Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Help Me If You Can ...

At the airport Joe and I stopped and had breakfast, we'd gotten there very early. We expect things to go wrong, or at least be difficult, so we go really, really early so that there's time for solutions. However, check in went fine, seats were assigned with a fair degree of speed. Not only that, security was also quick. So we had time. We went over to where we knew they served a good hot breakfast. I was done first so I told Joe I'd roll over to the entrance to the gates and we'd meet there. I wanted to get out and stretch my arms a bit, move about in the chair, before being stuck in an airplane seat for over eight hours.

I got to the entrance to the gates, even managed to get up the long ramp there, thinking how much that would impress Joe. And then. Joe didn't show. And he didn't show. And he didn't show. I stopped an airport employee and asked if I was in the main entrance and she assured me that I was. It was getting perilously close to time for boarding. Finally I rolled down the ramp towards two people in purple that were there to help passengers.

Approaching them, I arranged my face, I wanted to ask for help without looking like I was at all panicked. I knew that Joe would not take off without me. I knew that there was an explanation for what was happening. I felt panic but knew that I shouldn't. I told them of my problem. They told me they were there to help me. I stared at them waiting for help. They didn't do anything. I said, "Um, help?" They asked me my destination and my airline. One of them went away and came back to say that the gate wasn't posted yet.

They told me that my friend would find me.

That I would get to my gate.

That everything would be all right.

They were talking to me like I was a simple child. They were using an exaggerated way of speaking, like adults do when they think they are being charming with a 4 year old. They did everything but pat me on the head and say 'there, there.' I said again, "Um, help?" And they again told me ...

that everything would be alright.

that I would get to my gate.

that I would not miss my flight.

But they didn't do anything. I asked them to page Joe. They said they couldn't do that. I asked them to get me someone who could assist with pushing me to the gate. They said they couldn't do that. What they did do was reassure me that it would all be OK.

When Joe showed up, I was predictably angry. Where the hell was he? He was predictably angry. Where the hell had I been? We'd missed one another. We cussed and fussed all the way to the washroom and from there on to the plane.

I told Joe about the two people who spoke to me like I was a little child. That I'd tried to be very adult when approaching them for help but that they'd responded to me, each trying to out 'understand' the other, each completely patronising.me during the whole process. It was like they saw me as a lost child rather than a man needing some kind of assistance.

It is rare that I have to ask for help from a stranger. I don't do that often. I accept help when offered sometimes, but I ask for it rarely. I think I have always been afraid that my disability status plus my need for help would result in a loss of adulthood. And that's what happened.

All that was missing was the 'there, there, it'll all be OK snookums.'


Anonymous said...


This situation sounds completly like out of a book on "How not to do it"....

There is so much to learn from what you tell. And it is understood by me, why I sometimes turn out to be a "lone fighter".

Cheers to a better day

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how anyone, especially those in the services, can associate a wheelchair user with a person with mental disabilities. Yes they "can" go hand in hand - but not always. That seems to happen to you a lot. Why is that?

Airlines offer wheelchairs to those with mobility problems - there is no thought of mental function there.

I am befuddled why this happens to you so often. I'd be frustrated as heck.

I've only had it happen once - in Vegas - in a motorized scooter. I asked for directions and they wanted to call out the calvary. Did I need special assistance? Can they page someone for me? Would I prefer a woman to assist me. I just held up my hand and said: "Let me start again. I know who I am. I know what I want. I know who I am with. I know generally where I am. I just need specific directions to a specific place that is not marked by signage. You work here. I am asking you for assistance in pointing me to that place. Thank you for all the offers of help." Honestly. Sometimes you feel you need to wear a blessed sign.

Oh - and I've had those "miss you moments". They cause so much panic in deep down places. Then that funny relief anger wells up. And no answer seems to satify - for no reason seems to match the depth of the anxiousness. Glad it worked out in time.

Webster said...

Oh Dave, this reminds me of a shopping experience I had back in the stone age (about 30 years ago) when a sales clerk talked right over my head and asked my friend if "she"(me) found everything and how were we going to pay. My friend suggested to her that she ask ME if I found everything and how I was going to pay. Really??? This was a special night where the store was open to disabled customers so they could avoid the rush of the first day of the sale. You'd think they would have prepped their employees with a little sensitivity training, under the circumstances. But, no.

So it is sad to hear that the ignorance persists. If I were you in this situation I would have called them out on their condescending manner and demanded some respect. I'm glad you and Joe found each other, and am sorry it got your trip off on a sour note.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 3 27 says
'I don't understand how anyone, especially those in the services, can associate a wheelchair user with a person with mental disabilities.’
Is it ok to talk to someone with mental disabilities in that way???

Tamara said...

Thank you Anon at 3:27. That's exactly what I was going to say.

GirlWithTheCane said...

Yes, Anon at 3:37 nailed it.

I can't stand the way airlines treat people with disabilities.

wendy said...

I have seen this happen with my mother and with my partner, neither of whom are regular wheelchair users.

My mother is 90. When we go to the mall together I borrow a wheelchair for her. That way we can shop much longer; without it she wouldn't be able to make it from one end of the mall to the other (a small town, tiny mall) without having to go home. I swear that minute she sits in that chair she become some kind of transparent ghost. People address me, even when she is the one who asked a question. People speak to me as if she can't hear them. If they speak to her, they speak as though she is a child. It infuriates me and I constantly redirect them back to her.

