy that the person taking the request for transport services should double check this assumption by asking how much luggage people think they will bring to/from the airport. Then they should add one or two suitcases to the total estimate to allow for a little flex.

I haven't personally encountered people assuming I have plenty of time to take appointments at any random time. (Except for one occasion when a bank wanted me to come in during business hours to take care of a problem that THEY had caused in the first place ... but that wasn't disability related, that was just the bank being the bank). But people in one disability chat board that I read complain about this kind of assumption all the time.

I wonder if the issue is that many of the services developed for people with disabilities were initially developed for senior citizens, who are still statistically more likely to have disabilities than younger people. People beyond a certain age are more likely to be retired and thus actually ARE more likely to have flexible schedules. So it throws off their expectations and institutionalized assumptions to realize that not everyone fits the cookie cutter mold.

Plus, of course, 30 years ago even younger people with disabilities simply weren't expected to work or otherwise have lives. Perhaps the services that work with people with disabilities haven't caught up with modern reality.

Molly C said...

Ah, I see. Since people with disabilities don't have bodies to wear clothing, or feet to put shoes on, and obviously can't read books, or watch movies, so they have no need for carryon bags..

Really? In WHAT universe would someone needing a Wheeltrans ride NOT HAVE LUGGAGE? YOU ARE A PERSON! You wear clothing. Shoes. you get bored on a plane and need books to read or movies to watch. Really? How about some common sense wheeltrans.

lol. How absurd.

Anonymous said...

Glad you got ALMOST all the way home before the traveling got really bumpy!
I think a lot of medical/health related services DO assume that care recipients do not work and are endlessly flexible...
Does WheelTrans have some sort of board of directors? or consumer advisory panel? or whatever committee you could get on that actually has some authority over WheelTrans, to get their policies and attitudes into ones that are truly 'user friendly'.....you are very articulate and if it were something you wanted to take on, I wager you could make quite an impact! hope your Irish memories are all happy ones.

Nina said...

You're sooooo much nicer than me. I'd have gotten on the phone right then and gotten that asshole fired. Then I'd have demanded they get me home for free. Then I would have taken a cab next time. Amazing. What a jackass.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Umm . . . excuse my ignorance but does that mean you can't use WheelTrans to go grocery shopping either? - sometimes people have several large bags of groceries. Anything that involves parcels is out for people who use WheelTrans?How realistic is that? what planet are they on?


Brad said...


What is it with you and airports and luggage? heh I just get stopped by customs half the time. What fun that is! lol

Welcome home, and I hope you have some time to relax and enjoy yourself.

Andrea S. said...


Unfortunately, the kinds of experiences that Dave has described throughout several (unrelated) posts in this blog are just the kinds of experiences that wheelchair users experience while they travel.

Probably all people with all disabilities experience their share of annoyances and problems. I'm deaf, so I have occasionally had irritating encounters related to other people's ignorance of the real needs of deaf passengers. And blind people also have their own set of problems, including personnel who try to insist that they can only guide the blind person to the next plane gate if they agree to ride in a wheelchair -- even if they DON'T NEED one!

But the kinds of stories I tend to hear from wheelchair users do tend to involve the more serious problems and barriers, and seem to be more common. Not invariably but as a rough rule.

Plus, of course, Dave travels a heck of a lot more than the average person! So any frequent traveler will end up with more than the usual share of travel-related frustrations!

CJ said...

That is insane! You are not expected to have luggage?

Anonymous said...

I feel so angry just reading about this. I'm so sorry that you had to experience such idiocy.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry Dave.... I can just imagine how upsetting and infuriating that situation must have been. I have lived several with ParaTranspo in Ottawa - who are largely a great bunch of folks working in a rather ineffectual system.

I do have one point to raise... Paratranspo has the same guidelines as the local bus system regarding parcels etc... each passenger on an autobus is not allowed more parcels than he or she can A) carry/control and B)can be held on the lap/under the seat etc... ensuring it's out of the bus aisle.

I wonder if the WheelsTrans policy is not so much a kick at people with disabilities, but the very same policy the Toronto bus system has? Perhaps it's running under the assumption that it's a (granted door to door) bus and not a taxi? (Which DOES allow for luggage.)

I'm not defending. I find the situation deplorable, and I think people working in human service should themselves remember to be more HUMAN.

However before concluding that the policy is discriminatory, maybe it's worth considering where the policy came from, and whether it also applies to the norms who use the norm bus system?

More fat to chew I guess...

Again, so sorry that you got a most upsetting welcome home arrival. Sort of takes the wind out of the sails of a trip... Please let us know what you hear from Wheeltrans!


Brad said...

Thank you Andrea, I had never really considered that. I suppose its from a lack of contact with people with disabilities, other than myself. Two years ago I found a support forum for people with scoliosis, I had never really talked with anyone in my 38 years of life that had scoliosis. I've found it incredibly healing to talk with people that understand what it is I've gone through.

