Wednesday, October 07, 2015


We were off the plane. It had been a struggle to get up the ramp, but it had been managed. We fly a lot and this moment, the 'off the plane' moment is a difficult one. We always ask for assistance and most often, they don't show. Or rather, they show, see me, recognize that I'm a big man to push, and then disappear. Sometimes they will offer me a service I can't use. The cart that they bring is simply impossible for me to get on to, the step is too high, my balance is too poor. We were in that position, my help did not show, those there to help others who needed wheelchairs avoided eye contact, often in really obvious ways - as if they wanted me to see that they had no intention of helping.

I get that I'm a big man.

I get that it takes some oomph to push me.

But I wish, sometimes that people would think: Hey, he managed to get on a plane and get up the ramp, he must have strategies to do this, I wonder what they are.

But they don't.

A woman arrives, driving another cart. I roll over to her and say, "I really need help."

She stopped and said, "What do you need?"

I told her that I needed to get down to the baggage area.

She told me that she didn't think she'd be able to push me there, was there anything else that I would find helpful?

Finally! I told her that we needed someone to take the carry-on so that Joe could push me. She said, "What an obvious solution."

"Apparently not," I said, and we were off.

We chatted with her the whole way, and she guided us to where we needed to go. On one big ramp she watched as Joe took me over by the hand rail and I pulled myself up with my left arm as my right hand pushed me up and Joe braced the back and pushed when I pulled. We got up easily. She couldn't keep astonishment off her face.

We got what we needed, the exact help that we needed.

I need what I need and I know what I need. I'm guessing anyone else with a disability or who supports someone with a disability is equally expert in every situation they are in as to the help they need. It's a pity that our expertise is ignored in the face of assumption and presumption.

Right now, after a 5 hour flight and a six hour drive, I'm in a hotel. I'm about to make another 5 hour drive. We manage these things because we manage these things. When we ask for help, it's likely to be something that we know can be done - because that's the only thing that makes sense.


Glee said...


clairesmum said...

that feeling of waiting for help and no one comes - you evoked it in me, as i read your words. i understand better the terrifying element of travel for you. i have a hard time asking for help - if it is offered without me asking I can accept it. but asking and not receiving still can turn my guts to jelly and take my breath away. your writing also gives me courage to keep going. as you say, doing damns the darkness. thanks.

ABEhrhardt said...

I remember well sitting on the floor outside the airplane at Newark Airport for over a half hour because we needed two wheelchairs (my daughter was very sick, and I always need one) - and eventually ONE showed up.

We don't ask for help for fun, people! Our needs aren't going to go away because you don't fulfill them!

Andrea S. said...

Some years ago, one woman who uses a wheelchair was basically stranded in an airport because they (lost? damaged? I don't remember the details) her wheelchair so they couldn't return it to her. She kept asking them for help in leaving the airport to (go home? to the place she was visiting?) but apparently they kept not believing her that she really did need some kind of wheelchair loan or something from them until she had been there for many hours. They only started to believe her BECAUSE she was there for so long, I guess they finally came to realize that she wouldn't have stayed so long if she had any other way to leave without being in a wheelchair. I don't remember (if she said) how it was resolved in the end. I know there are wheelchair users who travel even more extensively than Dave -- to dozens of different countries all around the world, including to places where disability accommodation is still a new concept and airline and airport personnel may be even less aware than the personnel in places like Canada or the U.S. So obviously it can be done, and you can even end up with your wheelchair returned to you in intact condition! But given all the awful things that can happen or be done to a wheelchair user when flying, I don't blame people for being nervous.

As a deaf person I do sometimes experience some challenges and stressful situations, but usually not as bad I think as some of the worse stories that wheelchair users tell.

B. said...

Yes, so right! Thanks again, Dave, for letting me know I am not the only one out here feeling it. I have been referred to as bossy but people nearest and dearest vouch for my organizing abilities to work out the best and quickest way to help me that is also quick and easy for the helper.

Anonymous said...

Color me stupid, but why couldn't you put the carry-on on your lap? Or if wheeled, push it in front of you? I could understand needing help with luggage, but carry-on? Having asked that, why is it so hard for people to ask what you need?!?! The person needing help usually knows what kind of help they need! Good post.

Cynthia F. said...

Love this, it's a good reminder that for those of us who WANT to help, but don't want to be pushy, we can just ask the expert if help is needed and what would be the best way for us to provide it!

Martha said...

This is so true; airport travel is already stressful, especially if the help you need doesn't arrive or they assume what you need. I'm blind/hard-of-hearing with a guide dog. I want someone to walk beside or behind me and tell me where to turn and go to get to my next gate. Often, they grab my dog's handle, call and gesture to her, grab me by the shoulder or arm or waist and try to pull me somewhere, or bring me a cart or wheelchair which I don't want.