A few years ago my partner had minor surgery on her foot. She was managing with crutches but again, at a mall (much bigger one this time) she agreed that we had a number of things we needed to do and alot of ground to cover in short period time so borrowing a wheelchair made sense. She would have been 50, at most, when this occured. Again, people who spoke to her at all did so in an extremely patronizing tone. She was so angry at the change in people's demenor that I'm shocked we got through the mall without her yelling at someone.

I don't know why this happens but it does.

Andrea S. said...

I think Anon at 6 am (responding to Anon at 3:27) has a point: the way these employees treated Dave would still have been just as insulting, patronizing, and non-helpful if Dave really DID have an intellectual disability. Adults with intellectual disabilities don't need to be treated like children either. For that matter, CHILDREN don't need to be treated in the patronizing fashion many adults use with children. Guess what? No one does.

Tamara said...

Okay - my comment was wrong. I want to thank Anon at 6:00 am, not the other one. Sheesh. I need to read more carefully when I'm reading on my phone.

My son has an intellectual disability. He does not need to be talked to in patronizing tones - anymore than someone who does not have an intellectual disability, but uses a wheelchair.

Susan said...

I know that really, really sucks but it's hard to focus on that right now because...

I'm just glad you guys are on the way home... :)

And I hope your arrival is much better than your departure

And, that would really tick me off, too. In fact it does really tick me off on your behalf...

But I still can't help smiling cause...

You're on the way home. :)

Beth said...

Dave, you know someone treating you as lesser can't make you lose your adulthood, right? Do the, what's the term?, consumer advocates (?) in your seminars/classes "lose adulthood" when people treat them poorly? Surely not! People thinking of them as less doesn't make them less. It may sound trite, but...
Elanor Roosevelt: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Sometimes you have to gather up the emotions into a fire inside you and shout out, "NO! Not ok, not all right. Stop."

I encourage you to file a complaint with whoever is in charge of disability at the airport (it exists in the US, at least) and/or whoever employees said people in purple. What those people did wrong and what they ought to have done instead. The employers need to know because even if we can't find the exact people, surely the whole lot could use a refresher course on disability. As well procedure on what to do if contacted because a group got separated. Sounds like it's a pretty urgent need to me.

I know a complaint might be a lot to ask, but I can kind of think it as "asserting adulthood".

We are adults. We have adulthood. No one can take it away. What we must do is claim it.

wheeliecrone said...

I can't remember clearly - it's been a very long time since I was a child - but I don't think children like to be talked to in that patronising way, either.
It is my opinion that the patronising tone should be removed from all of us - surgically, if necessary.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to those that called me out on the comment regarding mental disabilities. I didn't intend to reflect that a negative way of speaking to those with mental disabilities is in any way appropriate. I just know that often we have to take special care in communicating clearly so we can be respectful. I think I got caught up in the sheer ridiculous idea that position (sitting in a chair) should dictate communication levels. Thanks for picking up on any grey areas.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Readers: In recent months I've been getting some comments about things that 'keep happening' to me. Anon at 3:27 mentioned this here in these comments. I have to admit that I don't remember writing about this as a common theme or that I've written about it even recently. But then I've discovered that many people know my blog posts better than I do. However, I want to say that I guess that the rigors of trying to write a daily blog AND focus on disability as a topic, there are bound to be things that become recurring themes. Inaccessibility. Attitudes. Frustrations. I try to write about positive experiences as well as negative ones as I experience my life as a positive thing ... but I wonder if this repetiveness means that I'm running out of new things to say. That's good food for thought going into the new year and setting priorities and evaluating where I am and what I'm doing. So, thanks to Anon for pointing this out and giving me food for though. I am going to refrain from adding to the ... wait a minute, no one should be spoken to that way chorus as you all did such a fine job on that.

wendy said...


I, for one, don't find you repetative. If you have written about being spoken to inappropriately before I would suggest that it is life that is repeating and it will continue to do so until attitudes change.

I have a friend who is blind. Servers have asked me what she wants to eat. People have signaled to me that the side of her face is getting red because she's sitting near a fire place...like I'm responsible for deciding she's too hot.

All this is to say that I never read something you've written and think "Again? Dave needs new material!" You're just writing you life as it unfolds.

Anonymous said...

I'll add my voice and agree with Wendy that I don't find you repetitive at all. Life can seem repetitive, but it needs to be said, until attitudes change. And thank you for saying it.


Andrea S. said...

I don't read it as you being "too repetitive" either. For people who already know that this kind of thing really DOES happen all the time in the lives of people with disabilities, it can be reassuring to see this aspect of their daily experience reflected in a blog like yours. For people who don't already know, it can be enlightening to see this kind of theme come up again and again. Because if they only read one story like it, or three, or even just six, it's too easy to mistake these incidents as isolated events. I think there are readers who NEED to see this theme come up time and again and over again before they finally start to grasp that this is a prevalent pattern in the lives of all people with all disabilities in all places. That this is how we are treated in society. I think you serve a valuable purpose in documenting these kinds of experiences in your blog. It's not as though you do it every day or even every week. I see nothing wrong with the frequency at which you report these kinds of incidents.

Anonymous said...

You are not being repetitive, Dave. You are chronicling your days and your life. You're just stating the facts.

And if you keep bumping into the same sorts of problems, well, hell's bells--the problem is not with YOU, it's with the service providers who haven't been correctly educated & motivated to provide decent service on a consistent basis. If things "keep happening" to you, it's because things ARE NOT as they should be.

Your voice is powerful advocate for the differently abled. Please keep using it to let the world know that things STILL ARE NOT as they should be. Keep writing what you know and what you experience, Dave.