Dave's blog has also opened my eyes to more things as well. Not just from him but from comments like yours. So thank you, I guess I'll just have to keep learning as I go along. :)

Anonymous said...

All I can say is WOW ! It is just completely ridiculius !


Dave Hingsburger said...

Tess, thanks for 'chewing the fat' here in the comment section. Just thought I should add that we took Wheeltrans out to the airport with exactly the same amount of luggage and no comments or concerns from the driver. Too, you should see what people take on the public transit here in Toronto. Trust me, a nondisabled person would not be turned away from the subway or bus with one piece of luggage and one carryon bag.

Andrea S. said...

Thanks, Brad ... life is learning, isn't it? :-)

I guess I've been lucky: I have been Deaf since birth but in my case, even though my whole family is hearing, my parents did make a special point of seeking out Deaf adults while I was little. First so they themselves could learn from them and also so I could meet them and be in contact with role models. And although I was in "hearing" public schools for most of my education, I did have some contact with other deaf students mainstreamed in the same high school and went to some summer camp programs with Deaf students etc. So I always had the chance to learn from other Deaf people that it's not just me who experiences certain kinds of frustration (including those associated with the way some hearing people respond to us!)

Then I also had a few opportunities along the way to meet people with different disabilities and learn to realize that some of the challenges Deaf people experience navigating a hearing world are quite similar to the challenges people with other disabilities experience, though with some differences as well. Like you, I have continued to learn through reading blogs like this one, and also the BBC Ouch chat board for disabled people (it's mostly a UK board, but some people like me from outside the UK as well http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbouch/F2322273) and others. I also read a number of blogs by Autistic adults (eg http://ballastexistenz.autistics.org/ and http://aspergersquare8.blogspot.com/ and others)


rickismom said...

This thing about appointments also drives me mad. So many times services have called and CHANGED the time of an appointment (leaving a mwessage with someone, withOUT checking with me if it is easy for Ricki's or my schuedule.....

David_Turcotte said...

I've had similar issues with Wheel-Trans, mainly because I sometimes have to use a wheelchair and sometimes have to use canes. They aren't very good with "variability". We are supposed to be constant slabs of concrete that they load on and off the vehicle. However, in this case, there seem to have been two errors.

1. The idiots at the TTC use a computerized system to determine all bookings, times, passenger loads, and vehicles. This led to the computer not taking luggage into account.

2. The driver was an idiot. Wheel-Trans has no such policy. From their website:


If you look at the final listing, it says you can take luggage and they recommend you take an escort to help handle the luggage. You had an escort, and your escort also happened to have luggage. The driver is a jerk and the system is flawed.

Another flaw in the system is that we can't make bookings to new addresses using the online system. We have to "pre-register" those addresses. What's up with that? I'm at school right now (yes, living my life) and tomorrow the trip is from school to a restaurant where I will *gasp* meet with people and socialize. Apparently the TTC doesn't like us booking to restaurants, as there is no option to select from the "common locations". Why can't they just make it so we can easily input a new address? The system would be much more usable and we wouldn't have to call back 30 times to wait on hold for 30 minutes to be told the trip is fine by a representative every time.

Louis de Pointe du Lac said...

I am in a large powerchair but haven't yet been approved to use my local ParaTransit because their policy is that if you're capable of using the city bus, you're not eligible for paratransit.
So, when I had to go to the airport for a week-long trip to the other end of the state, I packed a very large suitcase and then tilted my chair back a bit so it could rest in my lap without falling off or me having to hold its weight with my arms (I'm not strong enough to carry it).
I then took a shoulder-strap from a different bag and hooked it through the handle of hte case and then through my seatbelt, so that it couldn't fall off.

I then waited at the bus stop for my bus. The first bus that saw me stopped long enough to say her lift was broken (they're not allowed to leave the yard with broken lifts). The second slowed enough to glare and shake his finger at me but didn't stop to pick me up. Third also had a broken lift. *Fourth* bus picked me up without incident, took me to airport (but I was now leaving nearly two hours later than I'd planned, due to the buses - despite me having planned extra time for the bus).
And the bus was only to the train station where I could catch the connecting airport shuttle.

Paranoia about missing my flight meant I'd actually allowed enough 'padding' that I still made my flight, but - a normal person could've expected to only have to allow for missing *one* bus?

ANd then the drivers were angry at me for the gall of having my suitcase with me, yes.

I can't afford an attendant.

Anonymous said...

Wheel-trans does allow luggage, you have to tell them how many. The drivers do not carry any of the luggage. If you would like an airport taxi or cab you know how much that costs, not $3.00 that's for sure. The city bus does not take your luggage and that's all wheel-trans is an accessible bus. Not a moving van, airport limo, taxi or personal assistant.